Mexican market

Mesa Mercado

Good for: full-service Mexican in the Milagro Centre
Notable dishes: chile en nogada, tacos al pastor

Mesa Mercado

6241 Fair Oaks Blvd.
Carmichael, CA 95608

(916) 283-4081

Inside Mesa Mercado, your view consists of a black wall of construction on one side and a sea of empty parking spaces on the other.

Eventually, that black wall will become Insight Coffee Roasters, Jaynee Cakes and a farmers market, and the parking lot will hopefully look full.

About three months ago, Mesa Mercado became one of the first businesses to open at the long-promised Milagro Centre, a still-in-progress, 46,000-square-foot food hall in Carmichael that aims to emulate Napa’s Oxbow Market or San Francisco’s Ferry Building.

But for now, it’s the lonely, enormous home of Ernesto Delgado’s new restaurant, a more casual counterpart to his popular Tequila Museo Mayahuel downtown. Just like Mayahuel doubles as a museum of sorts, Mesa Mercado acts as a market within Milagro’s greater marketplace.

To the right of the main entrance, there’s a small shop filled with Mexican cookbooks, cooking tools and tchotchkes. Similar artifacts surround you in the lime green dining room, a bright space rich with detail but devoid of much character—an oddly corporate-feeling design you might find in an Ikea catalog with accents courtesy of Pinterest.

Still, it’s nice enough. And there’s easy parking.

The food echoes the atmosphere. If you think traditional taquerias serve grub that’s unsanitary, horribly spicy and gosh darn too affordable, then Mesa Mercado will probably appeal.

Here, you pay $7.50 for “deconstructed” guacamole—diced avocado, tomato and onion with salt and citrus on the side so you, essentially, make your own guacamole—and $3 for chips and salsa. At the start of dinner, a server drops a small plate of chopped mango, a change of pace that would be very exciting if the mango wasn’t underripe and out of season.

If you love Mayahuel’s smoky poblano soup, Mesa Mercado serves it as well ($5). In general, the menu lightly echoes Mayahuel, though it’s much smaller, a bit cheaper and inspired by the markets of Mexico City and Oaxaca. So, instead of Mayahuel’s excellent Pueblan mole, Mesa Mercado carries a dark Oaxacan version ($18).

The exception to the regional rule is also perhaps Mesa Mercado’s best dish: the chile en nogada ($10), a Pueblan wintertime tradition. A roasted poblano gets stuffed with ground beef and raisins and blanketed in a sweet, creamy walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds. It’s a rare find.

Other appetizers fared less well. The chicken tinga tostadas ($7) promised spice and smoke but only delivered sloppy blandness. The sweet tamales ($6) were OK—the masa felt nice and light, but the topping of hard mango chunks was a bummer—but the ceviche ($11) truly disappointed. Mealy bits of out-of-season tomato mingled with lots of red onion and only a little fish, which smacked of lemon juice and not much else. I hoped the chips on the side would provide some much-needed salt, but they reeked of rancid oil.

For entrees, the carnitas ($16) was barely edible: dry, chewy strands of pork with burnt edges. I felt relieved to find the steak ($21) tender and juicy, though its temperature quickly dropped under a sleet of cold guacamole.

The tacos al pastor ($13) get the job done. Blue corn tortillas burst with soft, juicy pork, pineapple, onion and radish. Texturally, I longed for some char on the meat, but the sweet-tangy flavors are sound. A taco bar is still in the works, and servers promise its arrival any day now. There’s also a full bar—and an intriguing cocktail menu dominated by mezcal—but the place still exudes family friendliness.

Though the Milagro Centre is expected to draw visitors from all over the region, Mesa Mercado alone probably won’t. But judging by the steady crowds at lunch and dinner, it’s certainly filling a niche in Carmichael.