Home / Travel / Enjoy Mexican food on the cutting edge at Mercado Manhattan Beach
Enjoy Mexican food on the cutting edge at Mercado Manhattan Beach

Enjoy Mexican food on the cutting edge at Mercado Manhattan Beach

There’s a ton of construction underway in Manhattan Village, including a massive structure in the middle, where much of the parking used to be. I’m told it will be a new, bigger parking structure. But in the meantime, I guess you can park a bit of a distance from the Manhattan Beach branch of the wildly popular Mercado chain, or use the valet parking. It’s all a bit inconvenient. But then, Mercado is so good, it’s worth the effort.

This is Mexican cooking on the cutting edge. This is what’s next, in the wonderful world of tortillas.

Mercado is the concept — out of several fine concepts, including a Mexican seafood house in Brentwood — to come from the Cocina y Calaveras Group. They seem to have a penchant for moving into spaces in which other crowd-friendly eateries have opened, and for reasons that seem befuddling, failed to gain traction.

But then, here in the South Bay, we do love our margaritas. And they make a fine assortment of the critters at Mercado. Try the Spicy Cucumber model, made even spicier with jalapeño puree and chipotle salt around the rim. God is in the details, and the details are in this margie: “Nurse! One more, por favor!”

The bar menu is encyclopedic, with 51 tequilas to choose from, ranging from artisanal Blancos, up to a handful of “Extra Anejos,” flavored with vanilla and chocolate. There are a dozen mezcals as well, and a dozen beers; for $2 more, they’ll turn any of the beers into micheladas. There are even a couple of wines from Baja. Though compared with an IPA called “Border Psycho La Perversa,” wine seems a bit…everyday.

The food menu itself is not long, but it is long enough — and pretty much every dish has a twist, thanks to longtime Executive Chef Jose Acevedo and his staff. Under the watchful eyes of the skull paintings on the walls (a Mercado design signature), Mercado serves 11 appetizers and nine entrees, along with four veggie dishes — all of which fit on a single buffish colored page, which is a fraction of the multi-page menus at many local salsa shops.

There’s a lot of creativity in these limited choices. Consider our old standby, good ol’ guacamole, a very simple dish offering very complex pleasure. In this case, the avocados are mashed with serrano chiles, cilantro, red onions, salsa brava, spicy pepita se (pumpkin se should you be wondering) and, of course, a pile of chips. The avos are Hass, because they have to be. The dish is large, enough for two. And of course, it goes very well with an adult beverage. Always has.

The guac also comes as a part of a Dip Duo, along with the mushroom choriqueso, a bit of a happy mess of dish. Mushroom choriqueso is melted cheese with chorizo — to be precise, three melted cheeses (cotija, parmesan and Oaxaca cheese) — along with white wine, poblano chiles, and a mushroom and chorizo mix. Put guacamole together with the choriqueso and you decidedly have a dish that will keep you for an evening.

Or perhaps, warm you up nicely for the refreshing cucumber salad, made with not just cukes, but also tomatoes, corn, red onions, avocado, spiced cheese, pepitas, cilantro and a serrano chile and lime dressing.

The Mercado Tablita always impresses diners at Mercado Manhattan Beach. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

Skulls dominate the decor at Mercado Manhattan Beach. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

Grilled chicken with guacamole at Mercado Manhattan Beach (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

More images of skulls at Mercado Manhattan Beach (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

For traditional Mexican food with a modern twist, Mercado has just that at its Manhattan Village location. And lots of tequilas and mezcals, too — all of which may be enjoyed on a wonderful outdoor patio.

Show Caption


If you want, you can add some grilled Jidori chicken breast to the salad. Like I said, nothing here is made without complications — kind of like those massive wristwatches that tell you the phases of the moon.

I also have a proper affection for the jicama and ahi tacos (love that chile de arbol aioli dressing!), the shrimp ceviche verde, and the roasted cauliflower with chile morita marinade. If more people made cauliflower taste this good, its reputation as the liver of vegetables might go away. And, for that matter, this terrific cauliflower prep reappears as a vegetarian entrée, in tacos with avocado salsa and Mexican spiced rice.

And in the most singular, most dazzling dish on the whole menu — the Mercado Tablita, a wooden platter topped with a roasted half chicken, carnitas with the cauliflower, Mexican spiced rice, black beans, chiles toreados, pico de gallo sauce, salsa bravas, guac and tortillas. It costs $54 and fe two to three, says the menu.

More great eats: Mexican food at Mercado Pasadena is good on Dia de los Muertos and every day

Heads turn when the Tablita emerges from the kitchen. Some diners even turn away from their margaritas to gape. Or take another sip, which seems to be the proper reaction. I’ll drink to that dish.

But then, I’ll drink to Mercado. And to The Village finishing its construction. Some day soon.

Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email mreats@aol.com.

Mercado Manhattan Beach

Rating: 3 stars

Address: Manhattan Village, 3212A N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach

Information: 310-545-0388, www.cocinasycalaveras.com

Cuisine: Mexican

When: Lunch and dinner, every day

Details: Full bar; reservations essential

Atmosphere: In the upscale shopping mall space adjacent to Tommy Bahama, what over the years as been LA Food Show and Brickworks Roasthouse, has flipped to the Mercado Group of restaurants, a grinning skull-heavy space with lots of tequilas and mezcals, and a terrific outdoor patio where you can dwell on a margarita and some guac at your leisure.

Prices: About $35 per person

Suggested dishes: Market Vegetables ($9), Grilled Sweet Elote ($9), Coliflor al Pastor ($10), Rajas Poblanas ($8), Guacamole ($13), Choriqueso ($12.50), Jicama Ahi Tacos ($16), Mexican Kale Salad ($12), Tacos de Filete ($17), Tacos de Pescado ($16), Ceviche Verde ($18), Tamales ($12), Dip Duo ($22), Enchiladas de Pollo en Mole Oaxaqueno ($21), Wild Mushroom Chile Relleno ($18), Carnitas ($28), Camarones al Ajillo ($26), Carne Asada ($30), Pollo en Salsa de Cuatro Chiles ($26), Mercado Tablita ($54; fe 2-3)

Cards: MC, V

What the stars mean: Ratings range from 4 stars to zero. 4 stars is world-class (worth a trip from anywhere). 3 stars is most excellent, even exceptional (worth a trip from anywhere in Southern California). 2 stars is a good place to go for a meal (visit if you’re in the neighborhood). 1 star is a place to go if you’re hungry and it’s nearby. Zero stars is not worth writing about.

Related Articles

8 great South Bay takeout pizza options during coronavirus pandemic

8 great South Bay options for takeout, delivery food amid coronavirus pandemic

Breakfast at Hot ‘n Tot in Lomita is a great way to start any day

At Brews Hall in Torrance, drink up to a fun dining experience

Newsroom Guidelines
News Tips
Contact Us
Report an Error