Back in January, I posted a big update about the LA COCINA MUNICIPAL MARKETPLACE, the country’s first women-led food hall, featuring seven La Cocina entrepreneurs (all working class women of color and immigrant women entrepreneurs) with kiosks in the Marketplace, working with Marketplace manager Jay Foster (previously farmerbrown, Isla Vida). After so much fundraising and planning and permitting and a pandemic, the Marketplace is now miraculously open, serving takeout Mon-Fri 11am-2:30pm, with plans to add delivery, take-home dinners, and on-site dining. Exciting times!
I got a sneak peek of the space and some dishes during a test run a couple weeks ago (and ordered a preview of dishes through the La Cocina Women’s History Month Community Box, what an extravaganza), so I want to share some of the incredible dishes I tried—the Marketplace menu is extensive, so you’ll need to plan multiple visits. (And perfect timing, they are taking part in SF Restaurant Week, starting this Friday!)
Each vendor also offers a nutritious $5 plate to help serve the needs of the Tenderloin community (where 70 percent of housing is single room occupancy, and only 39 percent of residents have access to a stove), as well all of us who are on a budget, especially these days. La Cocina is also working to support businesses by offering food for EBT transactions via the California Restaurant Meals Program. You can order food online in advance and then pick it up at 332 Golden Gate Ave., where they have a dedicated pick-up zone (you can also do walk-up orders).
After trying chef Nafy Ba Flatley’s Teranga baobab drinks and energy bars, it’s such a pleasure to be able to taste her flavor-packed Senegalese dishes! I can’t rave enough about her Marche Kermel sandwich ($12) with ground beef, caramelized onions, potatoes, and chopped egg on baguette with spinach, Dijon mustard, and Dakaroise hot sauce (I can’t wait to try her Dakar muffuletta next, I hear it’s so good!). I have also savored her healthy and satisfying maafé bowl over a few meals: organic, spicy, Senegalese peanut stew with tomatoes, cassava, carrots, turnips, baobab, and Teranga spice blend over jasmine rice—this would be a good one to have on hand in the freezer.
Hopefully, you are familiar with chef Guadalupe Moreno of Mi Morena, who brings her Mexico City guisados, handmade tortillas, and chilaquiles to the heart of SF. You’ll find her guisados available in taco plates, quesadillas, or large portions to bring home for reheating. Also: don’t miss her fish tacos!
Chef Maria del Carmen Flores and her daughter Estrella of Estrellita’s Snacks are serving their stellar (heh) pupusas for $4.50—there are so many fillings, but the res con queso (stewed beef and cheese) was particularly satisfying, and their tamales are truly epic! Pork in guajillo sauce, it’s $5 very well-spent.
Bayview’s Tiffany Carter of BOUG Cali offers a menu of West Coast Creole shack dazzlers, like a chicken and andouille sausage gumbo thickened with a red peanut butter roux. (I tried her okra and tomato stew with shrimp and sausage in the community box, and just loved how balanced and fresh and tasty it was—not too rich, and the vegetables were cooked perfectly.) I’m excited to try her Cali-style po’boys and innovative jerk tacos! If you want some dessert, definitely get her classic banana pudding with vanilla wafers for all the happy vibes.
I enjoyed trying a couple traditional Algerian dishes from chef Wafa and Mounir Bahloul of KAYMA—don’t miss their baked goods, from breads to dessert (Wafa’s mother is a chef, and inspired her daughter to train on pastry and bread-making). Their offering ranges from soups to flatbreads to couscous—you could make a wonderful meal from their sides. I look forward to trying one of their sandwiches next, on their house-baked bread.
Dilsa Lugo of Los Cilantros is serving her Mexican homestyle dishes, including tostadas, enchiladas, tamales, and don’t miss her creative ensalada de Cesar (Caesar salad), topped with a Los Cilantros seed mix. You can also try atol de piña, a traditional warm and hearty beverage with chunks of pineapple sweetened with piloncillo (a molasses), seasoned with cinnamon and thickened with housemade, organic, nixtamalized masa (I loved it warmed up for breakfast).
When they open for indoor dining, chef Bini Pradhan will be bringing her famed Bini’s Kitchen Nepalese momos and stews and more.
There will also be a kiosk for pop-ups and guest chefs, including culinary talent from the Tenderloin. There will additionally be a bar (La Paloma), serving beverages highlighting female distillers, winemakers, and brewers, as well as coffee service—stand by for details on that later.
The 7,000-square-foot space includes the separate kiosks with their own kitchen setups, as well as a large and shared kitchen space, which the entrepreneurs can use to supplement their kiosk cooking. La Cocina hopes and plans to continue to ramp up their cooking for food security community programs, which has greatly helped their entrepreneurs during the pandemic, who lost about 70 percent of their business (they have cooked over 250,000 meals).
Once the Marketplace opens for indoor dining, you’ll be able to see how much La Cocina has programmed the space to really be part of the community, from the library and community corner that will also double as an area for speaking and presentations, and their desire to offer access to computers as well (they need a donor for that program, anyone out there?).
This Marketplace is such an inspiring model for cities everywhere since it “offers a path for low-income entrepreneurs that lowers the barriers to entry, mitigates risk via a shared cost of maintenance, increases equity in business ownership, and creates more assets for the owners, enabling them to pass on lower costs to consumers and make cities more livable.”
Take the time to support this important new addition to our culinary scene and community—order some lunch, tell your friends, and let’s help get this beautiful thing humming. 101 Hyde St.; takeout and pickup at 332 Golden Gate Ave.
Don’t miss the res con queso (stewed beef and cheese) pupusa from Estrellita’s Snacks. Photo: © tablehopper.com.