Top-Rope Tacos

Mexican Food Studio City
Tacos are available with fillings like mushroom chorizo and fried fish. [Joshua Lurie]

The team behind the now shuttered Maradentro has emerged with a new, more casual Mexican restaurant in the same space. Business partners Jesse Gomez and chef Jose Acevedo have debuted Mercado Taqueria in Studio City.

Jesse explained the decision to switch from a higher-end, seafood-focused Mexican restaurant to one with a focus on tacos: “I really feel that the successful places on the street are very casual. They feel more like bars that serve food as opposed to full-blown sit-down restaurants. I want Taqueria to be a place where you can come enjoy a nice happy hour, a nice sit-down dinner or a few late-night cocktails and bites at the bar.”

The duo worked to differentiate the menu from what diners would find at their other restaurants: Mercado, Maradentro and Yxta. “We tweaked some toppings on the guacamole, for example (here pomegranate seeds and queso fresco as opposed to spicy pepitas). We also created some new dishes here that are unique to this concept, like the choriqueso fries, the mushroom chorizo taco and the churro taco,” Jesse shares.

That said, diners will still find some classics from the restaurant group like carnitas and flan. Notable Mercado Taqueria menu items include the taqueria salad—an atypical, delicious toss of butter lettuce, grapes, grilled corn, rainbow carrots, tomatoes, asparagus, candied pepitas, avocado, cotija pesto breadcrumbs and 4 Copas Tequila vinaigrette.

Tacos are served à la carte. Baja-style fish tacos are a popular choice, featuring Harry Polanco Red Ale beer-battered cod, Mexican slaw, chile de arbol aioli, lime crema and pico de gallo on thick, griddled corn tortillas.

Gringas come in pairs and involve griddled flour tortillas sporting molten Oaxaca cheese, red onions, cilantro, Yxta salsa brava and avocado salsa. The aforementioned mushroom chorizo is your best bet as a topping. Chorizo typically involves well-spiced ground pork sausage. In this case, Jose crafts chorizo with three types of wild mushrooms—portobello, cremini and button—and treats them to a moderately spicy chile morita marinade.

Tablitas are larger plates that come with pico de gallo, Yxta salsa brava, cebollita and your choice of corn or flour tortillas. Pescado zarandeado is a grilled fish preparation popular on Sinaloa beaches. At Mercado Taqueria, they butterfly and grill juicy branzino.

All sides are vegetarian. You’ll definitely want to invest in cauliflower al pastor, featuring roasted cauliflower seasoned like marinated, spit-shaved pork, tossed with sweet onions and served with a roasted pineapple slab.

To drink, tequila stars at the bar, as do agave-based cocktails. A margarita could easily double as dessert, though you should probably ask about Mercado Taqueria’s churro taco.

The retooled space features a red façade, covered patio, colorful tile striping and chandeliers that resemble molecular models. Jesse says, “We went back to square one and darkened up the space and gave it a bit of an edgier, sexier feel. We wanted the bar to be the star of the show, so we put a lot of thought into making it look and feel great. My favorite bar for years in Los Angeles has been El Carmen, so I definitely used that as inspiration for the design. Lucha libre screams México to me, as do the calaveras (decorative Mexican skulls) in our other Mercados. So I thought the luchadores (wrestlers) would be fitting for the concept.”

11929 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-358-3423