Los Angeles Central Library – Los AngelesSeptember 20, 2023
Norton Simon Museum – Pasadena, CAJanuary 18, 2024
Mercado González – Costa Mesa, CA
Visited: December 2023
Tracy and I have had Mexico City on our brains since our incredible April 2023 trip, so when Tracy read about the opening of a huge, new Mexican marketplace in Costa Mesa, we took immediate notice. When she also read that Mercado González included the first U.S. location of Churreria El Moro, where we had devoured the best churros on earth on that México excursion, I knew we’d be heading to Orange County … and soon.
Early on a Sunday morning (well, 9 a.m. is early for us on a Sunday), Tracy and I, along with our friend Xochitl, made the drive to this new establishment, the brainchild of Mexican supermarket chain Northgate González, which has more than 40 locations throughout Southern California. As nice as those markets are, we would soon find out Mercado González takes this to an absolutely new level. It fashions itself after similar mercados in places such as Guadalajara, Oaxaca and other Mexican cities.
We suspected this was a popular spot upon arriving because, even at 10 a.m., the large parking lot was more than 85% full. And wouldn’t you know it, the first thing we saw as we walked toward the mercado entrance was El Moro. Somehow, we resisted temptation, deciding to explore the store first.
We were greeted with colorful produce, fragrant flowers, an open area churning out tortillas along with numerous (20) food and beverage stalls, or as the store calls them, “puestos.” Adding to the festive atmosphere was a vibrant soundtrack of Mexican music (it kept my Shazam busy throughout our visit) and the joyful vibe of the people who were enjoying the bustling scene. As our friend Xochitl (who has lived in Mexico for many years) said, “It feels like we’re in Mexico City.” We grabbed a cart.
Whether you are a flour or corn tortilla person, they are busy at work churning them out. A few of these items made it into our cart. We purchased flour tortillas that have since disappeared into our stomachs, while a container of crispy cinnamon buñuelos landed in Xochitl’s cart. If you have never eaten a buñuelo (as Tracy and I had not until that day), you haven’t lived. Buñuelos are very popular during Christmas and New Year. They’re made from fried dough covered in cinnamon sugar and flattened into thin disks. Xochitl shared a few when we arrived home, and they were consumed by the time she reached the end of our driveway (and before we could take a photo). Oh, and don’t forget the chicharrones or chips. I gained five pounds just walking by the bags.
Want to make your own tamales? Need dough? How about mas masa? And you can purchase these little cuties to keep those tortillas warm.
For those who did wait, you did get to learn a little about the history of tamales. Next time, I might just get here when the stall opens at 6 a.m. Hey, any time’s a good time for tamales or … “Tamales, it’s what’s for breakfast!”
We moved on to the food court, where we checked out the sit-down, full-service restaurant Maizano (well, at least the bar part of it seen through the door) from the people who brought LA Cha Cha Chá to DTLA from CDMX. It wasn’t open this early.
There are plenty of tables inside and on the covered patio as well as a huge bar for refreshments while dining. They even have large screen TVs surrounding the patio so you can watch your favorite fútbol or football game.
On to Los Mesquites Asados where the meat was grilling. Everything from beef, pork, chicken and more. Being in a festive Christmas mood I started singing, “Asada grilling on an open fire, smokey mezquite wood zipping up my nose.” Tracy shook her head and whisked me away.
If you have ever read my biography on this website (which I’m sure constitutes none of you), then you’d know that in a different lifetime I was a partner in a small magazine publishing company, producing publications mainly in the produce and agriculture business, so I, of course, was interested in what the produce department had to offer.
As someone once said (probably not a vegetarian), “Man does not live on fruits and vegetables alone.” The Carnicería La Preferida, cleverly hidden behind this produce made me wish we had remembered to bring an ice chest, as it is an hour drive back to the Casa de MaiTaiTom, because the meat looked stupendous. The meat section looked amazing (we didn’t want to bother the customers by taking a photo) and made me hunger for a steak, or better yet, some chorizo.
You think that story’s fishy, we came upon the real stuff at the Mariscos El Pariente. Iced ceviches, cocktails (of the shrimp variety) and aquachiles made with 100% Mexican shrimp. Hunger was definitely setting in, but we pressed on.
Tracy spied the nearby Las Cazuelas Guisados containing a sign for her breakfast favorite, chilaquiles, and my love, cheese enchiladas, which meant we’d return before our visit was complete. Although, we had not yet seen the entire market, we knew we needed to hustle over to Churreria El Moro to get the party started. We were feeling in the Pink.
As we passed by the fresh salsas and guacamole, a container of the “spicy” guacamole with habaneros and a salsa verde molcajete magically landed in our cart to go with the still warm flour tortillas. (Wow! for all three.) By the way, they will make guacamole to your order if you like. As Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon would say, “Some like it hot!”
We stopped on the way to admire the dried beans artfully displayed in wooden crates in the center of the aisle. Xochitl pointed out her favorite beans, the golden frijol Peruano.
Checking out the spice selection, we liked the way everything was displayed.
We passed by the busy kitchen where the mole and salsas were being prepared. I loved how you can see all the action in each of the food venues. Definitely have to come back for a mole sampling.
Rounding the corner we finally arrived at the Churreria El Moro, which we had “discovered” on our spring jaunt to CDMX. Fortunately for our waistlines, we didn’t find this place in Condesa until the last day of our trip or we would have been over the airline weight limit to return home.
El Moro was founded in 1935 and makes crispy, chewy hot churros rolled in sugar and cinnamon and served with your choice of several different hot chocolates, dipping chocolate or even ice cream. When we were in CDMX, Tracy had a mini-churro strawberry ice cream sandwich (below) which she thought may have been the best thing she ate on the entire trip, and that’s saying a lot. Maybe these will find their way to Costa Mesa one day.
Both kids and adults enjoyed watching the churros being made.
Many of these alebrijes are hand-painted, while the one below was beaded.
Speaking of spirits, Tracy also ducked into the Hacidena La Cofradía to search for the mango margarita mix we enjoyed at Mariscos del Patio in Coyoacán which happens to be Xochitl’s family’s restaurant (go there, you will not be disappointed!).
With more than 100 varieties of tequila in this section and a wide variety of beer and other liquors, the afterlife could come quickly if you’re not careful (I scooted back later for a 12-pack of my favorite Mexican beer, Bohemia).
We hadn’t seen Frieda Kahlo since stopping by her museum in CDMX, and when Tracy knew I was going back to buy some cerveza, she shook her head and said, “Saddle down boy.”
Meanwhile, back in Churroland, we had made our way to the moment of truth where those delicious, warm churros dusted with cinnamon and sugar are bagged (although the line was pretty long it only took about 15 minutes). Fortunately, Xochitl held me back so as to not grab the enticing bag I had waited to enjoy since first arriving.
We ordered two bags (four in each bag), not knowing they were a little larger than many churros we’ve had in the past. No worries …. We were able to chow down six of these tasty treats with some hot chocolate on the small outside patio (saving a couple to take home). As the Barefoot Contessa would say, “So good.”
Near El Moro is Horneado Fresco Diario where the fresh rolls and pastries are made for La Pastelería. The line here was long with people loading up on colorful conchas along with authentic and traditional breads. There are also dessert offerings including a wide array of cakes. I didn’t want to butt in to take a photo, but take my word for it, the assortment of goodies had our mouths watering.
For the next 15 minutes we wandered aimlessly (which pretty much defines my life) through the market. A couple of places sold kitchenware to help you prepare your own Mexican fiesta at home.
So what to do after downing a couple of churros each? You got it … eat more food. By the time we meandered back to Las Cazuelas Guisados it was 11:30 and too late to order Tracy’s favorite, chilaquiles. Tracy and I decided instead to share an order of the Tacos de Papa Combinación (three crispy tacos with potato filling served with Mexican rice and beans), while Xochitl ordered Costillita con Nopal (Pork ribs with cactus). There would be no dinner tonight for the MaiTai family.
As we walked toward the outside patio we passed by Chiva Torta and I must admit I had an inkling to try one, but deferred.
The outdoor patio area was spacious, and all the tables were full, but a couple graciously shared their table with us. As I glanced up at the television, I noticed the Chargers were playing the Patriots in one of the NFL’s worst games of the 21st century. In order to keep the day on a positive note, I averted my eyes from the screen for the remainder of our meal. I didn’t even take a photo, fearing I might see another Charger fumble.
Inside was hopping, too. Although there were tons of people I never felt like it was all that crowded wherever we went. Well, it is a big space after all.
Walking off lunch we meandered through the mercado (there’s a song in there somewhere) …
… and La Crema y Nata, where you can become the big cheese and order traditional Mexican speciaties such as Queso Oaxaca, Queso Fresco, Queso Cotija.
Even as we were checking out, this nearby enticing place had that come-hither look. La Nena Paletería with its ice cream and paletas (“a Mexican frozen treat made from fresh natural fruits such as strawberry and mango or made from rich creamy ingredients such as Chocolate and Sicilian pistachio.”) called out for us to give them a try. I am definitely going to have a mango con chile upon my return.
In front of his mural stood a lemon (I believe Tracy added this line without my knowledge).
Mercado González is very popular and quite crowded. But we didn’t know how popular until we walked outside. Glancing to my left, I was astounded to see the line winding around the store for about 100 yards waiting to get inside. Suddenly, it felt like we were at a Taylor Swift concert. The only thing missing was Travis Kelce (and a bunch of Swifties).
We had high expectations for Mercado González, and if anything our expectations were exceeded. It reminded me of the excitement and expectation we felt the first time we walked into Eataly in New York City; our senses were blown away, as if we had been transported to a magical place. Mercado Gonzáles had that same effect on us.
Since it is so busy, be aware that many of the food stalls will have lines, some of them quite long, so my recommendation is get here early, especially on weekends. (Check the website for the different puestos/food stall opening times.) There is no doubt, although we live an hour away, we will make a point to visit here frequently.
If you’re in the right frame of mind, the waits at the food stalls will be more than worth your while, and Mercado González will become for you, as it was for us, a unique opportunity to experience the vibrancy, colors, smells, tastes and sounds of a true Mexico City mercado. And be sure to have fun with churros.
2300 Harbor Blvd.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
6 a.m – 11 p.m. daily
(check website for puestos/food stall hours)