[Hole in the Wall] Argentinian Delights at Puerto Madero Market in Santa Ana
Any Puerto In a Storm
I don’t like to review the same location twice—that is, a place that has hosted different restaurants over the years. But I’ll make a happy exception for Puerto Madero Market. It occupies the same Santa Ana address where the much-missed Produce Warehouse operated for years, a slice of Argentina among waves of wabs. Produce Warehouse closed years ago, and the drab stucco building that once housed it stood abandoned a couple of years more. For a while, it looked like the next business to set up shop in the location would be yet another Mexican market, but Puerto Madero opened some months ago, matching and even improving on Produce Warehouse’s aisles of Argentine goodness.
The deli remains, where you can pick up fresh pork, beef and chicken, as well as specialty Argentine cuts and sausages: plump, rich morcillas (blood sausage) that crisp perfectly on a grill, buttery mollejas (sweetbreads), lean Argentine chorizo and a dozen or so Italian specialties like prosciutto and capicola. Piled across the tienda are not just Argentine cooking essentials like chimichurri, pastas and yerba maté, but products to feed Orange County’s other South American diaspora—manioc flour and guaraná sodas for Brazilians, Peruvian and Bolivian canned ají sauce, and boxes filled with make-it-yourself Colombian specialties like buñuelos (not the Mexican Christmas favorite of a cinnamon-dusted fried flour tortilla, but greasy-gorgeous cheese fritters) and natilla. I’m not a cook, but the constant expat business at Puerto Madero shows muchos appreciate the products.
But the new ownership has gone further than offering mere supermarket staples. A third of the expansive space is tables and chairs, all turned to three flat-screen televisions usually tuned to the same soccer game. Patrons sip their maté or enjoy the only two items on the menu—sandwiches and empanadas. The latter make great snacks, but order the former: massive things constructed from fresh bread and your choice of meats (vegetarian? You can ask for a delicious hearts of palm variety). The milanesa crackles nicely; the matambre, a sausage of flank steak stuffed with vegetables, works but isn’t particularly special. I always order the choripan, a butterflied chorizo. The Puerto Madero crew gives it to you minimally dressed—a smear of mayo, lettuce and tomato. A hint of fat, a bunch of pork essence—slather on the chimichurri and let the recession slip your mind for 10 minutes.
The only way Puerto Madero doesn’t measure up to its predecessor: the lack of alfajores. They stock about half-a-dozen of the Argentine shortbread cookie staple, while Produce Warehouse usually stocked about 18. But Puerto Madero compensates by offering facturas, the Argentine version of sweet bread. Oh, and entire blocks of quince? ¡Sí! Better yet? Not a taco in sight.
Puerto Madero Market, 1225 W. 17th St., Santa Ana, (714) 547-5900; www.puertomaderomarket.com.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.