Is It Any Good?

My review of the 626 Night Market from back in the Pasadena City Hall days pretty much still stands. The Night Market’s location at the Santa Anita racetrack presents some new opportunities and concerns, but mostly opportunities. It’s a great location. It makes going and coming so much easier.

Here at IsItAnyGood, every review has a section called IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE.  It’s a line from Ghostbusters, and it’s meant to highlight something or somethings we’ve noticed that you should really be aware of before you go in.

Well, the 626 Night Market is just such a big occasion that we felt it warranted it’s own set of Tips to know about and tricks to learn before you get eating.  So, here they are.

(And yes, we’ll be adding more observations as they warrant).

Observation No. 1: Yes, it is crowded, way crowded..so you’re going to have to have patience with, and get to know your neighbor..

The Night Market is way popular, and there are a lot of people there, particularly when it gets dark. But you know what? It’s not that bad. Lines don’t take as long as they look. (We’ll get to that in a minute). Everyone is really friendly, and gets the fact that there are a LOT of people there. There is a visible Police and Ambulance presence so, despite the fact that Alcohol is being served, the knucklehead contingent has mostly been kept at bay.

The Dance Floor at the Night Market.

And most importantly, remember…it’s a Night Market. It’s not hot at all. Even here in the bad daylight hours of June. The heat is what makes big crowds frustrating. The nighttime makes them manageable.

 

Observation No. 2: Those who will not wait in line, will not eat.

You really have no options, pretty much all the food stands have some kind of line in front of them. So if you want to eat, you got to get in a line.

Another stand with a lot of people gathered around.

Waiting in line for something isn’t nearly as terrifying as it looks from first glance. Sure the lines look like they’ll take forever, but (depending on the restaurant) they move quickly.

What do I mean by depending? Well…

 

Observation No. 3: Don’t let the length of a line freak you out, what really matters if how well your Restaurant is HANDLES said line.

Now, I say depending on the restaurant, because some Restaurants are more efficient than others when it comes to getting you your grub. I spent some quality time in the Taiwanese Sausage Guy’s line (my favorite stall at the Night Market). He’s got Taiwanese Sausages, three for five dollars. All he’s doing is taking your money and handing you your meat on a stick. The line moves quickly. Easy-peasy.

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Plus, Sausages are totally my thing. So much my thing that I went back twice. And both times in line, I heard horror stories about the Octopus Line…the infamous and legendary Octopus Line. A hour and fifteen minutes just to place your order, and another forty five minutes to get your food. Not good.

When I remarked that it would be easier just to go to the restaurant at that point, I found out the problem. The Octopus guys only do catering. There is no restaurant to go to, so instances like the Night Market are the only time they’re out and about. Hopefully, they’ll get their act more together for the next go-round in July.

The Fermented Tofu (aka Stinky Tofu) place had their act together. One relatively quick line to pay for your grub and get a ticket. One really quick line to get your Tofu.

Takken Sushi and Grill (pictured above) kinda sorta had their act together, but they should serve as an object lesson of how easily things can do wrong. Takkan had a big crowd taking orders and enough people in back to handle things. What they did wrong (at least initially) was they’d take the orders (all of them numbered) and randomly grab what they could, when they could. So, as a result, I’m number 864. The first person to get their food was 865…then after him 863. They soon called 864 after that. I call out that I was 864…only no food came my way. They seemed to have lost my order somewhere between calling my number, and…well.

It was all good. I reminded them they called my name, and they fixed a plate.

But the Takken’s Grillmaster lost his @#$% at one point, and I gotta say…as a neutral observer…he was right.  All I can say is, after his momentary outburst, all the sudden a member of the Takken crew straightened out those numbers, and things started to cook…so to speak.

Long story short, your time in line isn’t just determined by the Restaurant’s popularity, it’s also determined by how well they handle their business.

 

Observation No. 4: Parking at the Santa Anita Location is swweeeeeet.

After parking at the City Hall Location, I was about to cry tears of joy at how easy it was to get in and out of here on a Saturday night.

They have more than enough free parking (and yes, I did say free parking) to accommodate all the Visitors. I drove in ay 8pm, Saturday, peak hours, and I waltzed right into the Night Market. In fact, it took longer to walk from my Car to the Main Entrance than it did to get in. It’s a hefty walk, but…it’s worth it.

 

Observation No. 5: Someone was smart enough to keep Santa Anita’s existing customer infrastructure going.

What does this mean? The Standing Bathrooms are working. You don’t have to go to a Porta-Potty. The existing Beer Stands are in operation, and best of all, there are so many there isn’t much of a line. You can get yourself some Water, Soda or a Beer. Nothing fancy, nothing like a Tsingtao, but it’s a good cold beer nonetheless.

 

Observation No. 6: Make sure you see everything.

There’s a small strip of shops and eateries (including the Ludo Truck and the Kogi BBQ Truck) that you could miss if you’re not too careful. It’s to the right of the Main Entrance closest to the Mall. As you pay your admission, you might see Market-goers hanging out behind a fenced off area. That’s where the extra stuff is, that’s there the Food Trucks, and the Dance Floor is. Consult the Night Market Map, and keep one with you if you can. It can fit on an iPad with a PDF App.

 

Observation No. 7: You WILL be able to find seating.

This is what surprised me the most. Because the existing Park infrastructure is up and running, there are plenty of benches, picnic seating, everywhere, despite how crowded it is. If you are patient, you will find someplace to sit, if only for a moment. The central lawn right next to the statue of the Horse, the Neilsen Gazebo has a lot of picnic seating. The Bandstand has chairs everywhere. You can even duck into Santa Anita itself if you have to.

 

Observation No. 8: Be brave and try the Stinky Tofu.

No, it’s not the best smelling thing in the world, but…

…yeah, I’m not going to lie to you.  It’s not good.  Not good at all.

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The food itself is not terrible. It’s not the greatest thing in the world either. In fact, I’m not sure why folks make such a big deal about. At the end of the day, it just tastes like Fried Crispy Tofu with a nice sauce. Would I have it again? Maybe. I wouldn’t turn it down. I’m not sure it’s going to be a priority when I go back in July either.

Not sure I’d bring a date over that way either.

Still, if you’re foodie, you should definitely strike this one off your Foodie Bucket List.

 

Observation No. 9: It’s all about Meat on a Stick.

Taiwanese Sausages, Pork Meatballs with Lemongrass, even the Stinky Tofu. These are the foods this place was made for. Even though the whole place wasn’t Food Trucks, everyone serves what is essentially Food Truck food. Find what you like and enjoy.

But the Taiwanese Sausages? I ain’t leaving until I’m getting me some of those.

And there are the lovely loves cooking up.

Observation No. 10:  Despite, Observation No. 1, Beware of the Gawkers. They are unavoidable.

There is nothing more fustrating than knowing where you want to go, and being surrounded by a bunch of newbies (at least newbies to the 626 Night Market) who don’t. It’s like they have a magical ability to sense your need, and then do everything in their power to thwart you efforts.

This is particualry annoying if you’re on a mission for Taiwanese Sausage and…well, never mind.

This is not something our friends at the Night Market can fix, nor something Human Evolution can take care of either. Allz you can do is keep a weather eye out for people who will be walking in front of you one second, and coming to a dead stop the next. Try to stay patient.

Lord knows I did. (Grumble, grumble)…

 

Observation No. 11:  Not everyone will show up for all six days of 626 Night Market actitives.

This comes with both good news and bad news. On the hand, the Stinky Tofu people were not there, which can be considered a good thing if you’re not into that sort of thing. On the other hand, my Taiwanese Sausage Guy was not there, which was definitely not a good thing.

This just goes to show you that in your travels through the Night Market, you just might want to jump on that delicious thing that’s standing there in front of you, because you never know when you’ll see it again.

 

Observation No. 12:  If you go looking for ATMs inside the Santa Anita Main Building, you may will be disappointed.

You would think that in an establishment that handles as much betting money as the Santa Anita Race Track, there’d be a welcome supply of ATM Machines ready to hand out much needed betting cash on a moment by moment basis, but you’d be wrong. The only thing I saw in there was a Lotto Ticket dispensing machine, and that ain’t gonna help if you suddenly have a hankering for Chinese or Japanese Pancakes, and only a few pennies in your pocket.

This just goes to show: plan ahead. And thus…

 

Observation No. 13:  Realistically, the average probably can eat no more than $40-60 bucks worth of food, unless you are Nate’s Hot Dog on the Fourth of July Level Championship Eater.  If you bringing a date, count on $100-120 bucks.

Now, all those preliminary calculations are for food, and food alone. If you start drinking Beers (and I’m the kind of guy who likes Beer with his Taiwanese Sausage), those are going to run you $6.75 a shot. They’ll be good. They’ll be cold, and you can walk around with that sucker in your hand. The only bad things? One, that means $6.75 less for food, and two, they’re not Tsingtaos. But hey, what can do you do?

 

Observation No. 14:  I don’t know why I didn’t pick up on this earlier, the beige colored tents are for Food, and the red colored tents are for selling stuff.

This can make your dining experience so much easier, as I do not come to the Night Market for anything resembling T-Shirts or Swag, though both are in easy supply. You look at the roof of an establishment, and if they’re Beige, and if you wanna eat or drink, that’s where you wanna be.

This, however is not an ironclad rule by any stretch. The Food Truck, and any establishment that comes with its own decoration may not have a beige tent attached to it. The Kogi BBQ Roja Truck was there, and they didn’t need no stinkin’ beige tent to draw a crowd. Starry Kitchen (hey guys!) had their own thing going, as did ye olde Stinky Tofu Truck when they were here.

Also, there was one establishment selling what looked to be Scented Oils under a Beige Tent in Section D. That threw me. Must’ve been a mistake in Administration.

For the most part this tip works. 80% of the time it works 100% of the time.