It is a popular concept that Mexican food fills the bill as SoCal’s local cuisine and/or comfort food. At El Mercado, all similarity to that notion ceases. You will not find a refried bean, nor an enchilada, nor a tamale on the menu at El Mercado, 301 N. Spurgeon, on the northeast corner of 3rd in Santa Ana.
Frank and I shared the delightful experience of dining there recently. The interior is a modern rectangle shape with large windows all along one side, and a full bar at the far end. The service is pleasant and cheerful.
The menu, featuring cuisine from many parts of Mexico, is well designed for sharing, a feature that I like as I am usually in a state of indecision when it comes to selecting just one option. We ordered the chicken mole-puebla and the carnitas Michoacan, both of which came with a side of rice and small, rather sturdy homemade tortillas. If you order the Michoacan, expect to waft into a temporary state of euphoria as the first mouthful hits your tastebuds. Yes, it’s that good! A tender, flavorful and utterly delicious single chunk of pork swathed in pickled onions, salsa verde, a little pineapple and its own juices.
The chicken was another good choice, served with cheese, avocado, puree, crema, sesame seeds, onions and cilantro. The mole sauce is really dense, and I suggest that you mix it with the accompanying crema - excellente.
I am looking forward to returning to this eatery to try the Tlayuda-Oaxaca, that has the look of a pizza but starts with a thin tortilla topped which Oaxaca cheese, avocado puree, bean puree, onions and jocoque – a sauce from Oaxaca. And perhaps the camarones a la diabla, described as rice porridge with lime, cilantro, fried almonds and prawns. Maybe we’ll take some friends along so that we can try several more of these tempting items.
El Mercado features brunch on Sundays. That menu is totally different, and includes the more familiar huevos rancheros, tacos and enchiladas along with omelets, steak and eggs, and pancakes. But don’t expect any of these choices to be served in the style to which you are accustomed.
The full bar serves a wide range of cocktails, including excellent margaritas and generous pours of wine. Dinner prices mostly range between $13-16, a little higher for the steak dishes. The restaurant is closed on Mondays, but you can enjoy indoor or outdoor dining from 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 5-11:59 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. for the Sunday brunch. Call (714) 338-2446 for reservations.
Buen appetito – and tell them we sent you!