DTLA: Baco Mercat Now Open
Baco Mercat is now open in Downtown Los Angeles. It is open for both lunch and dinner. I visited last week and was surprised that the “little baco shop” is a full-blown beautiful restaurant. Sure, you order at the counter for lunch and you take a number but service is really great. They’ll bring you table and check on you quite a bit. There’s also a full bar and many planned specials for dinner.
I have been following Chef Josef Centeno since his days at the now shuttered Opus. That is where I first had his bacos. I heard rumors of him being at Lot 1 and serving them there but I never made it out to Echo Park. Eventually, I found him again when he opened Lazy Ox with restauaranteur Michael Cardenas. Chef Josef seemed reluctant to bring his bacos to Lazy Ox though they did appear every now and then.
Having not had a baco in a while, I went a little crazy and ordered two. At $8, a pop, it wasn’t really the cheapest lunch but in the future I know I can get by with one baco. And maybe a side. My friend also had the bacozole and the flatbread.
The bacozole was surprising to me. For a bowl of essentially noodle soup, I was expecting more of an Asian slant. It is not. The bazole has a pork-chile broth, housemade noodles, crispy pork and beef carnitas. It’s topped with a fried egg. I imagine this is the sort of late-night “ramen” Chef Josef would make for himself at home. Baco is considering handing out more chili sauce on the side as some might not actually find it spicy.
Baco also serves four flatbreads or cocas as Baco calls ’em. My friend got The Egg coca. There are also the Tomato & Cheese, El Cordero and Roasted Eggplant.
The Egg is a farm egg with salsa verde and ricotta cheese. It’s deceptively simple but it’s always the simple things that taste so good.
The Blue Lake beans with mustard along with all the sides remind me why I like Chef Josef’s food so much. He’s into meat, sure. But he’s into veggies as well. The green beans had a nice snap and it was a great side to the bacos I had. I’d probably also try the pickled vegetable salad, grain salad or kabocha squash next time. Or you could go with the simple roasted peanuts or market lettuce salad with a sherry vinaigrette.
When I first had had a baco all those years ago at Opus, I remember thinking the flatbread-taco hybrid was the greatest thing ever. We ordered the short ribs which I thought tasted like really great carnitas but I loved the pork belly more. Chef Josef makes an easy choice for you. He combined the two into his Original Baco– carnitas and pork belly in one!
I also got the pescado which this day was crispy shrimp. It reminded me of a po’ boy. Great slaw and great crunch.
The other three on the menu that day were the El Pollo, Chilled Pork Belly and Fava Bean Fritter. Those into Middle Eastern flavors might be interested in the chicken as it comes with spiced lebni and zhoug (green harissa). I’m interestedin the fava bean.
I can’t wait to go back to check out dinner. The bacos and menu would support the family style daily specials.