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Aug 3, 2008 12:15 AM

Favorite farmer's market vendors?

I'm hunting for the best produce available at local markets. Who sells your favorite stuff? What keeps you returning for more?

I'm curious to hear about vendors, produce, markets, whatever.

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  1. Well, for markets the best ones are clearly in Santa Monica (Wed AM and Sat AM, at 3rd/Arizona) and Hollywood (Sun AM on Ivar St.) The best in OC is Irvine (Sat AM), on Bridge and Campus.

    I was really pleasantly surprised by the Saturday morning Calabasas farmers' market. I was all prepared for it to be like Montrose or Glendale or Huntington Beach with hardly any produce, but it is a pretty decent-sized market.

    As for vendors, I am absolutely horrendous at the names (which is stupid, because I've been frequenting these same vendors for nearly ten years now), but here we go:

    The very best figs -- especially white figs -- come once a year from Ann Tenerelli in Littlerock. She sells them from her family's stand, Tenerelli Orchards. They also have astoundingly good peaches and nectarines, and good apples for baking.

    The best asparagus is from Z Ranch. They also have potatoes -- I don't eat many potatoes but they once had "freeze dried" potatoes after an unexpected frost and they were among the most memorable potatoes I ever ate -- like pure concentrated flavour of potato. I've never seen them since, unfortunately, but I always wondered if I froze the potatoes quickly (with dry ice) would I get the same results.

    At the Irvine market, at the end (as far as it's possible to go from that awful Indian restaurant) is a greens stand with unquestionably the very highest-quality squash blossoms I have ever seen, on this continent or in Europe. I couldn't get blossoms of that quality if I grew them myself, they're that good -- but you MUST use them the same night or they turn into "everyone else's squash blossoms". They also have greens that seem to have disappeared from most markets -- when was the last time you made stinging nettles?? I'm so ashamed I don't know the name of this place.

    Also at Irvine, in the corner nearest the In-N-Out is an Asian vegetable vendor with astoundingly good shimeji mushrooms at a quarter of the price of Gelson's. Cut off the mushrooms but then wash the base and use it in your next beef stock and you will be rewarded with the most amazingly earthy taste.

    Further at Irvine, way down the end next to the juice vendor, there's a group of people who sell cocktail grapefruits in season (these are a cross between a grapefruit and an orange). Supremes of those grapefruit, plus fennel from the stand at the end, plus avocadoes from wherever you like, in a sesame vinaigrette, is one fantastic salad.

    The main mushroom vendor at Irvine has recently started selling fresh goat cheese. It's a little salty but if you are using it in a savoury application it's pretty damn good. I don't like their flavoured goat cheeses (I can flavour them myself thankyouverymuch) but the plain is very good. Now if they just sold a lightly-salted version, I could use it in cheesecake.

    At Studio City (Sun AM) in season, I cannot remember his name (Jeff Kelly?) but there is a young guy, very lean and very tan with tattoos on his forearms and a bushy goatee, who sells fantastic strawberries. I haven't been to the SC market in a long while so I can't remember the name exactly.

    I love the granola from The Scone Age. I don't, funnily enough, care for their scones, but I'm addicted to their blueberry-cranberry granola.

    For high-calorie sweets you just can't beat Blackmarket Bakery. Their lime-coconut croissant (think pain au chocolat, not croissant) is a masterwork, and I'm in danger of mugging people for the orange shortbread.

    Two doors down from Blackmarket Bakery at Irvine is an older Middle Eastern guy (Armenian? NOT Bezian) who has great bread. His sour baguettes are actually sour; his Irish soda bread has that slightly sandy quality that's required; his 100% wheat bread is excellent, and his rye bread is the closest I've come in California to real New York sour rye bread.

    The family who run Schreiner's Fine Sausages in north Glendale/Montrose have family in South OC, so there is a sausage stand at the Irvine market. This is good enough -- but if you call a few days in advance and need a particular cut of meat (Schinken, perhaps?) they will send it down and you can pick it up at Irvine, thus saving you an IMMENSE amount of driving time.

    Cookies Con Amore has wonderful crostoli, amaretti and "brutti ma buoni" (hazelnut cookies, the name means "ugly but good").

    4 Replies
    1. re: Das Ubergeek

      It would help if the OP specified what area he/she is talking about and thus what would be 'local'. If the OP lives in Riverside or LA, then it doesn't really help the OP to list the best vendors in OC.

      But, to complete Das' OC market report, its Farmer John who sells the zucchini blossoms. One thing to look out for, which I've learned from experience, is to buy from him and not from one of his co-workers. Sometimes, those workers don't know the correct price and they might overcharge you. Its a farmer's market and you expect prices to be higher, but its irritating, to say the least, to learn that you paid almost 2-3X more for something what it should have cost the previous week because they overcharged you.

      And, I believe Das is talking about Baker's Best for the bread? As for the goat cheese, I always thought that its a separate farm that is not associated with the mushroom vendor.

      Also, keep in mind, that a lot of times, you don't need to go to a farmer's market to get the best produce. Sometimes, I'll find produce in a ol' regular supermarket that's cheaper and just blows away the stuff I've been getting at the farmer's market in Irvine. There are a lot of reasons why people shop at a farmer's market, but not all of them necessarily are for food.

      1. re: hobbess

        Agree that it would be helpful, though many of the vendors have presence at most local (LA-area) farmers' markets -- La Spaghettata, for example, which has very good croissants aux amandes, is a Long Beach-based company and has stands from Calabasas to Laguna Beach.

        Very, very rarely do I find anything at Ralphs that beats the farmers' market. I have better luck at Henry's but there, too, the sale produce tends not to be very good. Some of the produce markets (like the one on State College & Placentia in Anaheim, or on Tustin Avenue near the Home Depot in Orange) have great produce, though.

        It is Baker's Best, thanks for the name.

        The goat cheese and mushrooms are definitely related -- the same 18-year-old kid was taking customers from both and talking knowledgeably about both products.

        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          Thanks for the recommendations. Sorry for being vague above. I'm not looking for anything in particular, just some suggestions on what people sorts of things people go crazy for. There's such a wide variety at the farmer's markets, and some weeks I'm astonished at how good a carrot can be, and othertimes they seem so ordinary. So rather than just keep mental notes while haphazardly sampling every carrot, nectarine, and onion, I'd like to hear about other people's favorites.

          I go to the Hollywood market pretty regularly, and a few others nearby. Haven't been to any on the westside for a while, but I'm there often enough to stop at one. Chances are pretty decent that vendors at other LAish markets are accessible to me. And if I have to drive cross-town for the best fig in Southern California, I'm willing to make that sacrifice. They're figs, after all.

          I was a bit tired the other day and (rudely) didn't post any of my own favorites. So a couple:

          -I'm quite picky about my avocados: they just don't seem worth eating unless that are actually green and flavorful. In the spring I started buying the pinkerton at the west hollywood market from a stand that sells only avocados and citrus--the best seem to come from vendors that mainly sell avocados and citrus. The flavor was revelatory. Now we're in glorious Reed season. I've seen them at a couple stands, but my favorite so far have been the ones at about the midpoint of the Hollywood market. They sell a few different varieties and have a lot of them on hand. I was a bit skeptical because they seemed more enthused with their bacon avocados than the reeds. Regardless, the reeds were phenomenal. But they haven't had any since! They keep saying "We'll have more in a few weeks..." Oh yeah, and their chilies were great too: they had manzanos, which I haven't seen anywhere else.

          -I bought some heirloom tomatoes about a month ago from a vendor close to the hollywood blvd side of the market. They were pretty cheap but not so flavorful. I bought more yesterday from the same folks yesterday. They were great. So sweet that someone asked if I had added sugar to them. I picked up a box of the second choice tomatoes for peanuts. They also sell baby artichokes and a few uncommon things like fava beans, purple bell peppers, and such.

          -I've been looking for the perfect fig. I got some good ones last week from a smallish stand in Hollywood. Their prices seem to be inflating more than other produce: I think they were 4.50 or so. Anyway, this place seemed to be the only one with black mission (rather than brown turkey). They were very good. It might still be a little early in the season, I'm not sure. So far the figs seem a little under-ripe; haven't seen many that are bursting like they should.

          -The eggs from the guy with the two coolers labeled "farmer to you beef" and "farmer to you pork" are great. I've seen him at a few different markets around town. Never bought the meat though.

          -I've been a little overwhelmed with the amount of peaches and nectarines. We've gotten some good ones, but nothing so far to make me cry with delight. Any recommendations?

          I suppose I should start paying attention to the names of the farms.

          1. re: posh

            posh, it's all about the farmer. if you like to go to hollywood (and why wouldn't you?), do check out Weisers for root veg, potatoes, melons and mulberries. tomatoes of all kinds are just now hitting their strides flavor-wise. they were available before, but there hadn't been enough heat to get them ripe. There's a fig guy whose name I can't recall: seems like that's just about all he sells ... ask for calimyrnas. it's a green fig with really good flavor. meat guy i haven't been impressed with, but the fish guy is very good, if pricey (J&P West Coast Fish, or some such). the best thing to do with peaches, etc., is to taste what folks have out. varieties change from week to week, as do growing conditions and a farmer who had great peaches last week may not be as good this week (a good farmer will always have good peaches, but at a market like Hollywood, you're usually choosing among 3 good farmers and one is likely to be better than the rest, though that will vary on any given weekend).

    2. I don't know the name but at the Sunday morning Studio City market there's a fruit vendor on the south side close to where the prepared foods are (i.e. on the far end of the market from where it hits Laurel Canyon). They have fantastic plums, pluots, peaches, nectarines, grapes. Last week I bought something like six or seven varieties of plums and pluots, two kinds of nectarines including "mango" nectarines. Headed there right now to stock up for this week.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Debbie W

        Debbie - you might try the peaches from the family that drives down from Kingsburg and is on the north side of the market, just west of Gangadin. Theirs have much more flavor than most, and that includes Tenerelli Farms. However, in asking this morning, the guy at the Tenerelli stand said the Elbertas would be available in 3 weeks, meaning around August 23. They are really good and truly addictive, and as DU said, when those white figs are in, buy them and enjoy.
        btw - also, if you enjoy mustard, Mark and Stephen's mustards on the north side at the SC market right near Gangadin are very good. The Ancho chile jalapeno one is my favorite, and especially on salmon - yum!

        1. re: carter

          Carter, I do like peaches but less than plums, pluots and nectarines. I inevitably end up disappointed in the peaches, much more so than other stone fruit. OTOH we had a really lovely peach tatin at Craft last night, love the desserts there. Coincidentally, Michael tried that ancho mustard today and he liked it but we didn't spring for it, maybe next week. Maybe we'll see you next week.