Don’t think of a visit to the Los Angeles Farmers Market as an afternoon of wandering through stalls of fresh produce. Instead, consider it more as an around-the-world culinary excursion. I recently joined Melting Pot Food Tours for one of their trips to the city’s famed market. To fully appreciate all that this foodie paradise has to offer, you first have to understand its 82-year history.

The market’s history

In 1880, A.F. Gilmore bought 256 acres of land in what is now central Los Angeles to house two dairy farms. Water was scarce and in order to provide for his cattle, Gilmore began drilling new wells. And just like Jed Clampett once sang, “up from the ground came a bubblin’ crude.”

Cows roaming the open pasture soon gave way to oil wells and rich, plentiful land. Decades later during the height of the Depression, two entrepreneurs looking for a way to help local farmers make money proposed creating a meeting space or what we now call a farmers market. The market became a Hollywood icon with stars such as Shirley Temple, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra becoming regular customers.

A coveted destination for foodies

Fast forward to modern times and today’s market is still a coveted destination for its eclectic food scene and ethnic fare. The best way to experience the venue though is through its history. You can’t truly appreciate every bit without understanding the story behind the proprietor and the cuisine. The Melting Pot Food Tours guides are as entertaining as they are educational, so it’s definitely one of the best ways to wander around the market.

Take a tour

Your day should begin with a visit to Bob’s Coffee and Doughnuts, recognized as the best donut shop in LA by Saveur, USA Today, Zagat and the LA Weekly. Bob himself has been a fixture at the Los Angeles Farmers Market for decades and today can still be seen arriving at 4am to prep the fresh yeast he’ll use to make more than 1,000 donuts. The apple fritters are world famous, but don’t be surprised to see a gooey confection piled high with M&Ms.

Monsieur Marcel Gourmet Market, Los Angeles Farmers Market; photo by Beth Graham. FWT Magazine.

Photo: Monsieur Marcel Gourmet Market (c) Beth Graham. FWT Magazine.

Just a few steps away is the French-inspired Monsieur Marcel Gourmet Market. Here you’ll find a selection of high-end cheeses, wines and condiments. And because Marcel wants to leave a lasting impression, be sure to sample the Hungarian caviar cheese. It’s topped with fresh caviar and you will dream about it for nights to come.

No epicurean adventure would be complete without a visit to Italy. Patsy D’Amore is credited with bringing the first slice of pizza to Los Angeles in 1939. This feat soon caught the eye of Frank Sinatra who helped fund Patsy’s first restaurant and you can still get a slice of the traditional pizza. Peanut butter has become old-school, so stop by Magee’s House of Nuts for some authentic Macadamia butter instead. History has it that President Dwight Eisenhower and The Beatles were both big fans.

Produce stand in the Los Angeles Farmers Market; photo by Beth Graham. FWT Magazine.

Photo: Produce stand in the Los Angeles Farmers Market (c) Beth Graham. FWT Magazine.

Other places you won’t want to miss on this culinary tour include Pampas Grill, a cafeteria-style churrascaría, featuring some of the best Argentinean meats you’ll ever eat; Loteria, an authentic Mexican tacoria; and Singapore’s Banana Leaf for some genuine South Asian cuisine. Your visit should end with a stop at Littlejohn’s English Toffee House for their world-famous toffee.

The verdict

As international food markets go, this one is right up there with Peck in Milan and Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid. It’s grittier and less pretentious, yet the authenticity of the proprietors, storefronts and cuisine can’t be beat.

 

The original Los Angeles Farmers Market; photo by Beth Graham. FWT Magazine.

Photo: The original Los Angeles Farmers Market (c) Beth Graham. FWT Magazine.