The tiny, underrated Del Rey Farmers Market at Glen Alla Park offers big flavors and so much more

By Jasmin St. Claire

Jose Tavares of Me Gusta Mexican Food Specialties lifts  a pot of fresh tamales at the Del Rey Farmers Market Photo by Michael Kraxenberger

Jose Tavares of Me Gusta Mexican Food Specialties lifts
a pot of fresh tamales at the Del Rey Farmers Market
Photo by Michael Kraxenberger

I’ve come to Glen Alla Park to find out if a tamale can change my life.

A friend who’s a regular at the Del Rey Farmers Market told me the tamales here can. She’s been sampling the goods at the Me Gusta Mexican Food Specialties booth and swears that the pineapple and chile-cheese varieties offer a truly transcendent experience.

Me Gusta is one of more than a dozen prepared food, fruit-and-vegetable or dry goods stands that line the sidewalk near the corner of Alla Road and Glencoe Avenue from 2 to 7 p.m. each Friday afternoon.

This is a much smaller market than the weekend blowouts in Santa Monica and Mar Vista, so it’s often overlooked. The upside is that the Del Rey Farmers Market is more intimate and inviting, and just about everything here is reasonably priced. One downside is there aren’t any tables (and whoever installed the park benches must have deliberately and sadistically avoided shade), but if a quiet moment sitting on grass under a tree is your style, this is the place for you.

Before I put Me Gusta’s tamales to the test, I decided to peruse and sample a few of the market’s other offerings.

I fell in love with the fresh-made fruit drinks (aguas frescas) at Pupusas Salvadoreno y Tacos. The pleasure of sipping a cucumber-mint lemonade or mango passion juice — I can’t decide which is my favorite — while walking through the open market trumps the experience of buying juice drinks at a chain store or mall shop. These are sweet but don’t taste sugary, and at a couple bucks for a large, ice-cold glass they’re cheaper too.

Délices de France is a tres dangereuse stand if you love fresh-baked treats as much as I do! Here you’ll find loaves of fresh-baked bread made from more than 20 varieties if grain blends, including oats, exotic whole wheats and sprouts. Curiously, there were no baguettes. But a chocolate almond croissant or some pistachio raisin bread will make you forget about that.

Brothers Hummus specializes in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern treats. The house-made, olive oil-cooked pita chips are especially seductive, as are the array of hummus varieties blended with cilantro, sun-roasted tomatoes and pesto. Warning: The three-layer dip is addicting and the booth only accepts cash.

Candido’s All Natural Meat sells free-range whole or half chickens infused with exotic flavors, from spicy mango to peach, and wrapped in a user-friendly cardboard-and-foil container. Candido’s offers the hope of freeing ourselves from the tyranny of the grocery store ready-roasted chicken sold in slimy plastic bags that so many of us, sadly, reach for in our darkest hours of desperation.

I also picked up some homemade chips, spicy habanero salsa and pico de gallo from a booth called Viva Mexico, which offers salsa for any tastebud tolerance — mild to thermonuclear.

The Del Rey Farmers Market also features several vendors who don’t sell food.

At Big Brazos Exotic Toys from Around the World, I found myself playing with a Chilean rain stick, a Thai wooden frog and tiny finger puppets. The owner, Rachel, said each toy is made from the natural materials of whatever country they represent and are meant to inspire both fun and cultural awareness for kids.

Leather-crafter Walter Lopez inspires me to put two words together that I would never think to associate, “badass” and “yoga,” but his unexpectedly attractive and functional leather yoga mat bags do it for a price $25. It goes without saying that vegans will want to skip this stand.

I saved Me Gusta for last.

In line I meet with Nicole Pinedo, a local who says she drops by every Friday to shop for her 60-year-old grandmother. She’s a fan of the pupusas at Pupusas Salvadoreno y Tacos, served hot and soft with a generous helping of spicy slaw, but her absolute favorite is Me Gusta’s pineapple tamale.

Pinedo also praises the market for its plethora of organic fruit and vegetable tables (Forgot to mention that, didn’t I?) and gets satisfaction for supporting independent, small-scale farmers.

But I’m here to change my life with a tamale.

Finally I purchase the massive corn-and-pineapple delight — only $3 for the biggest tamale I’ve seen in L.A., I might add, and lard-free.

I peel off the traditional corn-leaf wrapper, releasing a little bit of steam, and finally get a taste. It’s like I’m biting into a soft, airy, moist cloud filled with warm cheese and a robust infusion of fresh pineapple.

Was it transcendent?


Did it change my life?

I think this particular tamale may be a start — I’ll be back next week to continue my investigation.

Del Rey Farmers Marketm, 2 to 7 p.m. Fridays, Glen Alla Park, 4601 Alla Road, Del Rey