Across From the Border

A new upscale Mexican restaurant hits Santa Monica

Many Southland neighborhoods would welcome the arrival of a restaurant serving excellent Mexican food.

Downtown Santa Monica, home of Border Grill, wasn't exactly wanting for such an establishment. Mercado, then, which opened in May across the street, is making a statement by location, as it will have to hold its own against a classic in this genre–which the restaurant appears capable of doing.

Chef Jose Acevedo's cooking is more reverent than interpretative, the dishes inspired by the Mexican diaspora cuisine of Los Angeles. The kitchen tackles the taco trucks of East L.A., the moles of Oaxacatown and more.

Take the ceviche (pictured; $12): It isn't the kind of Spanish-accented sushi bar preparation many L.A. diners have come to expect. It's more akin to what you're served at Mariscos Jalisco: diced fish "cooked" in a punchy lime marinade until white and flaky. Stacks of Saltines are provided for scooping, their dry crunch an excellent foil for the tender, briny fish.

We were expecting something like queso fundido when we ordered the choriqueso ($8), but the dish is more like chili con queso. The smooth, melted cheese is studded with poblano chiles, chorizo and mushrooms; you'll surely be scraping it from the bottom of the bowl with a second order of chips.

Mercado, 1416 Fourth St., Santa Monica; 310-526-7121 or mercadosantamonica.com