The mid-aughts food truck craze may be long gone, but its legacy lives on in one major philosophical tenet for Angelenos-we love an elusive dining experience. Showing up at a random place at an odd hour to find a crowd of people milling around eating (or, more likely, waiting to eat) is an essential rite of passage, and though we’re not following food trucks like we used to, the thrill of the chase remains. Now, though, we’re chasing pop-ups: mobile restaurants that take over an alley or a stretch of sidewalk or someone else’s kitchen for an evening to sell their food and then fade back into the night.
The concept isn’t entirely new-we’ve long enjoyed a range of recurring night markets inspired by Asian street hawker markets-but LA’s current pop-up scene is livelier than ever, spanning day and night, weekdays and weekends, in neighbourhoods all over town. More importantly, these concepts provide the lowest possible overhead for ambitious, up-and-coming chefs and aspiring restaurateurs. This trend within street food cuisine gives talented folks who are often used to cooking other people’s food a chance to showcase their own passions, to bring their background to the forefront and do their own damn thing. It also gives us more access to underrepresented cuisines from the Caribbean, Asia, and Central America, and has also led to new combinations like bonkers street pasta, Filipino soul food, and Porkstrami.
To save you time, we’ve done the delicious detective work of scouting out LA’s best ongoing food pop-ups. Here are 15 of our favourites:
Smorgasburg was an innovator in this arena, a Brooklyn import that provides a large gathering space at ROW DTLA every Sunday. Their roster of vendors may be the best around, including certified hits like Bridgetown Roti, B’ivrit, Little Fish, Macheen, and so many more. They’ve been a springboard for pop-ups to take all the way off, a stage for new concepts to debut, and a consistent home for fans to find some well-established but mercurial favourites. There are also dedicated rows for clothing, crafts, gifts, and packaged goods, an all-important beer garden, and they do some excellent seasonal themes like barbecue and ice cream, with cross-cultural collaborations between vendors. It’s a hell of a good time, and it doesn’t hurt that the on-site garage makes parking extremely easy. How to visit: Their website has a complete vendor list, and their Instagram is the place to check out upcoming theme days and collabs.
Guatemalan Night Market
Guatemalan food doesn’t get the widespread respect it deserves, except at the nightly Guatemalan market in Westlake at Bonnie Brae and 6th Street. There, the sidewalks are flooded with the smell of smoke from grills cooking up Guatemalan Longaniza sausage, steak, and ribs. Vendors fry up dobladas, half-moons of masa like a Guatemalan empanada, and scoop caldos out of giant bubbling pots. There are tostadas and tamales and atoles and an amazing collection of other specialities, including plates of French fries doused in salsa and mayo, then topped with a variety of meats. How to visit: Like the Thai Town Night Market, your best bet is to just show up after 5 pm and cruise the market to see what looks good.
West Adams, Arts District, Hollywood
Nobody has taken better advantage of the pop-up landscape than the plant-based eating community; there have been vegan pop-ups as long as pop-ups have been a thing, including folks like Alchemy Organica, Cena, and Southern Fried Vegan, among many others. If you need any further evidence, look to the thrice-weekly all-vegan pop-up festival Vegan Playground, which bounces between Party Beer Co. in West Adams, Boomtown Brewery in the Arts District, and Plant Power Fast Food in Hollywood, with a rotating cast of 15 or 20 vegan pop-up vendors. Highlights have included Cambodian food from Srey Vegan, soul food from Compton Vegan, birria from PachaTaco, and more. How to visit: Their website and Instagram are both kept up-to-date.
Thai Town Night Market
Every Monday and Tuesday night, a crowd forms on the sidewalk outside the 99 Cent Store on Sunset in Thai Town. But it’s not for cheap home goods or last season’s candy, it’s for Thai street food. There are vendors selling skewers, noodles, papaya salad, sweet and savoury crepes, and perhaps best of all, sticky rice filled with banana then wrapped in banana leaf and grilled for a smushy, lightly charred dessert. Many of the vendors also sell their goods at the excellent weekend market at Wat Thai in North Hollywood, but not all vendors sell Thai food specifically-recent evenings have seen pupusas, tacos, and a particularly good mochiko chicken, among others. The poorly-lit stretch of the sidewalk may not be as glamorous as some of the other pop-up destinations around town, but the Thai Town Night Market has exciting enough, excellent food to more than make up for it. Make sure you bring cash, and maybe brush up on your Thai language skills. How to visit: The market has no formal online presence at the moment, so just show up at 5270 Sunset Blvd. between 6 and 10 pm on Monday or Tuesday.
Sara’s Market owners Sara and Steven Valdes are legit veterans of the pop-up game at this point-if you’ve heard of it, they’ve probably hosted it at their excellent neighbourhood liquor store in City Terrace. A’s BBQ, The Goat Mafia, Bootleg Pizza, Carnitas El Momo, and many more have set up their stands in front of the bright pink building for a raucous good time. Most of that is because of the Valdes’ warm hospitality and open minds-they’re charismatic, fun hosts, quick with a joke, willing to try any cuisine at any level of hype, and extremely supportive of the community. The other part is probably the killer craft beer and natural wine selection, a perfect brown-bag pairing opportunity. How to visit: Check Instagram for upcoming vendors.
Every Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm, the historically Black neighbourhood of Leimert Park Village comes alive with an African marketplace and drum circle that’s been ongoing for more than 25 years, taking place along Degnan Blvd, between 43rd Place and 43rd Street. Like street vendors across LA, some of the African marketplace vendors have recently been targeted for not obtaining appropriate street vending permits, which has led to the formal creation of Black Women Vend, which aims to educate Black women street vendors on food costs, LA County health codes and permits, and finances, and will eventually culminate in a Black Women Vend Night Market. In the meantime, you can still dig into African and Caribbean delicacies like Jamaican patties, oxtail and gravy, and vegan Ethiopian salad from vendors like Emeye’s Ethiopian Kitchen and Island Spice Tingz, shop loads of hand-crafted jewellery and clothing, or join activities and a drum circle for kids. How to visit: Every Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm.
It smells like mesquite at El Gato Night Market, the collection of street food stalls that assembles on the roof of a parking garage in Westlake on weekend evenings. The smoke billows from charcoal grills at what feels like half of the stands at the market, accompanied by the rhythmic slapping of hands on fresh masa-this market is one of the best local destinations for tacos. Vendors like Tacos El Apa serve smoky grilled meats in blue corn tortillas, with clay pots of beans and potatoes and escabeche to pile around them. There are also tacos de canasta from El Rey, charcoal-grilled Chinese skewers from DragonFire BBQ, and tons of desserts like the chamoy-coated candy from Super Gummy Bros and fried-to-order funnel cakes and churros from Jam’n Funnel Cakes. How to find what’s popping: Hey guess what, they’re on Instagram.
Melody is a funky and fun natural wine bar in a converted bungalow on Virgil Ave that shatters any previous conceptions you might have had about the trademark stuffiness or pretentiousness within the scene. The wine list is global and eclectic, and the cuisine is its match, a rotating selection of pop-ups getting down in the kitchen. Since this is an actual kitchen in a brick-and-mortar restaurant, their pop-ups lean a little more composed than the average street stall, with plating and prices to match. Tiger & The Horse, Soul Phil, and Amiga Amore have all blown through recently, and they also host a particularly fun rotating cookout on weekend afternoons with Hephaestus on the grill. How to visit: They have a website, but you’re probably better off looking at their Instagram for the schedule, menu, and dish photos.
If Benny Boy were just a brewery, it would have been enough. If Benny Boy were just a brewery and cidery, it would have been enough. But Benny Boy is all that and still more-including a fantastic venue for pop-up food. Between their split brewhouse and cider house is a gorgeous patio, an open space with fire pits and tons of seating and plenty of room for stands like River Street BBQ, Saucy Chick Rotisserie, Metztli Taqueria, and lots of other killer vendors to pop-up. It’s the perfect place to meet up before a Dodger game or take a break from your commute on the I-5, to unwind with a Michelada and a snack. And don’t miss their event calendar either, which includes things like a Parmigiano Reggiano cracking party with Milkfarm and a Txotx Festa, where they’ll be unveiling their Basque-style cider with a traditional barrel pour session. How to visit: The calendar on their website is your best bet.
Oh, you thought we were kidding about vegans excelling in the pop-up game? There are so many fantastic vendors and fun events centred around vegan food that we can’t fit them all here. But for deep Valley dwellers, one of the best local events takes place in Woodland Hills on weekends, where a small but mighty list of vendors pitch their tents in the parking lot of the Fallbrook Veterinary Clinic, a perfectly symbolic location. Head out that way to check out La Crêpe, Agi’s Samosas, Minns Baked Goods, and more. How to visit: Vendors and pop-up dates are on their Instagram.
About a year ago, after a tremendous surge in online and real-life interest, the night market on Ave 26 in Lincoln Heights was shut down by city officials. Vendors organized, made attempts to negotiate, and tried to find a way through, but the market never returned to that location. After some false starts, it’s now found a new home at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena next to Whittier Narrows. The feeling isn’t quite as exciting and chaotic but it is every bit as fun and delicious, and it’s a much more spacious venue. There are wings, pupusas, esquites, hot dogs, pasta, pizza, churros, and so many taco vendors-and there are real, decent bathrooms this time around. How to visit: There’s no specific vendor list, but their Instagram has tons of photos of food on offer.
Virtual; Various locations
Prosperity Market is not so much a venue itself as it is a platform, a mobile farmers market and pop-up event supporting Black farmers and entrepreneurs. Every month they host a week-long virtual market where they highlight and sell their vendors’ products online with pick-up locations across LA, followed by one big blowout of a pop-up market where everyone comes together in the real world. They move locations each month, but they’ll be setting up at the Obama Sports Complex at the end of August and at the Hollywood Farmers Market in September. Their vendor list has included farmers like Here We Grow, packaged goods like Ode to Aabel Guyanese hot sauce, and fresh food from vendors like Toss It Up salad. How to visit: Check their website or Instagram for the latest details.
During the day, Spoke Bicycle Cafe is exactly what it sounds like-a chill coffee shop and casual restaurant with a bike shop attached. But on weekend evenings this summer, beer buyer Jimmy Smith has coordinated a series of food pop-ups and paired them with some killer craft beers on tap, a combo they’re calling Spoke Nights. The cafe is set up right along the LA River bike path in Frogtown, with a big patio and a few tables that look directly out onto the river. It’s a lovely stop for Trystero coffee and brunch during the day, but with Spoke Nights the spot seems to be fulfilling its true destiny-it’s hard to beat a crisp IPA, food from pop-ups like Hangaburs, Bartz Barbecue, or Tortas Ahogadas El Aguila, and a glimpse of a heron swooping through the LA riverbed in the slowly setting sun. How to visit: Check their Instagram for the schedule; they usually post the whole weekend on Wednesday, with plenty of reminders and hype posts each day.
Braindead is an LA-based fashion collective best known for its trippy graphics, post-punk meets jam band style, and countercultural messaging. Their Fairfax studio has a retail section, a theater for screenings and shows, and a perfect little oasis of a coffee shop called Slammers out back. They serve fashion hypebeasts and the work-from-home crowd during the week, with a shady patio, great (and stylish) coffee, and solid wi-fi, and then on the weekends they serve the food hypebeast crowd with some of the best pop-ups around. Recent weekends have featured the likes of Old Gold, Decades Pizza, and Snack Bar LA, and the hits are still coming. How to visit: The Braindead Studios Instagram page is the one to check.
We’re jumping the gun a little bit with this one-for now Gamboge only has pop-ups scheduled through the rest of August-but between the excellent lineup, the beautiful space, and proprietors Hak Lonh and Jane Oh’s excellent taste it’s worth checking out. The Khmer sandwiches that they made in the space are sorely missed, but a new life as a pop-up venue is a lovely use for this beautiful property, with a kitchen and dining room up front, and a bar and patio out back. They’re hosting Schellz Pizza with Little Lands Wines in early August, with an all-day collaboration between Picaresca Cafe and La Novia later, and more to come. Keep an eye on this space. How to visit: Check their Instagram, of course.
Ben Mesirowis an Echo Park native who writes TV, fiction, food, and sports. At one time or another, his writing has appeared in The LA Times, Litro, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Los Angeles Magazine, and scratched into dozens of desks at Walter Reed Middle School.
Situated in the Santa Monica Mountains and known for its vibrant creative community, Topanga is one of Los Angeles’s most prized destinations for art and outdoor enthusiasts alike. And while LA boasts its own sprawling landscape of fun to tap into, you’d be remiss to miss a chance to explore this tucked-away collection of state parks, and cafes, and restaurants-especially when it all rests just 20 minutes away from the city. From a quaint café with dazzling canyon views to a world-renowned, open-air theatre, here are the best ways to pass some time in Topanga now.
Book dinner at Inn of the Seventh Ray
Owner Lucille Yaney opened this iconic restaurant in 1975 after spotting the property on a drive through the canyon with her late husband Ralph, and it’s safe to say she had a good eye. The land perfectly fits into Yaney’s vision of a romantic, alfresco dining space with tables tucked into cozy nooks and gazebos, all beneath canapes and fairy lights. Today, Yaney co-owns the venue with executive chef consultant Brad Miller. Together, they continue to fulfil the restaurant’s original mission to serve pure, natural foods reflective of the season’s best. That approach appears in dishes like 8-Hour Black Vinegar Braised Short Rib with creamy rosemary polenta, duck bacon Brussels sprouts, and caramelized onion and fig jam; Roasted Mushroom Toast with oyster mushrooms and sherry tarragon cream; and Beets & Whipped Black Pepper Creme Fraiche. Consider the carbs here. Pastas and sauces are made in-house and from scratch, as is the bread (available regular or gluten-free), an order of which you won’t want to miss. Check out the wine list, too, which offers a robust organic and biodynamic selection that has helped the restaurant garner some impressive accolades in recent years.
Check into Topanga Canyon Inn
In addition to plenty of excellent Airbnbs available to rent in the Canyon, there’s Topanga Canyon Inn, a charming bed and breakfast comprised of two Mediterranean-style buildings-Casa Blanca and Casa Rosa-both built by the owners. Guests can enjoy bespoke design details in each room, along with gorgeous mountain views from their own private balcony. Come morning, join other travellers for breakfast, served daily at Casa Rosa.
Get coffee at Café on 27
Ready your camera for a coffee date at this AM eatery and café, where ample (and busy) outdoor seating offers some of the Canyon’s best views. A full breakfast and lunch menu is available (complete with hearty orders like eggs Benedicts, soups, and club sandwiches), but for lighter morning fare, spring for a pastry and any of their specialty drinks, such as the turmeric latte or Moroccan mocha.
Hike Topanga State Park
Spanning 11,000 acres and 36 miles of trails, Topanga State Park is the largest state park within the Santa Monica Mountains and one of the world’s largest parks within city limits. Visitors can access the grounds via more than 60 entrances. Once on the trails, enjoy sweeping vistas while exploring the region’s range of plants, habitats, and wildlife, including several resident bird species.
Grab lunch at Topanga Living Café
Guided by their Topanga upbringing and need for a community gathering spot with great eats, sibling team Agustina Ferguson and Bayu Suryawan opened this daytime eatery in 2016. Ever since, locals and visitors have found refuge in the café’s warm, airy space and nourishing, hyper-fresh fare-all California-inspired with global influences. Check it out in plates like the Island Style, a breakfast salad with Balinese corn fritters, a poached egg, and house-made chilli jam, or the tacos (Baja Fish or Baja Shrimp, Carne Asada, or Kabocha Squash), made-to-order and served on handmade tortillas. If you’re seeking something shareable, try the Farmers Market Crudite, a seemingly humble order whose bright beet hummus reminds us that eating your vegetables is, indeed, very cool. And take a drink to-go. The team here takes great pride in their coffee (organic espresso, courtesy of their iconic pink La Marzocco machine) and a lineup of made-to-order smoothies, juices, and teas. Shop your way through town
Visitors can stroll through the town centre’s most popular shops for various fun finds, including Moona Star, Pebbles, and Topanga Homegrown. Be sure to stock up on specialty, local snacks at Canyon Gourmet and satiate your sweet tooth while you’re at it. The organic soft-serve there is a must. Pro tip: Top it with any of their artisanal syrups for a winning combo, namely, the vanilla with cardamom.
Catch a show at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
This beloved open-air theatre has hosted productions for decades and is recognized worldwide for its Shakespeare interpretations. In addition to its annual summer season, which includes works like Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the venue hosts concerts, rehearsals, and classes throughout the year for budding actors and playwrights of all ages.
Snag a slice at Endless Colour
This family-run pizza joint specializes in from-scratch pies with clever topping combinations (think purple potatoes, fontina, and truffle oil in the Purple Molly Potato or spinach, leeks, and goat cheese in the Super Greens). Bring some friends, order a pie or two, and check out the drinks list, which includes offbeat options like orange wines and hard kombucha.
Check out The Canyon Bakery’s “Sunday Funday”
Situated on the grounds of the aforementioned Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, this bakery specializes in naturally leavened breads, pastries, cakes, and cookies using locally sourced, whole grain flours. There’s a takeout window on Sundays, from 9:30 am until the bakery sells out. A strong following lines up for favourites, such as whole grain croissants and gluten-free pizza, so be sure to arrive early to get your fill.
Try tacos to-go at La Chingona
On your way out of town, grab some tacos at La Chingona, where a team puts forth fresh, organic, gluten- and dairy-free tacos. Orders range to include options like grass-fed beef (carne asada), shrimp (wild-caught), and soy chorizo and can be fashioned into plates beyond tacos, too (think tostadas, salads, and bowls). Open only on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays; this taco stand sees good demand. Plan accordingly, pending your travels, especially to savour an order or two of the churros.