Angelenos tend to be evangelists for street food. It suits us, with the favorable weather and adventurous eaters willing to try anything.
But a four-day trip to London last summer showed me that despite obvious weather challenges, this city also is embracing year-round open-air cooking and eating.
Some of the city’s best and most affordable food can be found on street corners, in shipping containers or down alleys.
Here’s a sampling:
After I finished graduate school in 2010, I visited my best friend in London, where she was studying for her master’s. The first place she took me to was Borough Market, a short walk from London Bridge and a nearby tube station.
The maze of produce stalls, vendors and restaurants makes up London’s oldest food market, established more than 1,000 years ago. It has an energy unlike any of the other markets in the city, with a mix of tourists, locals shopping for dinner and businessmen on their lunch breaks.
You could spend an entire day here and not try everything, but on my last visit (my fourth) a couple of favorites included the paninis from Gastronomica (the prosciutto and mozzarella cheese tend to ooze out of the toasted bread); a slice of Tuscan porchetta from Roast Hog topped with applesauce; mignonette-doused oysters from Richard Haward’s Oysters; and seafood paella from Furness Fish, Poultry & Game.
If you like to imbibe while you eat, it’s best to find the Cartwright Brothers stand for sangria or a Pimm’s Cup before winding your way through the market. Unless you grab a seat at one of the restaurants along the perimeter of the market, there aren’t designated places to sit, but whatever you’re eating tastes pretty good while perched on a curb or empty produce crate.
Info: Borough Market, 8 Southwark St. The market is open seven days a week in December and Mondays-Saturdays the rest of the year. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.
Dinerama, in London’s East End, is a truck depot turned street-food hub created in 2012 by a group called Street Feast. It looks like a postapocalyptic hipster refuge made of shipping containers and huts that are illuminated with string lights.
Painted, converted trash cans serve as impromptu tables, and there are communal seating areas in the middle of the space. Upstairs, the rooftop bar serves rum drinks that rival those back home at your favorite tiki bar.
If the weather is nice, people are crammed into every chair and corner. The crowd is mostly young, tattooed and in sundresses or skinny jeans, with a couple of suits in between. And they are all eating very well.
The food stalls may change, so check the website for current offerings.
An evening of noshing included wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas with bubble-flecked crust from Fundi Pizza, shredded duck buns that tasted like a kicked-up version of duck carnitas from Duck n Roll, tacos full of rib-eye from Breddos Tacos and excellent rotisserie chicken from Birdbox. It was crowded, but I managed to snag a seat upstairs at Dick’s Magic Tiki Bar and finish the warm evening with a slice of Margherita pizza in one hand and a mai-tai in the other.
Info: Dinerama, 19 Great Eastern St. Open noon to “late” Thursdays-Sundays. Admission is free before 7 p.m., then about $4 after. The market is open year round and is open-air May through September. In October, a roof and heat lamps are added.
Maltby Street Market
Maltby Street Market, also known as the Ropewalk in reference to a ropewalk nearby, has been around since 2010. It is a relatively short walk from Tower Bridge and is a popular weekend spot for locals and tourists in need of a steak sandwich or oysters.
The Ropewalk is lined with workshops filled with furniture being refinished, saws, drills, paint and wood. A dozen food vendors, packed in tightly, are set up in front of these workshops.
I started under the Ropewalk sign and strolled down the narrow alley, turning my head from side to side so I wouldn’t miss anything. I was drawn to a pan the size of a truck tire full of French tartiflette (diced potatoes, Reblochon cheese, lardons and onions), but then I realized I had almost missed the German sausages to my left. And up ahead, an impressive display of Scotch eggs.
The lineup of vendors does change but the Cheese Truck is one of the regulars. I ordered a grilled cheese with Keen’s cheddar, Ogleshield and sweet onion, then watched with delight as my sandwich-maker used an iron press, causing the cheese to ooze and puddle around the bread.
I wasn’t done yet. I spotted smoke curling out of a Green Egg grill several yards ahead and discovered Beefsteaks. I finished my grilled cheese while I waited in line for what could be the best steak sandwich I’ve ever tasted. The meat was grilled simply, to medium rare, then sliced and piled onto a French roll with arugula and bordelaise sauce from a squirt bottle.
I used my sandwich as a primer for cocktails at Little Bird Residency, a gin bar tucked into one of the market’s archways. Bartenders mix or stir cocktails with Little Bird Gin and serve them in retro glassware. I took a seat on a colorful vintage lawn chair and spent what was left of the afternoon there.
Info: Maltby Street Market, 41 Maltby St. Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.
Old Spitalfields Market
For the indecisive eater (that’s me), there’s Old Spitalfields Market in East London, with one of the most diverse street food scenes in the city. I spent about five hours here shopping, then eating, shopping, then drinking, then eating again.
If you’re looking for souvenirs, this is the place, and it’s also where you’ll find food from all over the world. At Habesha Ethiopian and Eritrean Kitchen, I sampled bubbling pots of lentils stewed in a fiery Berbere sauce; yellow turmeric potatoes; and greens and chickpeas.
I bought a vintage Rolling Stones concert T-shirt, then grabbed a carnitas taco from the Mexican food cart Al Chile. I rummaged through some jewelry to find a necklace for a friend, then decided I needed cold-pressed juice and a Neapolitan pie from the baby blue Sud Italia pizza truck. The crust on which it was served, almost as thin as the piece of paper, was easy to fold and eat while I continued to shop.
Because there is always room for oysters, I ducked into Wright Bros., one of the sit-down restaurants at the market (there is also a Wagamama, an American-style diner and a Portuguese restaurant), and grabbed a seat at the marble oyster bar for a half-dozen oysters.
Info: Old Spitalfields Market, 16 Horner Square. Market open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Hours for food stalls and restaurants inside the market will vary.
THE BEST WAY TO LONDON
From LAX, American, British, Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic, United and Norwegian offer nonstop service to London; KLM, American, United, Air Canada and Delta offer connecting service (change of planes). Restricted round-trip airfares from $680, including taxes and fees.