Whether you live in Los Angeles or are visiting, a culinary tour of the 75-year-old landmark Farmers’ Market on Fairfax and Third Streets is a must. Over our kids’ spring break, my friends Kim, Leslie, and their daughters Kelsey, Christina and Katherine joined Emma and me (actually, all this was Kim’s idea) on The Melting Pot Tour, where we explored all the nooks and cranies of the fabulous Farmers’ Market as well as chic Third Street with its charming eateries. We all had a ball. The tour leader Diane was chatty, informative and lots of fun. The food was so good…and what a variety of things we got to taste! The stories the market owners told were fascinating. A little lore, a lot of snacking…what more can anyone want?
The tour takes almost four hours, and it flies by. Tasting stops are interspersed with shop visits—Diane and her sister Lisa do an impeccable job with the pacing, the info, everything—and there are plenty of both. Among the highlights:
• After Bob’s Doughnuts (yum on those donuts; the kids got hot chocolate, we got coffee to wash ’em down), we went to Monsieur Marcel, a gourmet-food-shop-cum-restaurant-bar (across the walkway). There, we sampled bread, cheese and olives, and Diane pointed out some must-haves that we all bought after the tour was over: a special “house” caviar cheese, Nomu spices and a divine, really divine, De Nigris Balsamic Glaze from Italy.
• No, none of us liked the toffee at Littlejohn’s English Toffee House….Ha! Not surprisingly, the girls gave it a 10+ rating, and begged us to buy some to take home. It was unquestionably the best toffee any of had every had. Littlejohn’s is a business that’s been in the family for generations–its founders met at the Farmers’ Market, and their son, who now runs the place, met his wife there, too. Love at first bite.
• If you’re into peanut butter, the fresh-ground peanut butter was to die for at Magee’s House of Nuts.
•Oh, that just-from-oven-monkey bread from Thee’s Continental Pastries still calls to me.
• Pampas Grill is a Churrasco Brazilian buffet, and was it delicious! There are lots of offerings, and we snacked on two of the most popular dishes: fried yucca sprinkled with Parmesan—better than a French fry, on of the girls said; and cheese rolls we stuffed with Portuguese sausage and sirloin cap seasoned with rock salt and garlic. This spot demands a return.
• We took bites of one another’s macarons so everyone could sample all the flavors at Little Next Door, a charming restaurant with a courtyard covered with vines. This stop brought back wonderful memories for Emma and me. When Bruce and I took her to Paris (she was eight years old), we broke up our endless walks with Taste Tests of macarons—you can imagine how many patisseries she convinced us needed testing! So this stop was especially meaningful–it’s been tough to find the real thing in LA—would these beauties have held up to the selection in Paris? Emma gave it a thumb’s up.
• At Joan’s on Third (always a favorite spot of Emma’s and mine–we love to stop for lunch or a snack and eat cafe-style on the sidewalk), we had their famous mac and cheese (the first bite will tell you why it’s famous) as well as a fantastic Chinese chicken salad. They have bags of the “crunchies” for sale, which I always buy along with vanilla- and chocolate-flavored marshmallows.
• Chado Tea Room brewed several types of teas for us to sample. Keeping the girls in mind, they offered fruity flavors and even one that was chocolatey…all a hit with all of us. There are dozens and dozens of teas from all over the world to choose among, plus there’s a lovely little restaurant that serves high tea…great for a girls’ lunch, a mother-daughter treat or just a mid-afternoon respite on a too-busy day.
• Our final stop was Mishima where we sampled noodles with “special sauce” that was indeed special, and delicious California rolls. It was the perfect ending to a lovely day for me because when Emma was very little, we used to take her to Mishima and she loved the kids’ doggie bento box (how cute is that?).
Do yourself a favor and go with Diane one Friday or Saturday morning. I’ve been to the LA Farmers’ Market numerous times, and frankly was always overwhelmed by its offerings: I just never knew where to eat, or what to buy. Now, thanks to Diane and her fantastic Tour of the place, I’m totally at home there, and I’m going to be a regular. Bruce is dying to go with us….I want to buy some Kobe beef from Bob at Huntington Meats and Sausages (it’s $79 a pound, a relative steal, and Bob, who keeps his prices as low as possible, sensibly suggested getting half a pound and serving it as an appetizer). Plus, I just can’t live without that De Nigris Balsamic Glaze.