Blogger vs Fan: Your First Look at Baco Mercat
I’m a huge enough fan of Lazy Ox in DTLA, so much so that I broke my $10 rule just to eat lunch there (even though it clearly isn’t a Midtown Lunch.) So naturally when I heard that its chef, Josef Centeno, was taking the baco- one of his signature items- and building an entire new concept around it, I couldn’t help but be super excited. The baco, which has been described by the L.A. Times as a gyro/taco/pizza hybrid, was invented long before Centeno served them at Lazy Ox as an occasional special, but the only time I’ve ever had one was from the Cart for a Cause Truck. And it was good. Real good. So good that when I heard Baco Mercat was in soft opening mode last week, I had no interest in waiting for them to work out the kinks.
The result? A lunch of hits and misses. The highs weren’t super high, but the lows weren’t super low. And only a dick blogger would nitpick about a meal served during a soft opening period, right? But a more fair-minded eater would probably see the potential, and give them time to work it out. And a fan? Well a fan would gush about how much they love the place. (And, admittedly, I’m a fan.)
Even though the pedigree is as good as it gets, and the decor is similar to Lazy Ox, Baco Mercat is set up as more of a fast casual concept. You order and pay at the counter, get a number, and go find a table. The menu is divided into 9 starters ($3-6), 5 bacos (all $8), one soup ($10), and four flatbreads.
They also serve some great homemade sodas ($3), and nothing is over $10. You might need more than just one baco to really fill you up, but it is possible to share some starters and get out of there for well under $15.
I’ve never had a baco from any of Centeno’s restaurants, but you should know that compared to the one I got from the truck the flatbread was a bit thinner on these new versions (almost tortilla-like). As a result, it wasn’t too tough to wrap up the concoction and eat it like a fat burrito that’s open on both ends. The “original” baco features crispy pork belly and beef “carnitas” as well as smoky aoili, greens, and a tomato/almond/parsley mixture known as salbitxada.
The crisp shrimp baco, which they also served from the Cart For a Cause Truck, makes an appearance again and features a cabbage slaw along with a sriracha and chive dressing.
The porchetta baco will disappoint anybody expecting a warm hunk of meat surrounded by crispy skin (ala Fundamental L.A.), but if you’re expecting cold cuts,their porchetta is some tasty cold cuts. (Just wish there was more of it!)
If you thought the baco was a crazy hybrid of different cultures, wait until you try the bazole, a noodle soup featuring a chile broth topped with a fried egg, crispy pork and beef carnitas. Imagine a savory bowl of menudo, with ramen noodles, and Thai aromatics, and you’re getting close.
The flatbreads might turn out to be the sleeper hits of Baco. We tried the one that came with salsa verde, ricotta and a perfectly cooked overeasy egg in the middle that served both as centerpiece and dipping sauce. Think of it as pizza, and maybe you’ll be disappointed. But if the idea of pesto flatbread topped with ricotta and a runny fried egg sounds delicious to you, then prepare for deliciousness.
So is Baco Mercat amazing? Of course! How could it not be? It’s the guy from Lazy Ox… and I LOVE the Lazy Ox. A
nit picker blogger might complain that the sauces all tasted the same, overpowered the fillings, the bread isn’t cooked right, the concept it weird, the chick pea balls aren’t crispy enough, or the soup is just too damn strange. But that review will likely be outdated soon enough. And fans will keep returning, because once this place really starts to hit on all cylinders it’s going to be awesome. Laxy Ox fans can count on that.
Baco Mercat, 408 S Main St, 213-687-8808