Foodies rejoice! Smorgasburg LA is brimming with vegan options that’ll surprise even your most carnivorous friends. This food, drink, and craft market takes over five acres of prime DTLA real estate every Sunday and showcases an exciting variety of food artisans. Smorgasburg started in Brooklyn, NY as an extension of Brooklyn Flea in 2011, and came to the best coast in 2016. This ever-changing food market is a celebration of local chefs, culinary creativity, and the diversity of Los Angeles.
Tackling this beast of a food market takes a little planning, an adventurous palate, and an empty belly. Unlike most of DTLA, parking is plentiful and free for the first two hours. It’s best to arrive early, especially if you don’t like lines. Many of the food vendors are small, independent businesses so their supply is limited and tends to run out if you don’t arrive before 3 p.m., especially well-known stops, like Donut Friend.
Smorgasburg is laid out like a small city and since vendors change from week to week, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to snag the same meal your friend Snapchatted last week. Wandering around in search of the next vegan gem is half the fun. Think of it as a return to your hunter-gatherer roots. So, when you happen upon that vegan falafel taco, you can feel as if you really earned it.
Most vendors accept credit cards but, just in case you find one that doesn’t, Smorgasburg has generously parked ATM machines at the entrance. Insider tip; bring your own Tupperware and reusable bottle, not only are you helping keep single-use items out of the landfill, but you may be able to snag a discount at certain vendors, such as Avocadomama.
Now, on to the good stuff. In no particular order, here are six stand-out vegan noshes to try on your next visit to Smorgasburg.
1. Sus Arepas
Arepas are pounded corn flour shaped into a rough circle, split part-way through, and brimming with deliciousness. Sus Arepas’ vegan option includes their savory, signature base stuffed with tender black beans, freshly sliced avocado, and fried plantains. This hearty handful provides the ideal combination of savory and sweet, thanks to the tender plantains, and really allows each ingredient to shine. If you’re feeling particularly hungry, grab an order to garlic yucca fries to go along with your arepa and snag a Manzana Colombian soda to wash it all down. Even better the Sus Arepas truck has a few tables and chairs tucked under their awning so you won’t have to hunt for shady seating before devouring your meal.
If comfort food is your jam, then passing by Avocadomama will be your biggest regret of 2018. Avocadomama does one thing and they do it well – vegan mac ‘n’ cheese. They even have gluten-free options that will fool even your most carb-loving friends. Their original mac ‘n’ cheese is a solid choice but, why not live it up, and go for the breadcrumbs and avocado add-on. What sets Avocadomama apart from other vegan mac ‘n’ cheese options is their homemade sauce made with tofu, almond milk, nutritional yeast, and what I can only imagine is a top-secret combination of spices and magic. Each al dente rigatoni pasta – long tunnels of cheesy goodness – is covered in sauce and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs. If you really want a life-changing experience, the buffalo cauliflower mac ‘n’ cheese, is yours for the taking. Even better, save a dollar if you bring your own reusable container.
3. The Ricans
For comfort food of another ilk, nothing beats the Puerto Rican dish called mofongo. Mofongo is made of fried green plantains which are mashed with a wooden pilón, combined with a generous helping of garlic and salt, then shaped into a disk. This plantain cake is the base for flavorful jackfruit cooked in a tomato-based salsa and topped with parsley. Owner, Jose Rivera, said that mofongo is their signature dish and patrons in line agreed, saying this is the most true-to-home mofongo in all of L.A. If this is your first introduction to green plantains, consider yourself lucky. The garlicky plantain's crumbly texture contrasts well with the tender jackfruit and bright tomato salsa. Other vegan options include a plantain-based pizza and nachos topped with jackfruit.
4. Mid East Tacos
This glorious mashup is iconic of the diverse L.A. dining scene. Owner, Armen Martirosyan, says the falafel is made using his Egyptian grandmother’s original recipe and the whipped hummus is also inspired by her. These crunchy falafel balls are nestled inside a handmade corn tortilla and complemented by garlic sauce, cilantro, and sumac. Although there’s a lot going on here flavor-wise every component works well together. The Sumas adds a special tangy tartness to the taco and, a nice pop of maroon, making these tacos perfect for Instagramming and eating. Grab a single taco as an appetizer or get a trio for lunch.
5. Madame Sugah
Craving something sweet and a little sassy? Look no further than Madame Sugah, or the Shugah Mama. Choose from prepackaged vegan ice sandwiches which are free of gluten and soy. These coconut-based ice cream flavors pack all the punch of traditional ice cream while fitting into your dietary choices. Although flavors change each week, Deez Nuts is a popular choice. And, for anyone too young to get the Dr. Dre reference, you have a lot of pop culture to catch up on. This ice cream sandwich features bright pistachio ice cream squished between two dense white chocolate macadamia cookies. Nothing hits the spot like ice cream on a hot day and these sturdy cookies will do their job to make sure your treat survives the summer sun instead of ending up as a puddle on the pavement.
Pull up to this light blue ice cream truck for a sweet treat like no other vegan ice cream out there. McConnell’s vegan selection is limited to one flavor per week but their ice cream is so unique that they’ve made the short list of top vegan ice creams of all time. Unlike most frozen treat purveyors who use soy or coconut milk as a base, McConnell’s opted for a proprietary pea protein base which, luckily does not taste like peas. It has a soft mouthfeel, similar to dairy milk, and doesn’t leave any aftertaste like coconut milk might. If you get a chance, try the Eureka Lemon & Marionberry flavor which combines tart lemon ice cream with sweet swirls of marionberry jam. Marionberries are a hybrid blackberry grown in Oregon and known for their sweet-tart taste and bright color. These two flavors combine to create a refreshing, summery scoop. Even better, both the waffle cone and sugar cone are vegan.
Every week is a culinary adventure at Smorgasburg, making this the ideal foodie spot to hit up repeatedly. Surprise your vegan (and non-vegan) friends with these unexpected dishes and savor the best the city has to offer.
Smorgasburg takes place every Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at ROW DTLA 777 Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90021. Free two-hour parking in the adjacent parking garage.