Mercado La Paloma: Standout Mexican Sips and Bites by USC

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Market Los Angeles

Mercado La Paloma has many stories to tell with their mural and through food.

Mercado La Paloma (The Dove Marketplace) is a compelling Mexican-style market near USC. The west wall features a mural by artist Elizabeth Eve, which serves as a beacon to drivers on the adjacent 110 freeway. Stall specialties include Oaxacan crafts and pottery, but for food lovers, the best reason to visit the Mercado is to sample some of the most authentic Mexican food in Los Angeles.

The Mercado is an initiative from Esperanza Community Housing Corporation (ECHC), which promotes the 34,000 square foot space as a community gathering place. The second floor houses non-profits who are working to provide health and social services to low-income families in the neighborhood.

Taqueria Vista Hermosa is the top dining option in the former warehouse. Raul Morales opened his stall eight years ago, which is named for his hometown in the Mexican state of Michoacan. He learned to cook from his mother and grandfather. Morales planned to open a second location near the beach, but with four children age 18 and under, he doesn’t want to take the unnecessary risk. Besides, he’s enjoying success catering for Univision stars, Spanish-language actors and radio personalities, and American celebrities like Sugar Ray Leonard, Mayor Villaraigosa and Nancy Sinatra, who all crave his pastor.

Taqueria Los Angeles

During the week, Taqueria Vista Hermosa is popular with downtown office workers and USC students. On weekends, families flock to the stall. The menu consists of photo placards along the wall, plus daily blackboard specials.

Tacos Los Angeles

TVH tacos normally come with diced onion and cilantro, but I ordered carne asada, chicken and pastor unadorned to taste the distinctive flavors. The tacos ($1.50 each) came with cooling pickled carrots and onions, plus sliced radishes.

Taco Los Angeles

Pastor marinated in orange juice, chilies and other ingredients and cooked on a spit until nice and crusty.

Taco Los Angeles

Chicken was juicy, also bathed in orange juice.

Salsa Los Angeles

Morales stores fresh salsas in makeshift Coke pour-bottles. His green salsa is often mistaken for guacamole, but it’s actually an explosively flavorful combination of green chilies: habanero, chile de arbol, jalapeño and Serrano. When we arrived, he was roasting tomatillos on the stovetop for a smoky reddish-brown salsa that also features garlic, vinegar and cloves.

To extinguish the flames from Morales’ fiery salsas, we walked two stalls down to Oaxacalifornia, Juan & Sofia Antonio’s stall, which specializes in aguas frescas, plus ice cream and sorbet in exotic flavors like tuna (cactus), guanabana and mamey.

Agua Fresca Los Angeles

Oaxacalifornia’s distinctive chilacayota agua fresca ($3.50) hosted sweet strands of squash, black squash seeds and a scoop of lime sorbet. Cantaloupe agua fresca ($2) was mildly sweet and refreshing.

All told, it cost less than $10 per person for terrific tacos and agua frescas that were nearly as impressive.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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