The question “What do you feel like eating?” seems innocuous enough but has the potential to cause a full blown argument among finicky eaters. That’s where food festival Smorgasburg LA steps in to save the day with ample offerings to choose from.
BY: Sara Smola
A wordplay on the the original Smorgasburg’s Williamsburg location and Scandinavian buffet meal “smorgasbord,” this LA food festival runs every Sunday, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., rain or shine at the Alameda Produce Market. It’s definitely a foodie destination worth checking out to sample a series of unique eats. There are a variety of vendors offering mouth-watering options to choose from, including Shrimp Daddy, Banh Oui, Mama Musubi and Jolly Oyster—just to name of few of the popular food picks with near cult-like followings.
The idea for Smorgasburg began eight years with the launch of the Brooklyn Flea, as envisioned by partners Eric Demby and Jonathan Bulter. According to Smorgasburg Market Manager Zach Brooks, the original concept “started as like a one day sort of hipster flea market and it became really popular. At the time it was really unique and nobody else was doing it. They had a little bit of food [vendors] at the Brooklyn Flea which over time, became so popular that they ended up spinning the food off into its own event and that was called Smorgasburg.”
Though the original Williamsburg market was the basis for LA’s version, Brooks is adamant that the two coastal markets are each unique unto themselves. “It’s the same kind of incubator [as New York] for food concepts. The LA version is very much an LA market. We were very committed to not taking this “New York thing” and bringing it to LA. We opened an “LA version” of Smorgasburg and most of the vendors are homegrown LA vendors.”
Angelenos responded in kind as the foodie mecca took off immediately, with much of the credit due to the barrage of social media postings as festival offerings became viral hits like the infamous “raindrop cake” and colorful acai coconut bowls from Amazebowls. “Social media is a big part of what drives people to eat at places and how people find out about new restaurants. That is without a doubt, a huge part of our success. Things like raindrop cake or ramen burger, right now Shrimp Daddy is a really popular vendor. They do Hawaiian garlic butter shrimp in a hallowed out pineapple. We have Workaholic, which does colorful, large Korean dumplings, as well as a flying version of japchae [Korean take on Japanese flying noodles],” says Brooks. But Brooks points out that it’s not just about “Instagram-quality” and that it’s “also really about how the food tastes. We have the best pastrami sandwich in LA and that is just two pieces of bread with pastrami or mustard.”
And not just any vendor can sign up and pay a fee to set up shop on Sundays as the strict vetting process ensures only the top quality vendors can participate. “Smorgasburg is very heavily curated. All the vendors go through a casing processing, you can’t just pay to come and vend,” explains Brooks.
The vetting process not only ensures quality-tasting food, but also that hungry diners aren’t plagued by a surplus of similar items or the ordinary “same old, same old” hot dogs and hamburgers. “We have probably forty plus food vendors who are all at varying stages of their existence. We have a lot of [vendors] that only exist at Smorgasburg on Sundays and nowhere else. We don’t have very many food trucks just because there are a lot of food truck festivals around the city and the one thing I will say we pride ourselves on is having a unique market that’s worth traveling across the city for—we’re not a farmers’ market, we’re not sort of a local downtown food place. We recognized from the beginning and have committed to being a destination market, something special that people will want to drive across the city for,” Brooks explains. “So even though some of our vendors have brick and mortars, we don’t have any big chain restaurants that people can get anywhere. The cool thing about Smorgaburg is that every vendor is unique. I could tell you something awesome every one of our vendors. Each vendor is doing one of the best versions of what they do in the city.”