When we saw that this contemporary Mexican eatery made LA Eater’s “16 Best New Restaurants” list, we just had to pay a visit to see for ourselves what the fuss was all about. Because let’s face it—there’s no shortage of restaurants turning out stellar Mexican cuisine in Southern California, and it takes a lot to be “best” anything. Here’s what we picked off their menu, and how our taste buds reacted.

What took us by surprise: 

We started off by plowing our tortilla triangles into a generous heaping of guacamole. On the surface, this staple side dish, which also functions well as an appetizer, appears simple enough. But that’s exactly why it’s so easy to screw up. We decided a long time ago, that a true measure of a Mexican restaurant’s excellence is its guac, and Mercado’s passed the test with flying colors. The avocado itself was smooshed with just the right pressure, and elevated with serranos, cilantro, red onions and Yxta salsa brava. Not to mention, the spicy pepitas sprinkled on top added a surprising crunch and a much-needed kick to the whole affair.

What we almost ordered: 

When asked what dish was the restaurant’s pride and joy, the friendly waiter said: “Anything with carnitas.” And although the Tacos De Carnitas—an offering of Chef Jose’s slow-cooked Salmon Creek pork, guacamole, red onions, cilantro, mexican rice, chile piquín black beans trapped in a tortilla envelope—instantly caught our eye, we were swooned by the pan-seared barramundi special. We’ll get you next time, tacos.

Not willing to make the drive out to Pasadena? Mercado has three other locations in Santa Monica, Los Angeles and Hollywood, spearheaded by chef Jesse Gomez and executive chef-slash-partner Jose Acevedo.

 

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