What to eat now: Grub your way through this food hall in Montebello
I favor the build-your-own adventure model when deciding on my weekend meal plans. The best way to achieve this is with a visit to a food hall. In Stanton, there’s the Rodeo 39 Public Market. Downtown L.A. has Grand Central Market. There’s Blossom Market in San Gabriel. And in Montebello, there’s the Blvd Mrkt, which opened last fall.
Located in the former Rite Loom Carpet building at the corner of West Whittier Boulevard and North 6th Street, the indoor-outdoor space is fashioned with stark white shipping containers that house various food and beverage vendors. It was co-founded by married couple Barney and Evelyn Santos, who are both L.A. natives.
“We saw there was a drastic need for this type of community hub,” Barney said during a recent call. “Community pride was low and we wanted to build something that we felt represented the interest of the community and to invest in the downtown area in a responsible way.”
This week’s column is devoted to the best things I ate there:
Godfather and Bada Bing pizzas from La Crosta
The pizza from La Crosta is not overly dressed or showy; the toppings not extravagant. Instead, chef-owner Jason Raiola is turning out simple, first-rate Neopolitan-style pies. He joined Blvd Mrkt in April, with a indoor stand just off the patio. His crust is textbook excellent, chewy and puffy in parts, blistered and spotted along the edges and slightly sweet. It’s a humble platform for the San Marzano tomatoes, blobs of mozzarella and torn basil. The Godfather may be the least original name for a meat-strewn pizza, but order it anyway. (The other pizza names are Bada Bing, Bada Boom, Gavone and Gabagool). The meat on the Godfather is plentiful, with crumbled Italian sausage, thick cups of Ezzo pepperoni that curl up in the oven and char around the edges to crispy perfection and ribbons of thinly sliced capicola that crowd every available surface. It’s pleasantly salty in that cured pork product kind of way, mellowed by the sweetness of the tomatoes. Because I appreciate greens on my pizza (we can debate the existence of the salad pizza another time), I also ordered the Bada Bing, which comes with discernable chunks of chopped broccolini, thick ribbons of Calabrese peppers, sausage crumbles and basil pesto. Really though, with this crust, any toppings will do.
Loroco and cheese pupusas from Vchos Pupuseria Moderna
Pupusas may vary in fillings, but rarely in form. Wendy Centeno uses fresh masa that she rolls into balls, smashes and griddles until the pucks of corn dough blister and combust with whatever is inside. This is how she grew up preparing them in El Salvador, where the pupusa is the national dish. She started making pupusas on the Vchos truck more than a decade ago. The favorite on the short menu is cheese and loroco, a green commonly found throughout Central America. It tastes a bit like the stem on a leaf of Swiss chard with a mild, earthy flavor. The middle is so packed with cheese and loroco that the green-studded, molten mixture spills out at various leakage points. The spillage creates a cheese perimeter that you can eat before you get to the main attraction. An order comes with two pupusas, a cup of curtido (a slightly pickled cabbage and carrot slaw) and mild salsa roja. A little bit of everything in each bite is the way to go.
When we think of Latinos in South L.A., we’re really talking about Central Americans.
Gumbo and collard greens from Nola’s Cajun Cuisine
Chef Keiven Cross’ gumbo is a deep, red-tinged hickory. A mound of white rice floats in the middle, slowly sinking into the stew below. It’s thick but not heavy, clinging to the spoon, the rice and the sides of the bowl. Brimming with the richness of its foundational roux, there’s a quaver of smoke from the coins of browned andouille sausage. Tails from shrimp peek through the surface, crowded alongside bits of chicken, peppers, celery and onion. It’s warming and extravagant — a party in a bowl. To go with the gumbo, a cup of greens. This is the side I gravitate toward most at a Southern restaurant, over the mac and cheese or the yams. I’m always amazed at the intensity of flavor leached from cooking greens until they capitulate and turn supple. Cross’ greens are superb and spicy. The greens and gumbo came at the end of my Blvd Mrkt food adventure. Next time, Nola Cajun and Creole will be my first stop.
520 Whittier Blvd., Montebello, (323) 863-5566, blvdmrkt.com
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