Chef Josef Centeno’s Baco Mercat is not only the hippest place in town these days, but also one of the best new restaurants in America (#9 on the list per Bon Appetit’s latest issue and the only Los Angeles restaurant in the Top 10). After seeing pics on Instagram and Facebook and literally drooling all over my screen, I had to see for myself what all the hype was about.
And so, on an early Saturday morning (reminder to self: make reservations ahead of time), my husband and I ventured into this not-so-assuming part of Downtown L.A. (4th and Main) to beat, of what I anticipate (and was correct) the line that would soon begin forming of other hungry Angelenos who wanted to indulge in cocas (thin, crispy flatbread pizzas) and baco (Centano’s signature flatbread sandwich—a cross between a naan and bao) for lunch.
When we arrived, there was already a short line of people waiting to be seated and plenty of seats available in and outside of the restaurant (yes, you can dine al fresco on Main Street and indulge in the local color). I was worried since my plan was to arrive before 11am and it was already 11:30am so very relieved that we did not have to endure a wait. Since we did not have reservations, we were seated in the back part of the restaurant—not a problem since it still gave me a good view of the restaurant and observe its vibe.
It’s an open space with lots of windows. When you walk in you are greeted by their bar, perfect place to sit, indulge in a drink or two while you wait for a table, or, enjoy your meal at if you want to forgo a table and get right down to the business of eating.
After being seated and studying its menu, which included breakfast and lunch items, we chose a variety of different items (asking our helpful waiter for recommendations) that we can both share. I started with the Mimosa, a blend of blood orange shrub and brut contratto piedmont ($14). I have to admit, I was a bit taken aback by the serving size of the mimosa—served in a slender glass, it looked like a two-shot serving. Pretty pricey if you ask me. I don’t mind spending $14 for a cocktail on occasion but there was not enough substance in the mimosa to justify the $14 price tag (and there were a few seeds that were not strained out). I think I’ll skip this one for the future.
We decided to skip the breakfast items and try them at a later date. Our first course was the Fried Ricotta Stuffed Squash Blossoms with tomato, basil and pine nut. I liked it but I the ricotta didn’t have enough flavor. I would have preferred it with goat cheese instead. Hubby enjoyed it though so maybe it’s just me and my taste buds.
Next up was the Caesar Brussels Sprouts with pecorino, anchovy and garlic. Oh. Em. Gee. I could have eaten this whole dish on my own. Great textures and flavors. Loved this savory, unique interpretation of the Caesar salad replacing the romaine lettuce with the crunch of Brussels sprouts instead. Will definitely order this again.
The “Original Double Crispy” coca made its way to the table next. Baco Mercat features a number of crispy flatbread “pizzas” and this was a popular favorite. The cracker-like base was topped with romesco, anchovy and lemon. Another favorite!
Last but not least was our baco sandwich. The waiter had forgotten that we ordered this and had our table already cleared. We were momentarily confused and he soon realized his mistake and had our table reset for us. There were several to choose from and after going back and forth among the selections, settled on “The Toron”—oxtail hash, pickle, cheddar, tater and horseradish.
It was a generously filled sandwich, hearty and definitely filling. Loved the combination of flavors. The baco reminded me of Take A Bao’s bao sandwiches—just a bit larger and a lot more filling. Oh yes, I can definitely have this one again on its own with the Caesar Brussels Sprouts salad on the side and be perfectly content!
We were pretty full after enjoying our baco and I had already planned to check out Big Man Bakes, a cupcake shop across the street that was featured on the Food Network for dessert. But after perusing Baco Mercat’s dessert menu, I zeroed in on the Pineapple Upside Down Cake with caramel and semifreddo.
Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, this was heaven on a plate. Served warm from the oven, I was in love with this dessert and the caramel pulled the whole dish together. Love.
I’m ready for another trip to Baco Mercat. And now I can taste why this restaurant was named one of the best restaurants in America. Anyone want to join me on a repeat visit?
408 South Main Street (at 4th Street)
Los Angeles, California 90013