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Posted on 10/20/2023

El Mercado Modern Santa Ana: Unveiling Cofounder Cerrudo's Menu Favorites

El Mercado Modern Santa Ana: Unveiling Cofounder Cerrudo's Menu Favorites

Join us as we embark on a menu adventure with Jose Cerrudo, one of the three masterminds behind this innovative eatery. At El Mercado, good f-words of all sorts – foodies, families, and friends – can delight in delish eats, inventive drinks, and memorable experiences for all ages throughout the week. The restaurant is a Mexican culinary expedition that explores the flavors of various states, including Puebla, Sinaloa, Guerrero, Morellos, and Hidalgo. Since its 2016 genesis in Downtown Santa Ana, El Mercado has been reinventing traditional Mexican cuisine and beverages with a modern twist.

Picture this: fresh, healthy ingredients (no lard, folks!), meticulously made-from-scratch dishes with authentic but inventive flavors, and beloved regional classics updated with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. It's comfort food at its finest, minus the heavy-calorie discomfort. And man, is it ever good. Even the prestigious California Michelin Guide couldn't resist singing its praises in both the 2022 and 2023 dining guides

We began with a personal tour of Cerrudo's favorites, but trust us when we say that there are no wrong choices here. With daily specials and an abundantly tempting menu, the hardest part is making a decision. Bringing a larger group may help with sampling more of the fare, but be warned: you won’t want to part with your plate once you dig in!

Chef Cerrudo's Brunch/Lunch Picks

Looking for the best brunch in Santa Ana? El Mercado offers a delightful range of dishes, especially on weekends. From Buttermilk Pancakes to Arrachera Steak & Eggs. Offered Saturdays and Sundays from 11am - 3pm, the weekend brunch and lunch menus will tempt you into ordering seconds (as will the Bottomless Mimosas). Cerrudo loves the Buttermilk Pancakes, an elevated classic courtesy of made-from-scratch masa flour and burnt piloncillo maple syrup. The French Toast is similarly enhanced with custard flavored like Mexican Easter desserts, goat milk sauce, jamaica (hibiscus syrup), and a beautiful topping of bananas and strawberries. 

Buttermilk PancakesFrench Toast

If he’s craving something breakfast-y but savory, Cerrudo’s go-to is the Arrachera Steak & Eggs.For lunch, he says people love the Carnitas and Chicken Enchiladas. Between the slow-roasted pork of the former and the mouthwatering free-range chicken and homemade blue corn tortillas of the latter, it’s not hard to taste why.

Arrachera Steak & EggsChicken Enchiladas

Must-Try Dinner Dishes 

Pulpo A La Plancha is octopus, but like you’ve never seen (or eaten) before. It’s one of Cerrado’s faves — “so colorful,” he says — due to a cabbage puree and broth, which tint the plate a bold, rich purple. Meanwhile, the seafood’s marvelous flavor comes from the Oaxaca chile it’s marinated in and the Chula Vista tequila it’s glazed with. Cerrudo also gravitates to the Chicken Mole. “It’s made in-house as well – we even pick all the chiles,” he says. Served with pea puree, jocoque, tortillas, rice and black beans, “it’s just amazing.”

Pulpo A La Plancha Chicken Mole

Taco Tuesday (and Thursday!)

Evenings at El Mercado get extra spicy with specials for taco lovers (aka everyone), the after-work crowd, and night owls. For all three occasions, Cerrudo prefers the Pork Belly Tacos. They’re just as addictively decadent as they sound, heaped with crispy pork belly, roasted potato and pea puree, and pickled Fresno chilis. For the veggie-inclined, Cerrudo hearkens back to his Peruvian heritage with the Roasted Cauliflower, a twist on the beloved Peruvian lomo saltado dish. In lieu of the traditional steak, seasoned cauliflower is roasted to savory effect with adobo sauce, then topped with homemade potato chips. Drool.

Pork Belly TacosRoasted Cauliflower

Happy Hour and Late Night

If you think the food is great, just wait until you order a drink! El Mercado’s agave-forward bar (mezcal and tequila are the specialties) serves up imaginative cocktails crafted to compliment the menu, alongside a slew of Mexican whiskeys, craft beers, and wines. Don't forget to ask about the origin behind your drink of choice; according to Cerrudo, each cocktail’s name has an interesting backstory. 

Cerrudo’s fave libations include the Italian Wolf, whose presentation involves a smoky surprise you’ll want to film. We mentioned stories earlier, and the Ay Madre is a fun one. “When we did the initial naming of the cocktail, our friend Shelly was tasting it and walking,” Cerrudo says. “She tripped, and the cocktail was so good she exclaimed, ‘¡Ay madre!’” The drink really is a trip in the best way a drink can be: strong in spirit from a balanced mezcal-tequila combo, ruby-red courtesy of hibiscus, and garnished with a whimsical watermelon and chile lollipop.

Italian WolfAy Madre


Last but definitely not least, Cerrudo recommends saving room for El Mercado’s sweet treats. He enjoys the Carrot Cake, which the restaurant has made its own with a tropical pineapple compote and whipped cream topping. For chocoholics, Cerrudo says the Flourless Oaxaca Chocolate Cake is a must: enriched with Oaxaca chocolate and pistachios and served with homemade vanilla bean ice cream, it’s dark, gluten-free decadence at its finest.

Carrot Cake
Flourless Oaxaca Chocolate Cake



Look for discounted entrees and drinks during Happy Hour ALL DAY on Wednesdays, from 5pm-7pmThursdays and Fridays, and 10pm-12am Fridays and Saturdays. 

Taco Tuesday AND Thursday! (Because, like tacos themselves, why have only one?) Enjoy a special taco menu and margarita specials.

Aside from its delicious cuisine and creative cocktails, El Mercado also features live music performances Fridays and Saturdays from 7pm-10pm, and during Weekend Brunch.

Fun Fact: The venue's decor is a tribute to chef Fernando Franco's grandmother's cozy Acapulco home, with cement floors, dangling lights, abundant plants and eclectic artwork.

Where it’s at

301 N Spurgeon St, Santa Ana, CA 92701

(714) 338-2446

More Info: El Mercado Modern Cuisine

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