Mercado Is Heating Up Santa Monica

A brand new Mexican restaurant opened a few months ago on 4th St. and the Santa Monica dining scene is heating up.  Named Mercado in homage to the fresh ingredients regularly ordered from the Farmer’s Market, the food and drinks are fresh takes on authentic Mexican cuisine.

Owner Jesse Gomez grew up in the restaurant business. Almost 50 years ago his grandparents opened El Arco Iris Mexican restaurant in Highland Park in 1964. Jesse began working in the family restaurant and was responsible for modernizing El Arco Iris  and reintroducing the restaurant to the neighborhood. In 2009 he opened his own restaurant Yxta Cocina Mexicana in downtown LA.  Now Mercado is his third venture with partner Chef Jose Acevedo.

Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, Chef Jose Acevedo has worked with Wolfgang Puck, the Hillstone Restaurant Group and Irvine’s Taleo Grill before joining long-time friend Jesse Gomez at Yxta Cocina Mexicana.  Chef Jose specializes in his native culture’s cuisine with a contemporary touch.

Located in the former space of Serenata de Garabaldi, Mercado has turned the space into a contemporary casual dining restaurant with long communal tables running across the center of the restaurant.  The specials of the day and other menu favorites are written on the mirrors that wrap around the walls.  Little touches are not overlooked, such as serving the water in old tequila bottles.

The tequila list is serious. With more than 70 labels, they are broken down into Blanco, Reposado and Añejo varieties. The cocktails are almost exclusively made with tequila or mezcal (there is one gin cocktail in the bunch). There is also a nice by the glass list of wines but with the spicy flavors of the food, I suggest ordering tequila cocktails.

Real Pina (Real de Mexico Silver, muddled pineapple, cilantro and jalapenos) – a “summer” cocktail that is tart and bright, with the pineapple adding a sweet note.

El Pepino (Caramena Blanca, jicama-cucumber house puree, fresh sour and a chile piquin rim) – the spicy rim pairs well with the vegetal cocktail.

Squash Blossom Florets with Oaxacan cheese – these florets, battered perfectly, are crisp, tender and light and the chile de arbol aioli adds a little spice.

Choriqueso (melted cotija, parmesan, oaxaca, house chorizo, poblanos, mushrooms) is smooth and meaty with a kick!  No matter how full you get, you will keep dipping the fresh chips until the bowl is empty.

Turkey Albóndigas (Meatball) Soup – the Wednesday soup special.  Each day of the week features a different homemade soup.

Tacos de Jicama con Camarón (crispy mexican sweet shrimp, chile de arbol aioli, mexican slaw, jicama tortilla) – tempura battered shimp offers a nice crunch with the spicy mexican slaw.  The jicama tortilla is refreshing and helps cut the spice.

Carnitas Tacos (Chef Jose’s slow-cooked natural pork, guacamole, chile de arbol salsa, cauliflower with escabeche) – tender, flavorful carnitas that will melt in your mouth!

Elote Callejero (grilled sweet corn, caramelized onions, chile piquin butter, queso cotija) The spice of chile piquin butter mixed with the lightness of the queso cotija and the fresh corn made this a favorite of the night.

Flan – Named the “Best Flan in the Universe” in 2007 by the OC Weekly’s Gustavo Arellano, it is thick and creamy and made with rompope and almond liquor. This is no ordinary flan.

Tres Leches Cake – Not typically a fan of Tres Leches cake, this version is soft, delicate and moist. I am now a fan!

If you like freshness and flavor (and spice), Mercado is the place for you!

1416 Fourth St.
Santa Monica