Innovative margaritas and classic Mexican cuisine with a contemporary flair earned Mercado Los Angeles a prestigious Michelin “Bib Gourmand” designation earlier this year. Michelin inspectors recognized the quality of the food and menu affordability. To qualify, a restaurant needs to be a step above the rest, while offering two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for less than $40.
Located in the Beverly Grove area, I recently made a reservation to see why this restaurant stood out among thousands of Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles and why it appealed to the Michelin inspectors.
Mexican art is an integral part of the restaurant. The large Mariachi Calavera painted skulls and ghostly figures by muralist Carlos Nieto III are part of Mercado’s design. The owners support local artists and proudly display their creative pieces. A colorful skull piece and symbolic American-Mexican flag made with serape blankets and embroidered stars on vintage nylon canvas by artist Andrew Atkinson hang above Mercado’s fireplace.
Co-owner Jesse Gomez is a local success story; he grew up in Los Angeles and helped his grandparents at their restaurant El Arco Iris in Highland Park in the 1960s. With his hands-on experience, he spent several years managing and operating restaurants in L.A. for Hillstone Restaurant Group and Innovative Dining Group.
Later he opened Yxta Cocina Mexicana in downtown Los Angeles, offering an inventive menu, artisan cocktails and creative art collection. With its success, Gomez co-created the Mercado brand with long-time friend and revered chef, Jose Acevedo.
Acevedo began his career in the kitchens of Wolfgang Puck and Hillstone Restaurant Group. Together, they joined forces at Yxta Cocina Mexicana and started the Cocinas y Calaveras LLC, now with seven restaurants, including Maradentro, Yxta, Mercado Taqueria and three other Mercado locations in Hollywood, Brentwood and Pasadena. Soon a fifth location in Manhattan Beach will open.
Mercado’s bar pours over 70 premium silver, Reposado and Añejo tequilas and mezcals. The Mercado margarita is made with La Tarea silver tequila, triple sec and their own fresh sour mix. The Mercado sangria is made with wine, Altos Reposado tequila and fresh fruit.
We ordered a spicy cucumber margarita, hibiscus margarita and a Modelo beer while looking over the menu and sampling slightly smokey guacamole and chips. Hass avocados, chopped cilantro and red onions are mixed with crunchy pepitas, which provide a slight kick of heat.
Acevedo complements many of his dishes with a Yxta salsa brava to give them a tomato, garlic and red pepper touch of Spanish flavors and tangy heat.
The elote is cut off the cob and served in a bowl mixed with caramelized onions, Cotija cheese and a soft butter mixed with chile pequín to bring on the heat.
I ordered the vegetarian chile relleno upgraded with a red chili campagna sauce. It’s served on a bed of Mexican rice with a large green chile filled with flavorful tomatoes mixed together with chargrilled vegetables and red chiles. Then it’s topped with melted Oaxaca cheese and yellow mole.
My husband chose the slow cooked carnitas basted in Yxta salsa brava. The plate arrived with cauliflower al pastor and two large pieces of tender caramelized pork on top. A dollop of guacamole and chopped cilantro accompanied the dish with freshly made to order purplish-blue non-GMO corn tortillas.
Sweet shrimp taquitos were served with guacamole and Yxta salsa brava. Another popular item is Dos Gringas spit-roasted pastor with onions, cilantro and Oaxaca cheese, served with avocado salsa and flour tortillas. Savory nachos are topped with black beans, carnitas, guacamole, tomatoes, onions and a flambé’ of hot choriqueso – melted cheese and spicy chorizo.
A refreshing and lighter dish is the tostaditas de ceviche served on crispy tortillas topped with citrus-marinated white fish and shrimp, mixed with chopped mango, corn, cherry tomatoes, serrano and fresno chilies, avocado and chile de árbol aioli.
Enchiladas are filled with free-range chicken, Oaxacan mole, queso fresco, crema fresca, red onions, sesame seeds and served with Mexican rice.
They also offer tamales filled with the chef’s daily choice of filling, along with queso fresco, crema fresca and cilantro.
We finished with one of Mercado’s smooth flan spiked with brandy.
Since I enjoyed Mercado Los Angeles so much, I also visited the Pasadena location. The menu features many of the same delicious dishes.
Come taste why Mercado Los Angeles is worthy of its Michelin “Bib Gourmand” award.
Mercado Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Hollywood and Pasadena are open for happy hour and dinner starting at 5 p.m. Check lunch and brunch hours at each location. $$
7910 W. Third St., (323)626-7121; 1416 Fourth St., (323)944-0947; 3413 Cahuenga Blvd., (323)512-2500; and 140 S. Lake Ave. #101, (626)345-5778.