Bäco Mercat is permanently closed
photo credit: Jakob Layman
We tend to break restaurants up into two distinct categories: the fancy places and the casual places. One you use for a big night out because something important happened to you, the other because you have money anxiety and don’t really feel like leaving your neighborhood on a Tuesday. But then there’s Bäco Mercat, the Spanish/Mediterranean restaurant that’s always fallen somewhere in between. After all these years, this Historic Core spot is still riding that rare middle ground better than anybody.
When Bäco Mercat opened in 2011, downtown had its fair share of restaurants already. But most of them were high-end destinations geared towards people looking for a chicken piccata before a musical at The Ahmanson. Bäco Mercat was the opposite. It was the Historic Core’s first big restaurant - and definitely a destination spot - but one that catered to people coming down from their apartment buildings nearby and others who wanted to explore all the new bars popping up in the area. The atmosphere was casual, but exciting. Everyone there was hanging with friends, eating food that felt new and interesting, and getting a little rowdy in the process. Fast forward to today, and that all remains intact. Except the food might be a little bit better.
Don’t be fooled by Bäco Mercat’s vegetable-heavy menu - this is straight-up Mediterranean comfort food. The massive za’atar eggplant dip feels more like a full entree than an appetizer, and their anchovies with pickled gooseberries will change whatever you previously thought about anchovies. The cold noodle salad is zero parts salad, and all parts chilled pasta with spicy meat sauce. And of course, there’s the signature bäco, a giant pita taco filled with everything from deep-fried shrimp to oxtail hash. If you had one these five years ago and are wondering if they taste as delicious as you remember - they are. And that can be said for almost all of Bäco Mercat’s menu.
Bäco Mercat succeeds because they found their special middle ground and stuck to it. And because of that, it continues to be ideal for most dining situations - first date, rowdy dinner with friends, after-work drinks, showing your parents downtown, or even grabbing a bite before seeing a show at The Ahmanson. You won’t miss the chicken piccata.
If you hear the word anchovies and you think of that one person in your family who always wanted them on their pizza, Bäco Mercat is here to change that. They’re sweet, not salty, and the crunchy bread they serve on the side is great.
This dip is an absolute must-order. It’s rich and savory and the puffy bread it comes is arguably even better than the dip itself.
Cold Noodle Salad
This is definitely not a salad. It’s a big bowl of chilled spaghetti noodles topped with a spicy meat sauce, crispy pork, egg, peanut, and basil. Don’t move onto the bäcos before ordering this.
This dish has been on the menu for years, and it’s still solid. If you want to put a vegetable on the table, make it this one.
The Toron Bäco
If Bäco Mercat has a signature dish, it’s this. The El Toron is a giant pita taco stuffed with oxtail hash, cheddar tartare, and a horseradish yogurt. It’s savory and cheesy, but also not as heavy as it sounds. This is still our favorite thing on the menu.
You don’t come to Bäco Mercat and only order one bäco. And the best compliment to the Toron is the El Pesco. Giant crispy shrimp, house sriracha, and chive dressing. It’s not as heavy at The Toron, and at this point in the meal, you’ll want some seafood.
The only real miss on the menu for us. There are way too many pistachios, and at the end of the day, we need our cheesecake to have some crust.