Once, a couple of years ago, a sushi stand opened that sold a memorable spicy tuna hand roll. This was an excellent development: It was good and didn't interrupt shopping, as you could carry it and eat it like an ice cream cone. Alas, it just did not fit in, and we locals who dwell without benefit of sea air were left struggling with our plates of pupusas, tamales, sausages and jambalaya.
Shoppers at Santa Monica's Farmers Market may catch glimpses of stars, models or chefs from JiRaffe or Mélisse. In Hollywood, a good day would include the sighting of a 90-year-old woman in full cowgirl regalia — with fringes on both skirt and vest. Although the glamour may not always be A-list, the Hollywood market rivals any and beats most in number and diversity. And, forearmed with a few tips, you can find some tasty eats along the food strip — which runs west to east across the market on Selma from Cahuenga to Vine — along with soap, bread, pottery and schmatte stands.
My favorite bite is the fried calamari ($6) sold at the West Coast Fish Market truck, located smack in the middle of the market. Tables are always available here. This is an excellent spot to check out the regulars who set this farmers market apart from, say, Beverly Hills', including the world's most adorably ineffective radicals: an inaudible militant from the Revolutionary Worker, or the man in nature's own fright wig who wanders to and fro with a clipboard he never gets anyone to sign.
In any event, the calamari, lightly breaded and fried in canola oil, is golden, both crunchy and springy, well salted and delicious. It's served with cocktail sauce and tartar sauce. You can also get grilled shrimp, fish tacos or ceviche here.
The winner for tasty bargain is Pupusas Delmy, on the south side of the main eating strip between Cahuenga and Ivar. There, for $2, you can get hot-off-the-griddle masa dough the size of a small breakfast pancake, inlaid with chicken or pork with cheese. A whopping $3 will buy you one of the more complex combinations (such as cheese, mushroom and zucchini blossoms). The warm and crispy pupusa is offset by a cool white dab of sour cream and crunchy cabbage sprinkled with hot sauce.
Nearby, the Mis Padres stand offers a very good soft taco ($2); the chicken is diced into tiny hanging-chad-sized squares and is topped with a generous amount of the freshest cilantro and an excellent salsa verde. Across the aisle is Dave's Korean Gourmet Food, where recommended bites are the crispy beef barbecue, served with kimchi, glass noodles and rice ($7), and the potstickers ($3). He also offers some vegetarian dishes.
Contrary to what the food critic at the Revolutionary Worker might have you believe, the superior tamale at the market is not the one that looks more tossed-off and street-foody, but the more standardized version made by Corn Maiden, which is also sold at Trader Joe's and Gelson's. The tamale skin is light and corny, and the booth — on the less crowded east side near Vine — offers some intriguing combinations, and some that sound odd without a bagel involved (smoked salmon, cream cheese and chives).
But the pork carnitas tamales are great ($2.75). There are three good sauces, mild (tomatillo); medium (roasted corn and chile); and hot (Mexican chile). These are available to take home and freeze and, unlike most of the prepared food at the market, will have some shelf life.
Magnet for vegans
Next to Corn Maiden is the personable and beautiful Marlene Myrie, selling plates of jambalaya ($5) and Louisiana gumbo ($6). Her simple grilled chicken tastes as wonderful as it smells roasting on the grill, and it's served with fried plantains, black beans and rice ($5).
Struggling valiantly to represent a healthy alternative, the Soup's On stand on the west side is a magnet for vegans and vegetarians, though there are some meat-based soups. Keith Mullaney, who also ladles his wares at the Hammer Museum, says he offers 300 varieties of soup, but not at once. A cold candied ginger and cantaloupe soup hit the spot on a hot day and tasted like an ingenious juice concoction.
For dessert, visit the lemonade stand just to the east of Soup's On. They make a humble aebleskiver, which apparently is Danish for donut hole. It is served warm from the cute aebleskiver pan with raspberry jam (take it light!) and powdered sugar. Coupled with some almond-flavored steamed milk from the nearby Espresso Experience stand, this is a heavenly snack for a child or someone in desperate need of comfort food.
People rave about the Frontier Kettle Korn, freshly popped in soybean oil. It has both saltiness and sweetness to recommend it, and it's vibrant when still warm. When I placed it later among the hors d'oeuvres at dinner, my stepchildren thought I had lost my mind. But by then it was just cold popcorn. Like so many joys, those of the Sunday food stands are ephemeral.
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Moving west to east on Selma Avenue between Cahuenga Boulevard and Vine Street, you'll find the following snacks:
Pupusas Delmy, pork and cheese pupusa, $2; cheese, mushroom and zucchini blossom pupusa, $3.
Dave's Gourmet Korean Food, galbee (Korean barbecue), $7; potstickers, $3.
Mis Padres, chicken taco, $2.
West Coast Fish Market, fried calamari, $6.
The place known as Marlene's Jambalaya Stand (it has no official name), "Kuban kombo" grilled chicken, $5; jambalaya, $5; Louisiana gumbo, $6; grilled chicken, $5.
Corn Maiden Tamales, pork carnitas tamale with green chile and Mexican oregano, $2.75.
Aebleskiver and lemonade stand, aebleskiver, $2.
— Laurie Winer