The tents of Smorgasburg L.A. seem, at first, to stretch on for miles. A lap of the lot will make the place seem a lot more manageable, but will inevitably bring a new set of problems. The event, held every Sunday on Alameda Street, brings in vendors from across Los Angeles, offering attendees a chance to sample an impressively diverse range of cuisines.
But when all these sights and smells are competing for your attention, options quickly start to fade into a haze of chalkboard menus and faux rustic signage. Without a few destinations in mind, Smorgasburg will suck you in and, before you know it, you’ll find that you’re $80 down and it’s only been an hour. Quality, at least in this case, does not come cheap.
Sadly, neither did even the most mediocre of the dishes I tried: Brothecary, where I spent $10 on four dumplings, wasn’t bad, just bad value. It’s a perfect example of what can happen when you arrive without a plan and go straight to the first place you see. It’s a costly mistake — a waste of money as well as precious stomach space. So, here are a few recommendations to help you navigate the sprawl. If you’re looking for something more, I usually just try the place with the longest line. It’s not a very adventurous method for choosing where to eat, but it’s almost always a safe bet.
I can’t incorporate $10 dumplings into my everyday diet, but at $3.25 for a generously stuffed taco, I could certainly afford another meal from Tacos 1986. I tried the adobada (pork marinated in a smoky chile sauce) and the carne asada. Both were more than worth the money, but the carne asada was my personal favorite. If you’re looking to visit during the week, Tacos 1986 also has a permanent spot in Downtown L.A.
Chinese Laundry only offers a few noodle dishes at its Smorgasburg location, which, at an event overflowing with options, is a blessing. The noodles are homemade throughout the day behind the stall, so they’re always fresh, and the spicy Sichuan broth isn’t so hot that it sacrifices flavor. The chef also operates Live Noodz, a stand on York Boulevard in Highland Park, which serves the same hand-pulled noodles (hence the name). One word of warning though: Avoid the roast duck. I could still feel the grease on my hands when I got home.
MOO’S CRAFT BARBECUE
Far and away the best item of the trip, Moo’s Craft Barbecue’s beef ribs more than justified the $28 per pound price tag. It also offer a variety of other smoked meats, all sliced and weighed while you watch. Accordingly, the line is much longer and moves much more slowly — the crowd gathered around the stall is enough to make even the most determined foodie hesitate. But since Moo’s Craft Barbecue has no permanent location, Smorgasburg L.A. is one of the few places in the city you’ll be able to find ribs this good.
If you are looking for a more complex and impressive dessert, try Wanderlust Creamery next door. Each flavor takes inspiration from a notable world city or unique cuisine. While the theme is almost aggressively Instagram-friendly, it isn’t just a gimmick. The ube malted crunch is a great spin on a common flavor, and the sticky rice with mango is an admirable attempt to capture the original dish. It’s certainly more expensive than Mumu Bakery at $7 for two scoops, but it’s the best ice cream at the event.