Instead of the mall, crawl at three cool L.A. food halls

Barbecue restaurant Maple Block Meat Co.'s location at Grand Central Market
Barbecue restaurant Maple Block Meat Co., now with a location at Grand Central Market, serves ribs, sides such as mac and cheese and weekend brisket.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

It’s low-key “real summer” in Southern California now that September is here. At least that’s the way climate change has steered us the last couple of years: August was almost unbearable yet we all know that in L.A. usually the heat persists past the fall equinox into early October.

This Labor Day weekend, I’m waiting out the high noon hours somewhere shady and cool, preferably with a frozé in hand. I’m Danielle Dorsey, the assistant editor at Food and publisher of all our Food guides, with this week’s Tasting Notes.

The nostalgic solution to SoCal heat

Raised in San Diego and Riverside before moving to L.A. in adulthood, I’m a Southern California girl through and through. That means that when the summer heat reaches its August apex and holds steady into September, there’s nowhere that feels more nostalgic and refreshing to be than one of my local malls, where I can walk breezy corridors with no specific destination and kick up my feet in the food court whenever I desire a break.


These days, I try to avoid the fast-fashion stores that crowd such retail centers, but I’ve since substituted them with food halls, of which L.A. has plenty that hold historic value and offer space to a range of innovative vendors who make use of local produce and purveyors. Here are three food halls with flowing air included, two with long legacies and one that just opened this year, along with a few vendors to check out when you visit.

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Three food halls

Topanga Social: Just opened in May, Topanga Social brings some of L.A.’s most popular restaurant concepts to a spacious location that serves as a food court for the Westfield Topanga shopping plaza. Here you’ll find the only Amboy outpost outside of the Chinatown original, for an array of burger options; I Love Micheladas, from the family behind Guelaguetza, which also pops up at Smorgasburg’s Sunday beer garden; Detroit-style pizza from Dtown Pizzeria; a coveted second location for 101 best restaurants pick Mini Kabob; and the debut bricks-and-mortar for Hawaiian-inflected Shrimp Daddy. There are two bars currently on site, a tropical margarita garden and Sunset Strip import Rock & Reilly’s. And if you’re itching to shop a big-brand store before or after eating, the mall’s right there.

Citizen Public Market: Serving as a Culver City newspaper and commercial print shop when it first opened in 1928, Citizen Public Market relaunched in fall 2020 after a dramatic renovation. Now, it’s a food court that’s host to eight stalls and the second-story rooftop Bar Bohémien. Goodboybob is perfectly positioned at the entrance that looks out on a busy Culver Boulevard, serving coffee drinks, a selection of wines by the bottle or glass, fresh-baked pastries and chapatis (whole-wheat wraps with breakfast fillings). Head further in and you’ll see Bang Bang Noodles staff hand-pulling thick, long biang biang noodle strands for hefty bowls that are made to order with signature sauces, chile oils and vegetables. Pull up to the counter at Jolly Oyster for oysters and other fresh seafood options paired with natural wines, select a set of hand rolls packed with dry-aged fish from Uoichiba Handroll, bite into crunchy L.A.-meets-Japanese-style fried chicken from Go Go Bird, grab a sausage patty burger at the Weho Sausage Company or sample West African staples like jollof rice and pepper soup at Ilé Bistro, all in a comfortable, temperature-controlled environment.

People walk among stalls under neon signs at Grand Central Market.
Grand Central Market has been an epicenter for L.A.’s most exciting food concepts for over a century.
(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

Grand Central Market: Caveat: There is no AC at Grand Central Market and it does get a little sticky on hot summer days, especially when it’s crowded. That said, huge fans are set up at the front and back of the open-air market, so there is some air flow. Go before noon or for a late dinner and you should be pretty comfortable. The 101 best restaurants pick has been home to some of the city’s most exciting food pop-ups since it opened in 1917. Food reporter Stephanie Breijo covered two of the market’s newest vendors in her Quick Bites column: Maple Block Meat Co., a smoked-meat specialist with an outpost in Culver City, and Sushi Rush, with sushi and hand rolls. They join the ranks of long-standing tenants like Roast to Go and China Cafe, plus newer arrivals like smashburger spot For the Win and Broad Street Oyster Co. with lobster rolls, seafood towers and — you guessed it — oysters. Not only is the market an ideal place to park it for the chilled air that courses through its alleyways, but it’s a great option for dining out with a group of friends who can’t agree on one place.

Have your Food Bowl tickets yet?

A chef prepares a dish in a restaurant kitchen.
Chef Malcolm Lee prepares a dish in the kitchen at his Pangium restaurant in Singapore.
(Cody Long / Los Angeles Times)

It turns out mall crawling is a global pastime. During Food columnist Jenn Harris’ recent trips to Bangkok, Thailand and Singapore, she found some of her favorite bites at bustling shopping malls, hawker centers and on the street. Bookmark her favorite Singapore and Thailand food and drink spots for your next trip to Southeast Asia.

Don’t forget to also read Harris’ profiles of chef Malcolm Lee of Michelin-starred Candlenut, who is taking his time with slow-paced Peranakan cuisine in fast-paced Singapore, and Thitid Tassanakajohn, known as Chef Ton, who caught global attention when he debuted Le Du, a seasonal tasting-menu restaurant in Bangkok that currently holds the top spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Asia list.

You can try signature courses from both chefs at upcoming L.A. Times Food Bowl events, including a Singaporean feast at Wattles Farm with chefs Malcolm Lee and Minh Phan of Phenakite and Porridge + Puffs on Sept. 3, and the Four Hands Dinner, where Chef Ton will collaborate with chef Marcel Vigneron on an East-meets-West menu with custom cocktail pairings at Lemon Grove restaurant in Hollywood on Sept. 25.

Tickets are sold out for the L.A. Times Food Bowl launch party, as well as events celebrating Restaurant of the Year Holbox and the 2023 Gold Award winner, Jenee Kim of Park’s BBQ, but you can still join the Night Market that’s held on the Paramount Studios backlot Sept. 22-24, with cooking demonstrations from local and global chefs including Virgilio Martinez from Central in Peru, Bricia Lopez of Guelaguetza and Timothy Hollingsworth of Otium, plus exclusive bites from restaurants such as Awan, Camphor, Caviar Kaspia, Ditroit Taqueria, Evil Cooks, Jitlada, Kogi BBQ, n/soto, Saltie Girl and many more.

While you count down to the dinners, learn how to make Malcolm Lee’s mom’s chicken curry and Tassanakajohn’s khao kluk kapi recipe at home. We’ve also invited 2023 Food Bowl participants into The Times’ test kitchen, including Kim Prince of Dulanville food truck, who shared a Nashville hot shrimp and grits recipe, and Anajak Thai’s Justin Pichetrungsi, who walks us through the process of making laab moo.

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