Mercado

The Top Ten Best New Restaurants: No. 7, January 2013

Añejos of the week are scrawled on the wraparound mirrors; conversations from communal tables bounce off the white subway tiles that sheathe the walls. If Mercado reads like a gastropub, it’s only because Jesse Gomez and chef Jose Acevedo are toying with notions of authenticity. Shouldn’t corn this good—charred and sprinkled with chile piquin and queso cotija—come from a sidewalk stand? So you thought mom-and-pop shops in East L.A. had the lock on fantastic spit-roasted al pastor? Try it here, loaded on a hot tortilla with melted Oaxaca cheese. Gomez, who grew up in his grandparents’ Highland Park restaurant, and Acevedo, a son of Guanajuato, Mexico, help us negotiate the rapids between tradition and modernity. The cactus paddle strips bathed in a chile negro-spiked broth have the touch of a homely stew about them, and there’s something equally inspired in how Acevedo breaks form with the carnitas, serving them as a great chunk of braised pork and using house-pickled cauliflower florets to cut the richness.