Mercado – Dia de Los Margaritas

img_6688The modern Mexican eatery that turned up the heat on two hot tamales by opening its first outpost a few years ago right across the street from the revered Border Grill in Santa Monica, has now added another location, at 3rd Street and Fairfax in Los Angeles, rounding out its triumvirate of excellent Mexican restaurants serving its renowned soul-satisfying carnitas, and pouring its signature Mercado Margarita of 100% agave silver tequila, along with a host of creative cocktails from its menu of more than five dozen tequilas.

Owner Jesse Gomez and Chef Partner Jose Acevedo have expanded their superb Mexican dining experience that twists authentic Mexican dishes with Californian artisan flare. Chef Jose’s carnitas continue to gain a reputation of some of the best in LA, featuring large chunks of moist slow-cooked pork with Yxta salsa brava and cauliflower with escabeche.

Besides the storied carnitas, other standout dishes include the Tacos de Langosta with lobster, Oaxaca cheese, pico de gallo, cile de arbol aioli on a crispy flour tortilla; the most delicately tangy Tostadas de Ceviche, with citrus-marinated white fish and shrimp, tossed with mango, corn, cherry tomatoes, serrano peppers, fresno chilies, avocado and chile de arbol aioli.

For dessert, though I am not usually a fan of flan, Mercado’s rich and custardy flan was to die for, but still it could not top the freshly baked sponge cake of the tres leches.

Dining at the Santa Monica location is a comfortable and laid back experience, with locals and tourists strolling in from off the beach. Without the benefit of dining yet at the Hollywood restaurant, by comparison to Santa Monica the new Third Street location has a more metro vibe and an urbanite crowd.

At Santa Monica the wait staff eagerly moved our table to accommodate our desire for a window seat; whereas at Third Street a testy server with an Adolf-ish mustache set his square jaw and was less than patient when we asked to switch tables from a sunny spot where we began to bake in the sun of LA’s recent Indian summer heatwave. Besides the slightly cranky server, the Third Street atmosphere is exciting and reverberating with the din and energy of the happy hour crowd, gathered communally at the long wooden high-top tables half in and half out of the indoor-outdoor patio seating area.

This latest addition to the family of Mexican restaurants by Gomez and Acevedo once again achieves the effect of authenticity to fine Mexican dining while providing an inspired and inventive menu of Mexican favorites with a bit of surprise, and an atmosphere that is friendly and inviting, after work, or a day at the beach, or for a quick escape to the Land of Enchantment without leaving LA.