What is it about warm weather and spicy food?
It was the last night of the week-long heatwave we’ve been experiencing in L.A. and I joined forces with the indubitable Stacey Rhee once more, this time to sit in the trendy, open-air space of Mercado on 3rd street.
Our first order of business was to order the drink of the night - cucumber and jalapeño margaritas. They were the perfect blend of cool and hot, refreshing with a bite at the end. As I sat there in the large room, the conversations around us bouncing off of the tall ceilings, I was reminded of how much I love living in Los Angeles.
Don’t get me wrong, L.A. has its share of problems and antics. But the weather? Almost always beautiful. The people, almost always beautiful. And the food scene - culturally and economically diverse, vibrant and totally laid-back.
We took in the laid-back atmosphere as we munched on cool mango ceviche tostaditas, sweet corn with caramelized onions slathered in queso cotija, and poblano strips swimming in a spicy cheese sauce.
For dessert we chose a xocolatl ice cream - a rich, bitter-in-a-good-way chocolate ice cream with a hint of spice. I was spooning ice cream into my mouth like an addict. I didn’t care. I couldn’t. That’s how much I liked this ice cream. We also tried the tres leches cake, which was moist and refreshing. Plus you really can’t go wrong with fresh whipped cream and berries.
When I think of Mexican food in Southern California, I think of taco stands on conspicuous corners and smaller cantinas tucked away in strip malls or off of busier streets. Those are the places I love and recommend - the birria tacos at Cactus for example, or the tilapia smothered in garlic sauce at La Serenata. When I think about Mercado, Mexican food is admittedly not the first thing that comes to mind. And turns out that’s not a bad thing.
What comes to mind is the atmosphere. It’s got that distinctly relaxed L.A. vibe that makes you feel like you, and everyone around you, is cool. It’s not an exclusive feeling, but an inclusive one. It’s counter-intuitive to what you’d expect from a trendy L.A. eatery, but I think that’s what makes Mercado special. And it’s the reason I’d go back.
Well, that and the ice cream.