The day after eating an amazing potato-pear-and-duck-fat-fries laden meal at SanTana's Chapter One, I couldn't help but crave food that was simpler. Something about the way each dish there contains multiple flavor-complex ingredients birthed from the modern gastronomy movement had me missing some basic food staples.
As my friend asked when the pear-shaped, riced potato stuffed with duxelle and a panko crust arrived, “What about a good old fashioned taco?”
Luckily, Merced's is just around the corner from my house and since I moved to Long Beach nearly a decade ago, it has been my go-to hole-in-the-wall for some of the best basic Mexican food around.
Taco Tuesday is usually the time when I take advantage of the restaurant's sidewalk-adjacent walk-up window, but since I had an hour to kill and was in a tipping mood, I sat down in one of Merced's six booths and let the nice Mexican waitresses take care of me.
Multicolored chips are brought to every dine-in table along with a ramekin of the house salsa, which though a bit too liquid-y for my preference has just the right about of spice to keep me chomping until food arrives (hint: if you order chips to go, you will receive a large container of salsa, which keeps well for days in the fridge at home).
Taking advantage of the $1 taco special, I ordered two hard shell tacos and one “soft” version (aka, just a tortilla) with chicken, steak and al pastor, respectively. The hard-shell tacos were passable, more crunch than actual meat and topped with a shredded cheese mix possibly purchased from a cooler at the Vons down the street. But the soft taco–oh man–was one of the best “street” tacos (aka, tacos) I've ever tried, with a heaping helping of moist little orange bits of al pastor covered in a creamy salsa roja that made me feel like I was getting deep in some comida callejera.
But that wasn't all of my lunch. Adding to my ever-expanding waistline, I also ordered a rice-and-bean-accompanying combination plate, eschewing my usual cheese enchiladas for the often-suggested taquitos dorados–cigar-big beef taquitos topped with lettuce, guacamole, cotija and salsa roja.
Merced's taquitos dorados combo was exactly the kind of simple I was hoping for: guacamole made from only chunks of avocado and bits of tomato; light and crispy tortillas wrapped around shredded marinated beef; refried pinto beans topped with pinch of queso; and Spanish rice perfect for scooping into taquito cavities.
Besides being home to some of the best quick-and-humble Mexican food on Broadway (take that, Mi Lupita!), Merced's is also home to one of the more epic Long Beach murals I've seen. Stretching from the doorway to the back of the narrow dining area, the wall painting shows a detailed view of the shoreline from the bottom of Alamitos Avenue. Eat in and marvel at the handiwork or take you lunch to go and walk a few blocks down to the water for a glimpse of the real thing.
Merced's Restaurant, 1064 Broadway, (562) 591-5755