Last month, a group of us went off to explore El Mercadito in East LA. El Mercadito is a three-level shopping center that caters to the Hispanic population in Los Angeles, but we were there in the most part for the food. Since many of us who came were unfamiliar with true authentic Mexican foods and beverages, I enlisted the help of Raul Rodriguez, owner of Nevera Fruit Creations, to help shed some light and he's the one that would describe some of the various foods we were seeing and tasting and would even enlist the vendors to further explain, if needed.
With the weather being very warm and while waiting for others to arrive, some of us already opted to quench our thirst with many of the beverage choices that were available. I went with a fresca, which is a water beverage flavored and sweetened with fruits and flowers. My fruit of choice was cantaloupe and believe me, drinking that cantaloupe fresca was pure heaven. Others went with the more well-known horchatas and a couple of us even had the raspado, the Mexican version of shaved ice.
When everyone was finally gathered together and after paying a visit to the painting of the Virgin Mary in the parking lot, our taste buds were ready for some action and they definitely got that. For our time at El Mercadito, we sampled a variety of items from something as well-known as golden, crunchy churros to sweetened pumpkin that reminded me of a pumpkin pie with my first bite of it. We also had tried out a fermented corn drink that had a sour taste to it that didn't appeal to me very much but there were one or two in our group who enjoyed it a lot.
Other things included chili mango, corn with cotija cheese (at least I think it's cotija cheese) and a variety of sweets from the Mexican sweet shop that was inside the El Mercadito. While we were grazing, we also checked out the Market from top to bottom.
The first floor has stalls that sell a variety of goods, from leather goods to clothing to music. The second floor is definitely geared towards food. There is a bakery, a produce section and stalls where you can purchase everything from pre-made mole sauce to snack items to seeds and spices that can be used for cooking. There are also between 5 to 6 small restaurants where you can get a bite to eat. The third floor had two larger restaurants facing each other with dueling mariachi bands both playing at the same time.
El Mercadito is a really cool market and it was great to have a guide talk us through El Mercadito's culinary offerings and even better, get to sample some of them. After close to 2 hours walking through the market, the majority of the group was ready to call it a day, but my friend and I decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants and Raul recommended El Gallito.
Upon approaching El Gallito, we were overwhelmed by all the choices available to us and there were some dishes that we never heard of before. It actually helped that at the windowsill surrounding the kitchen area, you could actually see up close some of the dishes that were pictured below the restaurant neon sign.
I ordered a sope with carnitas, a huarache with carne asada and a ceviche tostado with shrimp. I have to tell you that in the pictures these items seemed smaller than they actually were once the plates were put in front of you. I think they really gave you good portions. Now on to the food. First, I didn't care too much for the sope. The tortilla shell it was resting on was too hard and the pork was a little dry. Also, it just had too much stuff on it, which made it difficult to eat.
The huarache was wonderful. It was my first time having this dish and I have to say that it was delicious, especially the meat, which had lots of flavor and everything that went with this dish, the lettuce, the sour cream, the cheese just really makes me wish for a second time sometime soon.
The ceviche tostado with shrimp was absolutely yummy. The tartness of the lime, the acidity of the tomatoes, the sweetness of the shrimp all came together in perfect harmony. I also ordered a papaya milkshake, which I was disappointed in. It had more milk than papaya I think and I would have preferred to taste more of the fruit. El Gallito was a good recommendation and I'm glad we managed to save some room for lunch there.
Overall, I enjoyed my time at El Mercadito and I would definitely go back and for those of you who have never paid a visit, I hope that you'll decide it check it sometime.
To see pics, go to: