Along Olympic and Central
From the intersection of Olympic and Central, looking east, you can already see the colorful stalls and stands that line the sidewalk. All under the sunny gaze of the downtown L.A. skyline.
The existing storefronts along the street also roll up their doors, selling bulk candies, little trinkets, and piñatas in bulk. Seriously, this is where to go when you need to throw a party for a thousand of your closest 9-year-old friends.
Space can be tight under the tarps, with toys to the right and bags of dried chiles and corn husks to the left.
Chiles de arbol, chipotles, poblanos, and more lay open in large crates, waiting to be weighed and taken home.
Cooking at the Mercado
Finally, the food. Mulitas, quesadillas, fried plantains, grilled cactus, and that L.A. staple, hotdogs wrapped in bacon, lay ready and waiting to be eaten.
Lots of corn
Another staple is the elote, a grilled corn cob served on a stick with salt, chile powder, butter and mayonnaise. The boiled and seasoned kernels on the right can also be topped with a variety of ingredients, and are known as esquites.
Chicharron and Chorizo
This vendor pulls thin, crispy sides of pork skin from his bubbling cazo of hot oil. The skin is sold in large, salty sheets as a walking around snack, while the hanging chorizo is for taking home and enjoying later.
Here, thin strips of tilapia are fried into warm, crispy-yet-tender fish sticks. Top 'em with a squirt of lemon and some Tapatio, but be sure to give them a minute to cool off first.
Carnitas vendors at work
Carnitas is big business in Los Angeles, and the hard-selling vendors at Mercado Olympic certainly know how to cook a pig. They also know how to have a little fun.
Carnitas perfection at work.
Tacos Al Pastor
There are tacos, of course. Lots of them, including this al pastor taco that is shaved directly from the spit, right in the middle of the Mercado Olympic.
Blue Corn Quesadillas
Hand-patted quesadillas are also common, although the blue corn variety is less so. Most quesadillas are customizable; chorizo is a popular choice but squash blossom flowers also work well with the thick, fresh tortillas and melty Mexican cheese.
Huitlacoche, the funky Mexican corn smut that tastes a bit like truffles, is also a popular quesadilla offering.
A vat of Churros
Of course, what trip to the Mercado Olympic would be complete without a freshly fried churro? Mixed on site and handled with some serious expertise, these churros are squiggly and delicious, warm and light on the inside with a heap of cinnamon pressed onto the crisp exterior. It's a fantastic way to end a food crawl through the stalls of the Mercado Olympic.