Arts & Entertainment Editor
Bass-boosted pop and smoke from freshly-cooked meat spilled into the crowded parking lot of the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara. As the day descended into dusk, the line into the 805 Night Market stretched along the entirety of the parking lot, where circling cars prowled the crowds for an early deserter. It took 20 minutes just to enter at dinnertime’s peak, but the promise of Asian, Mexican, American, and fusion fair food pacified any impatience.
From Oct. 14–15, the 805 Night Market made its debut in Santa Barbara with a variety of food vendors. It was free to enter with an Eventbrite ticket, but the prices inside were steep. To get Instagrammable dishes like rainbow grilled cheese and bombing giant squid, customers had to spend $15–25 per item. Since most of the food offered is portioned for visitors to try multiple stands, it’s easy to spend upwards of $50 per person.
Finding the higher quality vendors takes some experience; in night markets like this one, people often try a few gimmicks their first time around and discover the gems on their subsequent visits. The highlight of this year’s event was undoubtedly Bluey & Co., a pop-up that features Asian-flavored drinks and tiramisu. Their tiramisu sampler lets you choose three out of six flavors for $25 in cute, frozen containers that can be enjoyed at home. It pairs well with their $8.50 creamy ube latte, which accentuates the semi-sweet fluffiness of the tiramisu.
An honorable mention goes to Yakitoriyado for their two for $12 original grilled chicken and mochi skewers, although their spicy seasoning option only detracts from the specialty sauce.
Unfortunately, some of the other stands didn’t meet the high standards set by the aforementioned vendors. Infamous Fries had $25 bulgogi fries that were far too sweet to be enjoyed, and Elubia’s Kitchen had a decent three street taco plate for $12, but the long line for Antojitos Mexicanos right next door made Elubia’s mediocre carne asada pale in comparison. Dim Sum Guy also seemed promising at first glance, but their xiao long bao lacked its trademark soup, and smothering it in off-brand Sriracha didn’t help.
Customers from outside the 805 area might notice a not-so-subtle homage to the 626 Night Market, the largest American night market. With smaller branches in San Diego, Las Vegas, Orange County, and the Bay Area, it has amassed 285 thousand followers on Instagram, unparalleled by the 805’s 27.9 thousand. Besides the obvious attendance disparity — the 626 attracts around 100,000 people across three days — it might be hard to spot the difference between the two. Most of the vendors who appeared at the 805 Night Market, including Huge Baby Bottle and Hawaiian Honey, regularly attend the 626 Night Market. They both take inspiration from Asian night markets, market trendy food, feature local artisans and restaurants; and pop up in fair grounds around their respective area codes.
Fans of the 626 Night Market will find themselves right at home at an 805 Night Market event, perhaps only longing for the more extensive list of vendors the 626 offers. Although, the 805 did offer everything from homemade crochet clothes, to unofficial and uncanny Sanrio plushies, to … Costco memberships?
Santa Barbarans who have never attended a night market before might find the experience even more fulfilling than those who have something to compare it to. At its core, the 805 Night Market organizes various international cuisines in close proximity, which Santa Barbara often lacks, especially with Asian food.
If you missed out on the 805 Night Market this year, don’t worry, there’s already rumors that they’re planning to return in 2024.