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    Merkado: Where San Francisco Meets Jalisco and the Yucatan

    By David Landis, The Gay Gourmet–

    While San Francisco has a plethora of Mexican dining destinations, restaurants that specifically highlight the cuisines of Jalisco and the Yucatan are in short supply. That is, until Merkado opened in 2019 at the site of the former Tres Agave, a stone’s throw from Oracle Park on Townsend Street.

    Jalisco is famous as the birthplace of tequila, mariachi, and charrería (Mexican rodeo). But its cuisine holds its own, with pozoles, moles, fish or goat birria (seasoned with chili peppers, cumin, and bay leaves), and bote (a stew made with beef, chicken, or pork simmered with pulque and a thick sauce). The Yucatan, by contrast, is known for huevos motuleños (eggs with habaneros, plantains, and turkey ham), cochinita pibil (suckling pig roasted underground with banana leaves), and papadzules (corn tortillas dipped in pumpkin sauce with a hard-boiled egg filling, topped with tomato and chile).

    Merkado, which means “market” in Spanish, replicates the look of a lofty, plant-filled, indoor-outdoor, open-air market. Because its Executive Chef Lorenzo Caamal is a native, the restaurant features both the cuisines of Jalisco and the Yucatan, accentuated by a seasonal approach. Another plus? The extensive craft cocktail program that puts tequila and mezcal front and center.

    Arriving at Merkado is like visiting a friend’s home in Mexico: you’re often warmly welcomed by owner Fabien Santos, who personally shows you to your seat. We took the advice of a baseball fan and decided to visit for brunch on a non-game day to avoid the crowds (when parking is easy and cheap). But if a festive, buzzy atmosphere is in your DNA, Merkado is a good choice pre or post game.

    The indoor and outdoor seating offers a variety of spaces: the Cantina and Dining Room (adjoining the kitchen, with soaring ceilings); La Plaza de Agave (adjacent to the back patio); a tequila tasting room; the Chef’s Table; and the patio. Because we were dining with our pound pups, we opted for the beautiful outdoor courtyard patio at the rear of the restaurant. The sunny space has individual tables and is lined with Astroturf (a hit with our dogs), offers heaters for those chilly nights, and is a quiet respite from the busy neighborhood. There’s a second outdoor area where Fabien has created a series of modular squares dubbed “picnic boxes” that allow people to hang out, mingle, and meet.

    For our brunch, I started with the signature Altos Highland Margarita made with El Tesoro Blanco tequila—served on the rocks with salt. This tequila is truly top shelf, smooth, and a perfect ingredient for those potent margaritas. The cocktail list contains nearly 30 choices, including seasonal favorites such as “One in A Melon,” with tequila, watermelon purée, mint, agave, and lime. My husband skipped the mezcal and tequila and went for his tried-and-true Whispering Angel still rosé wine from Provence. For a restaurant known for its cocktails, the wine list is surprisingly international, with selections from Mexico, France, Portugal, Argentina, and of course, California. The by-the-bottle beer selection also has a solid variety of Mexican beers and the expected Bud Light for baseball enthusiasts.

    Onto the delicious food! For starters, we split the house-made guacamole, which had plenty of citrusy zing and was served with my favorite, house-made, thicker-style tortilla chips. To follow up, we sampled the restaurant’s own version of queso fundido—not at all like the cheesy interpretations at lesser establishments. This one had queso Oaxaca, house-made ground pork chorizo, sautéed chile poblano, roasted corn, and caramelized onion. This combination made for a more refined approach to the dish and a pleasing and filling alternative.

    For our mains, we split the “egg-chilada,” which is Merkado’s rendering of the aforementioned papadzules from the Yucatan. The corn tortillas were stuffed with homemade chorizo and chopped eggs and then topped with pumpkin seed sauce, tomato salsa, and queso fresco. This dish sang for me, with the ingredients complementing each other beautifully and the end result completely yummy. To accompany the “egg-chilada,” we ordered the homemade grilled corn with crema, cotija, lime, and chile de arbol. The cheese and crema in the dish make for a velvety combination where the taste of the fresh corn still shines through.

    An added bonus: the portions were all so big that we took everything home and had yet another tasty meal!

    In addition to brunch, Merkado has a full all-day dining menu, lunch and dinner options, a bar bites menu, and Taco Tuesdays. Merkado is also offering up some specials for Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15–October 15) and Filipino Heritage Month in October. Check their website for details.

    So, if you’re looking for a quick culinary trip to Mexico, skip the flight and head to Merkado instead. Viva Mexico!

    Bits and Bites

    Chef Matthew Dolan and restaurateur Chad Bourdon have reopened San Francisco’s 25 Lusk with a new concept: tapas-style dishes that are shareable, as well as a reimagined outdoor rooftop bar and lounge.

    Big Alma Bar Americain, a tribute to “San Francisco’s grandmother” Anna Spreckles (who adorns the top of the column in Union Square), opened in the Villa Florence Hotel on Powell Street near the Square. Featuring California cuisine (like California king salmon and Mary’s chicken), the pop-up restaurant and bar is open 4–10 pm, but take note: the establishment doesn’t take reservations.

    Bin 415 wine bar has just opened at the Fairmont San Francisco, featuring hard-to-find Sonoma and Napa favorites.

    Bricoleur Vineyards in Windsor was recently named one of the top ten best new wineries in the country by USA Today’s Reader Choice awards.

    We agree that happy hours shouldn’t be limited to weekdays. So, Copas in the Castro launched a new happy hour from 4–7 pm that includes Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.Featured drinks include their mezcal margarita, as well as selected beer and wine. Complimentary chili-lime popcorn with clarified butter is an added plus.

    Iron chef Masaharu Morimoto opened his popular ramen concept restaurant Momosan Santana Row in San Jose. Expect a new take on his Momosan temomi noodle dishes, as well as wine, whisky, private label beer, and sake.

    Visit Oakland has created the Oakland Vegan Trail, an “online gastronomic guide that boasts 20+ plant-based restaurants found in Oakland. With culinary hot spots serving up delicious globally inspired vegan cuisine from American to Chinese to Ethiopian, Filipino, Mexican, Thai, and more, visitors can taste their way around the world—all while staying in Oakland.”  

    Filipino-Mexican restaurant Senior Sisig opened its third brick and mortar location at the San Francisco’s Ferry Building.

    San Francisco-based chocolatier tinyB Chocolate has thought of a fun Halloween activity for the whole family: tinyB Monster Chocolate Pops, an at-home chocolate-popsicle making experience. As they describe it, “This easy-to-use kit helps kids of all ages make monster, ghost, or mummy popsicles with creamy brigadeiro (Brazilian chocolate truffle) filling. The limited-edition kit contains everything needed to temper and mold chocolate popsicle shells, fill them with brigadeiro and cover them with colorful toppings, making it simple to make chocolate Halloween ghouls and let children, family, friends, and co-workers express their creativity.”

    Post Ranch Inn’s celebrated Sierra Mar restaurant has started a new, more casual lunch option for a “more relaxed midday experience.” Teaming up in new roles, Reylon Agustin now serves as Culinary Director of Post Ranch Inn with his longtime colleague Il Hoon Kang promoted to Executive Chef.

    Merkado: https://www.merkadosf.com/
    25 Lusk: https://www.25lusk.com/
    Big Alma: https://bigalma.com/
    Bin 415 at the Fairmont San Francisco: https://tinyurl.com/2wkzvf3w
    Bricoleur Vineyards: https://www.bricoleurvineyards.com/
    Copas: https://www.copasonmarket.com/
    Momosan Santana Row: https://momosansantanarow.com/
    Visit Oakland’s Oakland Vegan Trail: https://tinyurl.com/4s8x6ffs
    Senior Sisig at the Ferry Building: https://www.senorsisig.com/
    tinyB Chocolate: https://www.tinybchocolate.com/

    Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn: https://tinyurl.com/2s4hnep2

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: davidlandissf@gmail.com Or visit him online at: www.gaygourmetsf.com

    The Gay Gourmet
    Published on September 22, 2022