Farmers markets in Long Beach are about as diverse as the city itself and the ready-to-eat food they offer is no different. There's the North Long Beach one that serves up hot soul food and cold bionicos. The one at the Marina on Sundays is a little more tony with a veritable food court of street grub from Greek to vegan to Argentine.
But for choice people watching, produce buying and lunchtime eating all in one parking lot, it's hard to beat the most recent incarnation of downtown's Friday afternoon farmers market, which runs from 10:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the blacktop between the oldest church in Long Beach and the under-construction lofts taking over Pine Avenue's closed down movie theaters.
The market landed in this location earlier this year after being booted from its longtime spot on the Promenade North through City Place. And even though the new setup is smaller and slightly more limited in its selection of farmers, it still is home to the best assemblage of lunchtime pop-ups in downtown LBC.
For starters, there are pupusas.
I've had several office jobs in downtown over my years in the city and at each one, Fridays came to be known as "Pupusa Fridays" because with $3 in hand, my co-workers and I could walk a few blocks and get a single masa round stuffed with beef, frijoles or revuelta (cheese, beans and chicarrón). Cut in half and dropped in a styrofoam container, these pupusas come with a heaping pile of fermented slaw (curtido) and red or green salsa spooned on top and are the perfect way to introduce gabachos to the glory of Salvadoran street food.
Secondly, there is Cumin Express, a rolling rotisserie-chicken truck that has no precedence in mobile-eatery-deprived Long Beach.
In the morning, the truck rolls up and pops open the side to reveal two ovens full of glistening whole chickens--their skins spanked with rosemary--spinning slowly on horizontal skewers. By the time lunch-goers arrive at noon, the rosemary-garlic potatoes roasting on the bottom shelf have been getting dripped on by the chicken fat for hours and it's impossible to walk by and not get one of the eight hearty combos offered, most of which come with at least a half chicken, pita bread and a drink.
Beyond pupusas and generous helpings of Mediterranean chicken, there is also a Korean BBQ tent, QT's Smokehouse BBQ, an elote/esquite booth and a new addition called simply "Steaks and Cakes," which exclusively serves quite possibly the most bizarre combination ever: Philly cheesesteaks and funnel cakes.
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Shit, you can even skip the ethnic street food altogether and get something liquid--like a hibiscus-lavendar-honey iced tea or a glass of Kenyan cold brew--from the beautiful lady couple at Wide Eyes Open Palms pop-up coffee shop.
With live music that runs the gamut from steel drums to solo blues guitar and a clientele that makes purchases mainly with their EBT cards, downtown's farmers market flips the typical yuppie granola stereotype of farmers markets on its head and replaces it with a bustling outdoor urban bazaar, rife with personality and endless ways to fill your stomach.
This is still Long Beach, after all.
Harbor Area Farmers Markets Long Beach Downtown Market, Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Corner of 3rd St. and Pacific Ave.