OK, I’ll say it up front: It’s love at first sight between the new Container Park and myself. There are several places to eat and drink here, as well as myriad oddball shops hawking books, clothing and sundries, plus a cool kids playground in the middle of it all.
Hey, this comes as much of a surprise to me as to you. Container Park is a 39-unit jumble of crazily colored rectangular shipping containers doubling as retail spaces, bars and restaurants—waaaay too new millennial for a gentleman of my sensibilities. But if Tony Hsieh and his crew can hang outside on the deck, eating dogs from a place called Pork & Beans, then hey, so can I.
The barbecue joint in here, Big Ern’s, actually opened before the park. Ern is Ernie Loya, and his pulled chicken and tender ribs are worth a detour, in part thanks to his tangy, spice-infused barbecue sauce. Baked beans is the side dish to try, shredded-pork-laced beans kissed with enough sweetness to register without becoming cloying. A true carnivore should opt for the three-meat combo, a mammoth construct for less than $15. It’s Downtown’s first serious barbecue.
You can actually sip, nibble and nosh your way around Container Park without even so much as sitting down. CupKates by Kate—buttery creations such as Snickerdoodle or Red Velvet—are delicious, and at ChillSpot, watch as the best vanilla-bean ice cream the city has to offer is magically made to order with liquid nitrogen.
Bin 702, the province of wine goddess Kat Thomas, is essentially a wine bar with 6-ounce pours of boutique wines such as Italy’s 2012 Palmina Dolcetto ($10) or the 2011 Zocker Grüner Veltiner from Austria ($11). But if you get hungry, you can always do the curried pickled deviled eggs, a house-sliced charcuterie platter or any one of many delicious panini. (The Italian—with salami, mortadella, prosciutto cotto and olive salad—is the winner in this case.)
Maybe now you’re ready for Pinches Tacos, a creative taco stand with sister branches in L.A. and Homewood, Alabama, of all places. One of the owners is related to seminal L.A. chef Toribio Prado, who launched the Caribbean food craze in that city at Cha Cha Cha in East Hollywood during the 1980s.
The price-to-quality ratio here is stupendous. Taco fillings such as al pastor (spiced pork), adobada (chili marinated pork) and lengua (beef tongue) are all delicious, underspiced for the authentic Mexican palate as they may be. The Pinche combination plate allows you to taste any three, plus fragrant Mexican-style rice, lard-free pinto beans and lots of hot, fresh tortilla chips, for only $8.95.
Then, it’s over to Pork & Beans for more substantial fare. Michael Cornthwaite of The Beat and Downtown Cocktail Room collaborated with chef Kerry Simon to produce a menu of dishes that are irresistible and simple, including a string of specialty dogs and sausages.
(Simon was awarded the Silver State Visionary Award earlier this month at the Venetian. The popular “rock ’n’ roll” chef is battling a rare form of Parkinson’s disease called MSA, but seemed as upbeat and lucid as ever, as he rolled out onstage in a power wheelchair.)
At any rate, Primo Pork and Beans is pieces of bratwurst in a rich sauce of cannellini beans, ham hock and tomato, topped with herb toast. Call this a poor man’s cassoulet. Don’t miss Pig-Freed + Roy, a soybean and grain salad with pecans, dried cranberries and sesame oil. But you’re on your own with the chocolate-covered bacon.
That one might just be too millennial for me.
707 Fremont St. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thu-Sun, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Fri-Sat. Lunch for two, $14-$23.
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