The farmers' market on Imperial Avenue is not what you think, so keep reading if you've never been there. If you want to buy organic Kolrabi from out of the back of a van and revel in the carnivalesque, head to Ocean Beach at sunset on a Wednesday. But if you want to sit at a picnic table flanked by some serious charros and wrap yourself inside a real-ass chile relleno covered with hot sauce that makes nitro-glycerin pour out of your eyes under the timeless gaze of a pink plaster Jesus, go to the Imperial Avenue Farmers' Market, for it is not a farmers' market at all: it is the Barrio Logan Mall (says me).
This place has been a priority on my "underground welcome to San Diego" tour for newcomers since at least 1983.
Down in Ensenada on Sunday evenings, families stroll along the seaside. They'll stop for tacos or ice cream at one of the colorful food stands that line the mallecon (boardwalk). Barrio Logan Mall looks like they went and stuffed the whole Ensenada seaside into a big decrepit brick building. Take Imperial Avenue out of downtown up to 21st Street and look right. You can't miss it. Park and walk through the open front doors and you're inside the Plaza El Sol grocery store; they're making fresh masa in back, and they also sell the rest of what you'll need to make a six-month supply of tamales for 10 bucks. Go for it.
But you could just as well skip the store and use the east entrance. You'll find yourself in a maze of shops and stalls selling live rabbits and baby chicks, battery-operated waterfall paintings, piñatas, liquados, car insurance, jewelry-kind of like Tijuana without the hard sell. You won't see any gringos in here unless it's you. Follow the maze around until you get to the food stands.
Look to the right for the big stack of chile rellenos on the counter that the locals are crowded around-for about five bucks you'll get yours swimming in red sauce on a paper plate with an arbitrarily grand stack of fresh, homemade tortillas tossed in for good measure. Don't forget to spoon on the fire. The people of Barrio Logan don't have much money, but they know how to spend it. You can forget Roberto's-this is authentic San Diego.