The Best Food Pop-Ups to Check Out in LA Right Now
From SFV to East and South LA, popping up everywhere from breweries to parking lots and wine bars, these are the best roving food spots to check out right now.
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 neighborhoods 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 favorites:
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 favorites. 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 savory 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 sidewalk may not be as glamorous as some of the other pop-up destinations around town, but the Thai Town Night Market has enough exciting, 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 neighborhood 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 neighborhood 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 jewelry 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 centered 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 their 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.