The Dollar-Wise Gourmet: Eating Well at Davis Farmers Market

You’ll plunk down just $4 for the shockingly huge tamales at Montoya’s Tamales, which is probably why many of the nine varieties had vanished by noon. I tried two: spinach, packed densely with the good green stuff, and pork, generously stuffed with tender shredded meat. The fillings were simple, straightforward and satisfying, but it was the super-fresh masa that made this Mexican specialty a standout.The Davis Farmers Market is a big, joyous celebration of music and community, arts and crafts, grazing in the grass and, more than anything, fabulous food—all of it local/regional, much of it organic. When I surveyed the scene one recent Saturday, I knew I was in for something special when I encountered an entire youth symphony performing on the Central Park lawn and an endless row of vendors selling everything from syrah to smoked salmon, eggs to eggplant, pistachios to pluots. At the far end of the market (near Third Street), you’ll find a bevy of booths serving prepared foods—perfect picnic fare. It’s fresh and eclectic, with an emphasis on ethnic, and it’s affordable: Everything is $10 or less. Here’s my report:

Can’t go wrong with Kathmandu

Curries are big at Kathmandu Kitchen, where prices range from $2 to $10. But I deviated with the chicken tikka masala ($6, over rice), whose creamy, tomato-based sauce with its subtle blend of spices was downright divine. The chicken chunks were fall-apart tender, too, and there was plenty of rice. Wash that down with a cool mango lassi ($2) on a hot day, and all is right with the world.

Momos a go-go

Naanwiches and dosas, priced from $7 to $9, are the mainstays at Raja’s Tandoor. But the veggie momos (steamed samosas) are a better deal (only $4 for six pieces), making it my Dollar-Wise duty to try them. Good call. A clever combination of cauliflower, carrot and cabbage with a mild curry kick, these soft, doughy steamed dumplings come with a choice of sauces. (I opted for yogurt-cucumber and fresh tomato.) Swish those plump pasta puppies in a pool of sauce and let yourself swoon.

Tempting tamales

You’ll plunk down just $4 for the shockingly huge tamales at Montoya’s Tamales, which is probably why many of the nine varieties had vanished by noon. I tried two: spinach, packed densely with the good green stuff, and pork, generously stuffed with tender shredded meat. The fillings were simple, straightforward and satisfying, but it was the super-fresh masa that made this Mexican specialty a standout.

Back to basics

After gobbling global cuisine galore, sometimes your palate calls for something simple. For that, there’s The Hotdogger, whose lines were the longest of the day. Sure, you could go for something a little different: maybe a lemon chicken sausage or hot link ($5). But for me, it’s all about the basic all-beef, only $4 for a substantially sized dog on a beautiful bun from Davis’ Village Bakery. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Davis Farmers Market is held year-round on Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., in Central Park, Third and C streets in Davis. An expanded market, Picnic in the Park, runs every Wednesday from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. through Oct. 28. For more information, visit davisfarmersmarket.org.

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