On select weekends this summer, the 626 team transforms the Santa Anita Race Track into a Taiwanese style night market, complete with rows of vendors hawking a variety of noms and live music performances to keep the crowds energized. The very first 626 Night Market in 2012 clearly met a real need, attracting far more attendees than the venue could handle. But thanks to this year’s planning team (including our friends Brian & Patricia) subsequent Night Markets have seen dramatic improvement. Still, the crowds are pretty epic — this past weekend brought out 55,000 Angelenos and even long distance visitors, trumping the June weekend’s record of 40,000 attendees.
While a night market experience isn’t quite the same unless the sun’s down, we opted to go early, right at 4pm when it opened, so we could maximize our time sampling noms. Shorter lines, less congested walkways, and plenty of delicious inventory that will certainly sell out as the night progresses? We can handle some hot summer sun for that.
Be sure to grab a vendor directory when you walk in. Those looking to stay green can download the PDF from their website and view it on their smartphones instead. It will help you a) identify mysterious-looking noms, b) track down your favorite noms, and c) avoid (or find, depending on your preferences) the STZ – Stinky Tofu Zone.
The first thing we gravitated toward were these smoky, meaty lamb skewers from Tan San. Fresh off the grill, the lamb itself was a bit chewy, but the seasonings were enhanced by the charred bits from the barbecue.
There were a surprising number of Japanese food vendors, expanding the scope of the Night Market to encompass many Asian street food cultures. I was extra excited about takoyaki. I love okonomiyaki too, but I love takoyaki so much that I sometimes sing the Takoyaki Song.
I grabbed an order of the wasabi takoyaki from Miniyaki. 6 delicious balls of octopus-filled batter, drizzled with sweet okonomi sauce and wasabi mayo and topped with a mound of shaved bonito flakes. Whoever said “Money can’t buy happiness” obviously never spent $5 on an order of these. おいしかった~!
Brace yourselves for this next one…
A common street food throughout Southeast Asia and the Philippines, balut is really tastes much better than it looks. As a kid, I used to eat this with my dad; he would let me have the hardened yolk and drink the brothy juice while he ate the duck. Martin and Zhu dug right in, though this one was a little too developed for Martin’s tastes.
The boys had grabbed refreshments from a Stella Artois booth, so naturally the next victim would be more noms that pair well with beer: Taiwanese sausages from Simbala. The texture was firmer than expected and it reminded me of a Vietnamese lap xuong. Very juicy and flavorful and also went well with…
…scallion pancakes! Crispy flat discs of flaky dough layered with chopped scallions (green onions), fried on a griddle until golden brown. And for only $4? Sold!
Each pancake was made to order and arrived hot off the griddle. I watched the grill master skillfully monitor and flip eight pancakes at a time (not all at once, of course, though that would be incredibly impressive!).
It was everything I had hoped for and more. They offered sweet chili sauce, garlic soy sauce, and generic unlabeled hot sauce that suspiciously resembled sriracha. I kept it simple with just a dab or two of sriracha. They were excellent plain too.
As we wove through the crowds, we noticed a distinctly long line gathering. We discovered that it was none other than my latest Sawtelle obsession, Gottsui! The guys seemed like they were having a great time. I was tempted to grab one but I think I’ll just have to make a return visit to their storefront. Really soon. また ね~!
Turning the corner, we found a selection of more international cuisines – Mexican, Turkish, Indonesian… The guys at Turkish Doner Kebab even brought out fresh spits of turning shwarma and generously offered samples for us to try. So moist and so good. Unfortunately I was getting too full to finish my own pita pocket.
People seemed to be raving over the grilled corn here at Aunty Merry, but Martin spotted the bird’s egg curry skewers and had to have it. Both of us noticed that the bird must be quail and well, quail’s eggs are delicious!
Lightly marinated in curry sauce, these hard boiled quail eggs were tender and succulent. They lacked the punch we had expected with the curry description, but it’s possible that the creamy yolks overpowered any seasoning.
Now these were something I did not expect to find on a skewer. Hawthorn berries are often used in Chinese candies, most memorably the chewy red discs packaged in paper tubes that I knew as “haw flakes.” This was my first time trying the fruit itself, and it was just as sweet-tart as I expected. The hard candy coating was done well – not sticky at all.
We made our way around the ring of food trucks which featured the usual suspects – Grilled Cheese Truck, Lobsta Truck (one of our favs!), Ludo Truck, and many more. But then I spotted Starry Kitchen. Okay fine, I saw the dude in the banana suit long before I even saw the banner.
Genius. Pure genius. The pandan churros tasted exactly like my memories of buying freshly pressed lá dứa waffles at Van’s Bakery back home in the OC, but in bite-sized, chewy+crispy stick form. The kaya coconut cream was so deliciously sweet and fragrant that I scooped out every drop with my last churro. So freaking good.
The guys all made a boba stop to get a milk tea from CoCo. I noticed they had recently opened a location at the Olympic Collection on Sawtelle, but apparently they have over a thousand locations, 900 of which are in China alone! Crazy!
Of course we had to circle back to visit Thoke. There we found some familiar faces, our friends from camp! Jason and Sherlock were busy manning the fryer, serving up some hot egg rolls and curry potato samosas.
One bite and you’ll be hooked after hearing the satisfying crackle of the golden brown pastry shell, but it’s the flavor-packed curry potato filling that really makes it an awesome addition to the variety of street food at the night market. Kudos!
I REALLY wanted to get one of these, but it was already 7pm and the lines were quickly building at every vendor’s stall. The aroma of grilled squid and octopus legs wafted through the air, a welcome change from the… pungent stinky tofu.
I saw snow ice and had a feeling it would resemble Blockheads Shavery. We decided to go simple and get a watermelon snow ice, plain (no toppings).
I always worry that watermelon desserts will get their flavor from the artificial stuff, but luckily, summer is the perfect season for the real stuff. The snow ice here was fluffy and really carried the essence of real watermelon, down to its gentle sweetness. Really a great way to end a prevening of nonstop nomming.
626 Night Market: Summer Garden Nights is an awesome event, and we’re glad we got to visit and try delicious noms from so many awesome vendors. If you have not yet checked it out or if you’re still traumatized from the very first one, mark your calendars for August 3-4th AND the newly added Labor Day Weekend!
Bring cash, wear comfortable shoes, and go early or prepare for 30+ minute waits. Admission is only $2 before 6pm, $3 after, and parking is absolutely FREE. What are you waiting for? 626 Night Market is the largest Asian night market in the US!
Interested in being part of the World’s Largest Cup of Boba?! Check out their Kickstarter and the potential unveiling at the August weekend of Summer Garden Nights! 320 gallons of milk tea in a 6 foot tall plastic cup — it’s definitely going to be a sight to see!
Check out 626 Night Market: 626nightmarket.com
285 W Huntington Dr
Arcadia, CA 91007
See their Yelp reviews here!