Bäco Mercat, the new downtown Los Angeles restaurant from Chef Josef Centeno (of Lazy Ox Canteen fame) centered around his flatbread sandwich/pizza/taco creation, is a restaurant years in the making. Centeno first introduced the hybrid bäco as a staff meal at Meson G in Hollywood, where he was executive chef, and later put it on the lunch menu at Lot 1 in Echo Park. It occasionally shows up at Lazy Ox, too. Now the bäco has a home of its own, and it’s settling in nicely.
A good place to start on this menu is with The Original bäco made with pork, beef carnitas and salbitxada, a zesty tomato sauce made with almonds, serrano chile and garlic. The cocas, or pizzas made with thinner bäco flatbread, are also a good bet, and The Tomato & Cheese with smoked tomato, jalapeno and basil is a nice one.
Don’t over look the small plates, though. The Caesar Brussels Sprouts, which are shaved and tossed with pecorino, anchovy and garlic, and the Crispy Head-On Shrimp with cubeb pepper and side of pickled cauliflower are delicious and addictive. The braised beef raviolo topped with pesto and egg is a revelation; unfortunately, it’s not always on the dinner menu. I hear the bazole is also good, but I didn’t try it on this recent visit.
As for dessert, make sure to try the Almond Cheesecake Pudding served with lemon curd and chocolate crumb. Skip the Banana Cream Cannoli, which just isn’t that tasty.
The drinks here are interesting, but I’m not entirely sold on them yet. You pick a spirit and a house-made sweet and sour soda from a list of seasonal flavors. I had a bourbon with a persimmon soda, which was fine but not extraordinary. There is also a rotating list of drink specials, too.
Another thing to note: One of my dining companions commented that Centeno favors pickled onions, and lo and behold, most of our dishes contained pickled onions. Not that they’re bad, but what’s the deal?