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Man About Town: He's grounded, and it tastes so good

Man About Town Chris Erskine is grounded after last week's Hollywood pub crawl. But dinner with his wife at Mercado la Paloma isn't so bad.

June 02, 2012|Chris Erskine
  • A server brings food to a table as people dine during lunch time in Mercado La Paloma near USC off the 110. Here, a half dozen booths offer dishes from Mexico, Peru and Thailand, plus burgers.
A server brings food to a table as people dine during lunch time in Mercado… (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles…)

Not to get all Seinfeldian on you, but there are two kinds of people: food sharers and food hoarders. Food sharers are those people who, when you eat dinner out, are always loading your plate with samples of their own dish. I don't think I ever had a restaurant meal with my own mother when she didn't scoop a scallop or a piece of veal or whatever it was she ordered onto the side of everybody else's plate. "No, no, no," you'd say, but you know moms.

The expectation, of course, is that you reciprocate. Those who don't reciprocate are food hoarders. That'd be me. I order a dinner not for everyone else; I order for me.

That doesn't make me a nasty person. I'm nasty for a variety of reasons — too frugal, too fungal.

My wife, Posh, is a sharer. And I know her well enough now, over thousands of meals in hundreds of restaurants, that when she doesn't share, that means that she has become smitten. It is as if little food pheromones have seized her brain, nibbling at its pretty edges.

The other night this happened.

Note that I'm grounded now, for staying out too late during last week's subway pub crawl, during which my buddies and I ended up in East Los Angeles at midnight. To her, if I go out and have fun on a consistent basis, there's no reason to come home, to which I respond: "Except you, Poshy."

Awwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Apparently, I'm also grounded because of my behavior at a recent dinner party. I was caught off guard when the host was rambling on about something, then suddenly said "… so they're bringing their kids up Mormon-Jewish," to which I spit-taked a pretty good Chardonnay halfway to Reno.

So, yes, I'm grounded (for attitude and behavior). The conditions of my grounding are:

• No prom.

• No video games.

• No hanging out with Dave "Big Wave" Michelson.

I blamed Big Wave for our wrong turn during the subway crawl. I don't hold it against him, since Big Wave's natural inclination is to head for the ocean, which is all he was doing on that fateful Friday night. Honestly, I don't know how we got home, except that there was a very expensive cab drive. And then I crawled a bit.

So, now I'm grounded, and having dinner on a Saturday night with Poshy. Tonight, we're trying a little food court near USC that we've been hearing about: Mercado la Paloma (3655 S. Grand Ave.), so close to campus that Matt Barkley could nail it with a screen pass.

The ironic thing, of course — my life is a decathlon of ironies and misadventures — is that during dinner with Posh I fall in love. With a food court.

Not just any food court but this little ethnic place off the 110 (Exposition exit). Here, a half-dozen booths offer dishes from Mexico, Peru and Thailand, plus good burgers. Prices cheap; parking plentiful.

Tell your friends about Mercado la Paloma, but not too many. In fact, let us make this pact. You can tell your two best friends, that's it. Be, in a sense, a food hoarder. Because if everybody knew about this funky little dining spot, it'd be as busy as the Grove.

"It's kind of like Grand Central Market but smaller and better quality," says Jennifer Mon, sharing a Saturday dinner with Toru Arii.

And cleaner. And less cramped.

Kyle Arroyo, a senior at USC, is here for dinner too, with classmates Andrew Ramirez and Matthew Huntley.

"USC's options are so limited, a Subway on every corner," Arroyo says. "To get a well-cooked meal like this is so great for us."

"Plus, it gets us away from USC," Ramirez adds.

"What's really impressive is how fresh this all is," says Posh of her ceviche tostada ($2.75).

Mercado la Paloma is the product of a neighborhood initiative to give residents meeting space and a chance to open their own restaurants and shops. Launched in 1999, the former garment factory is in a bit of transition right now.

Mo-Chica, noted for its spin on Peruvian food, is moving to bigger digs (514 W. 7th St., downtown), while revamping its Mercado booth. The new place in Mercado is expected to open for business in August, and a new food outlet is planned for a former bakery space this summer as well.

Mercado also houses a couple of shops selling jewelry, pottery, trinkets and clothing, and another shop that offers team apparel. A tailor and insurance agent round out the services, in a neighborhood in need of such things.

In the end, what makes Mercado la Paloma most notable, and worthy of your buck, is that it offers lots of delicious dishes at food truck prices.

Really, why aren't there more food courts like this? And why didn't I get grounded sooner?

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

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