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El Mercado: Where Old Mexico Meets Modern Mastery in Santa Ana

In the vibrant heart of Santa Ana, a dance of flavors plays out behind the modest doors of El Mercado Modern Cuisine. Here, amidst the sleek contours and modern aesthetics, memories of old Mexico reverberate in the dishes that are as much art as they are sustenance.

The first glimpse of those homemade blue corn tortillas wrapping up what promises to be a celestial quesadilla is something of legend—precisely the kind of thing you’d hope to unearth while sifting through the venerable pages of the Michelin guide. This isn’t the glitz and glamour of overpriced gastronomy. Instead, El Mercado offers authenticity at an affordable price, a rare find in today’s culinary landscape.

Biting into the quesadilla, you’re transported by the union of salsa puya, huitlacoche, and the stringy, melt-in-your-mouth glory of Oaxaca cheese—with a generous smattering of chicken adding just the right amount of heft. But this journey doesn’t stop at quesadillas. The chilaquiles—a festive carnival of tortilla chips, salsa verde, and sun-kissed eggs—will entertain your taste buds. And the enchiladas verde, with their free-range chicken swaddled in blue corn tortillas, and immaculate sauce, only further assert El Mercado’s expertise.

The accompanying black beans share a history, each bean cooked and melted and combined to perfection, while the fluffy rice offers a gentle backdrop, allowing the masterpiece of flavors to play out.

While Santa Ana may seem a world away for many, a trip to El Mercado Modern is worth diverting any journey, if only for a meal. A little piece of Mexico’s soul, tucked away in the heart of Orange County. A resounding 4 out of 5 forks.

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