Merced Report, Part I: Mexican Food (with a bit of Mariposa thrown in)…
As some of my Chow friends know, I’ve recently relocated, part-time at least, to Merced. I am maintaining a presence in San Francisco, where hubby, pets and heart (of course) still reside, for the time being at least, but it seems that a lot of my eating these days is in Merced and surrounding areas of the Central Valley. Now that I am a bit settled in it is time for a few reports.
I started my search with Mexican food. I’ve had great Mexican food in Fresno, Delano, Bakersfield and other parts of the Central Valley, and am not that enthusiastic about many of the San Francisco Mexican spots, so that seemed like a logical starting point.
Unfortunately, and somewhat to my surprise, Mexican food does not seem to be a strength here; I think CH Agrippa may have been right when he said in the post below: “Its too bad that a community that is over 50% Latino does not have one excellent Mexican restaurant :(, you basically have to eat at someone's house to have good Mexican food in this town.”
The one sit down Mexican place that Agrippa had some enthusiasm for is La Morenita; but I haven’t been able to make it there yet: it has been closed both times I’ve tried to go. It’s on the list to try very soon.
Here are the places I have been:
Rosalinda’s Taco Truck (G, Near 15th): There is still a taco truck there, though I can’t swear that it is Rosalinda’s. Stopped once, had a carnitas taco, it was good, though nothing outstanding. Ramon’s is still there on Highway 140 also, though I haven’t stopped in to try it yet.
I reported previously on Fiesta Mexican (downtown) in this thread:
It was decent to good, but I haven’t been compelled to go back…
Hacienda Two: (G near El Portal):
I was hoping this would be ok, since it is close to my house. I should have listened to Agrippa. Not good at all; I could have made a better margarita, and it isn’t cheap. Besides, my server never even smiled. Can’t even remember what I ate, but not recommended. Nice décor and an airy light-filled room, however.
Florencio’s: (near Yosemite and Gardner) :
This small place is also near my home, and has a pleasant patio overlooking a parking lot. but with views of the fields beyond. On a Monday night the special was albondigas. I had high hopes after I was served good salsa and a plate of pickled cabbage, but the albondigas were in a broth that managed to be both bland and extremely greasy, the tortillas were factory made, and the meatballs themselves were rather flavorless. Service was pleasant but slow, and my server reeked of perfume (a major pet peeve). Dinner with a Negro Modelo (beer and wine only, IIRC) was about $20; which is pricy for what I ordered. I am not in a hurry to return.
Casa Oaxaca: Casa Oaxaca had a bit of promise. I tried the enchiladas de mole, the one dish on the menu that appeared to be Oaxacan in origin. The mole was rich and flavorful, although the chicken filling was bland. Unfortunately, Casa Oaxaca closed its doors the week after I was there (a sign says they are still doing catering). Service was slow and distracted; perhaps the staff knew what was coming….
El Asadero (Raley's Shopping Center, G St):
Also close to home (is anything really far in Merced?) and seems to be an after-school hang -out for students from nearby Merced High School.
It’s basically a taqueria: order at the counter. They do serve inexpensive Mexican and American breakfasts and a few standard dinner plates, including chile verde and carnitas. This is also the place to get a Mission-style burrito if anyone is so inclined. Unfortunately, the tacos are average at best: tortillas aren’t house made, and are griddled, but then placed right on top of each other so the center one becomes steamed. (another pet peeve: by the time they’ve cooled enough to separate, one or the other will have holes in them.) I’ve had the carne asada and al pastor: neither are worth writing home about, and both were served with gloppy guacamole and lettuce.
However, what makes El Asadero worthy of a second visit, and I do plan to go back, is the salsa bar: it is small, but the salsas are nice, and the zanahorias are among the best I’ve had in a long, long time: flavorful carrots, just the right amount of heat, and chunks of herbs and whole peppercorns. They sell those carrots by the quart: I will probably be stopping into get some often. On one of those trips I might try the machaca; I haven’t had really good machaca in a long time, and hope springs eternal....
El Asadero also has a nice selection of Mexican sodas and beers. Cash only, with an ATM on the premises. Most tacos are $1.50, but the al pastor is $2.25. Dinner plates run about $7 to $9, with rice, beans and tortillas.
Trevinos (Main St. Downtown):
Trevinos has apparently been an institution on Main Street in Merced for years. It is huge, with comfortable booths, and has a private dining room for groups. While the food wasn’t wonderful (except for the chips and tortillas, which were indeed wonderful), it is good, and is the sit-down Mexican restaurant in Merced I am most likely to return to soon.
I started with a basket of fantastic, fresh, hot house made chips, and very good house made salsa, along with a small bowl of pickled cabbage (that cabbage appears to be a Merced Mexican restaurant staple). I decided to try a margarita, and while it used a mix, it was big, stiff , cold, and only $3.50.
The menu at Trevinos is fairly limited, filled with standards. I tried the carnitas, which are one of the more ‘exotic’ menu items. (expect tacos, enchiladas, chile rellenos and the like….). The carnitas were only decent; a bit dry, and not crispy, but were served with delicious, warm, fresh, house made tortillas. Rice and beans were above average.
One of the reasons I’d like to return to Trevinos is to try their Mexican breakfasts: given the quality of the tortillas and the fresh salsa, I wouldn’t be surprised if the huevos rancheros are good here. Prices at Trevinos (especially for drinks!) are quite reasonable, and portions are predictably big. Service was friendly, professional and efficient. Total for my dinner for one, with that margarita, was only about $18 with tax and generous tip. Try any of the dishes made with those tortillas, which are the best I’ve found in this town.
Salvador’s in Mariposa: (aka Sal’s Tacos)
At our CH Dinner at Hunan in Fresno, I was grumbling about the low standards for Mexican food in Merced, when Polar Bear sympathetically suggested that perhaps I should try the Mexican places in Mariposa. Not sure he had anywhere in mind, but I owe him my thanks for planting that idea in my mind…on Sunday hubby and I had a chance try dinner at Salvador’s (aka Sal’s Tacos) on the main drag in Mariposa, on our way back from a hike in Yosemite and…surprise…it was very good!
There is something very wholesome about Salvador’s. In fact, it’s a bit too wholesome for my taste: the fresh-faced well-scrubbed young lady who waited on us confessed that she had no idea what a ‘Negro Modelo’ was when she took our drink order, and when I explained she told us apologetically that no alcohol is served. Given the Main Street location and long tenure of Salvador’s, I suspect this is a choice of the ownership, not a licensing issue.
Oh well, hubby and I still had another 40 miles or so to drive to get back to Merced, so not drinking was probably just as well. Moreover, after that somewhat disappointing start, things definitely started to look up. The server quickly brought soft drinks, chips and salsa. Sadly, the pickled cabbage tradition hasn’t extended up to Mariposa, but while the chips were average, the salsa was very good, with fresh cilantro.
Hubby ordered carnitas, I decided on chile verde. My chile verde dinner came with soup or salad: I had the soup, which was chicken vegetable. It was great: clearly housemade, with a rich broth, chunks of fresh carrots and zucchini and flavorful chicken: perfect for a cool evening, and (no surprise here) wholesome and comforting. I wish they had albondigas on the menu at Salvador’s: I bet the cook to do them justice.
Mains arrived shortly after: hubby’s carnitas came with average tortillas, a small but excellent serving of guacamole (it tasted like it was just avocado, lime, a bit of cilantro: the way guacamole should be made), and huge portions of rice and beans. I had a taste, and the carnitas were very good: porky, crispy and yet juicy. Now, if I could just find a place with carnitas like those but tortillas like the ones they make at Trevinos….. As for the chile verde, it was as good as I’ve had in a restaurant in a long, long time: again, pork chunks that really tasted like pork. Best yet, unlike many spots where the chile verde sauce tends to be cloying or gloppy, the sauce was lightly applied , made of tomatillos, jalapeno, and spices. Had a nice heat that didn’t overpower the pork.
We were too full to try the only dessert on offer (fried ice icream), so packed up our leftovers and headed down the hill, happy with our dinner choice. Total for dinner for two with tax and tip was about $26, I’d definitely recommend Salvador’s for anyone coming down Highway 140 from Yosemite. I am sure we will go back.
Next report to follow in a day or two: while the Mexican food in Merced has been mostly disappointing, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a few of the Thai and Chinese options, and we actually have a wonderful Italian restaurant (even if it is a throwback to another era)…
more on the fun I am having getting to know my new (small) town in those reports soon!
Trevino's Mexican Restaurants
408 W Main St, Merced, CA 95340
El Asadero Taco Shop
3532 G St, Merced, CA 95340
La Hacienda 2
3355 G St, Merced, CA 95340
Florencio's Mexican Restaurant
731 E Yosemite Ave, Merced, CA 95340
Susan, thanks for the shout out! Btw, Florencio's and 'La Morenita' are the same owners, and have almost the same menu and food. Unfortunately, the last time I went to La Morenita, we had a pretty bad experience, so it has dropped off my list of rec's for the area although I would probably add Florencios.
Unfortunately, Merced is kind've a food dead zone, I tolerate the restaurants here out of sheer boredom and convienence rather than inspiration. I wish someone would step up and open a sensible bistro or trattoria with good food, prices, and ambience. I know there is enough demand to support a few small upscale restaurants, but no one in our area has the skills or $$$ to open such establishments.
Next time, you want to take a short trip, I suggest 'La Grange Saloon' about 25 minutes outside of Merced in the foothills. They have an excellent Prime Rib, and the place has an authentic old west feel to it. http://www.lagrangesaloon.com/control...
hmmm...I did wonder if there was a connection between the two, can't remember why now (something I saw on the menu maybe)...sorry to hear your last time at La Morenita wasn't that great, I may still have to give it a shot, just to say I did.
and hubby thanks you for the La Grange tip, will try it soon!
Susan, great job sniffing out the worthy in a very tough area. So glad you found Salvador in Mariposa, he is a true asset to his community and those even more isolated in the mountains between there and YNP. You'll appreciate this article I'm sure...
thanks PB! and that's a great article; will have to go check out Sal's Taco Thursday sometime! Now I know why the sign out front says it is both Salvador's and Sal's Tacos!
am still on the looking out for the great hidden gem of a Mexican place here in town, and while I may or may not find it, the search is uncovering some other good stuff I will report on soon.
For Yimster: Chinese, yes: I even found a place that serve's Lion's Head Meatball...but dim sum, no. Alas, for that I think I will need to head to Fresno.....
by the way, tried to put a link to Salvador's in my original post but it didn't take. Will try again...
You've done more in your short time there than others over the past several years, Susan. A good friend from college spent 30 years in the area as a teacher/principal and really never came up with anything.
It's ironic, we just spent the weekend in the Sierra at Huntington Lake with dear friends and were looking at the west coast version of Bon Apetit and found a reference for Bishop's in Merced. First I've ever heard of the place.
For dim sum, unfortuantely, it looks like a 45 min drive either north or south, ie...
Dynasty - dim sum daily, chinese seafood
3500 Coffee Road and Standiford. Standiford exit off Hwy 99
[Edit to add: thanks to dimsumgirl, Sacramento]
Imperial Garden (weekend cart service, arrive 10:45 am or after 1 pm, long lines)
E side Blackstone, 1 blk south of Herndon
yeah, well, part of the reason I've done as much as I have is that hubby (the notorious restaurant hater who'd much rather eat my cooking :-)) has mostly been up in the City, at least during the week! (and of course, when he isn't around, my motivation to cook mostly goes out the window...:-) Hubby came down again this weekend and we ended up grilling all weekend: hubby decided I needed the Weber more than he did, and brought it with him: sure enough, I must admit, it was perfect weather for backyard bbqs. (and besides, the World Series takes precedent even over eating in my house). I can see that if we truly settle down here for the long haul that a fancy grill may well be on the 'to buy' list...There certainly are a lot of great local ingredients to try.
Speaking of local ingredients, we did make it to the Merced Farmer's Market yesterday morning. It is located at 17th and N, downtown. There were only a few booths, and we arrived just before closing when several booths had mostly sold out, but while quantity is very small, the quality was good. Offerings at various booths included lots of organic lettuces, some very nice red walnuts, figs, pomegranates, a beautiful selection of squash and potatoes of various types and colors, onions, jujubes, and some delicious muscat grapes. The market is also open Wednesday mornings at Yosemite and Gardner, which is much closer to my house, though there is something very enjoyable about heading to downtown Merced on a Saturday morning and seeing that there really is a downtown there (some interesting shops;several theaters;a used bookstore, yay;and a sidewalk cafe I plan to try soon!)
had to bump up this old thread to report that I finally, three plus years later, got a chance to try Sal's Taco Truck! No, not in El Portal, but in Mariposa on another trip back from Yosemite...at least on weekdays during the day, it is apparently now regularly parked in the public (free) parking lot right off of Main St. next to the Mariposa Museum and History Center. We had pulled in for a pit stop at the public restrooms just off the same lot, saw Sal's Taco Truck, and suddenly realized that it was lunch time and we were hungry.
The menu includes mostly standard meats, as well as some enchilada plates and burritos. Only standard US sodas (coke, Dr Pepper etc.) Some Mexican refrescos would have been nice.
The truck was doing a brisk business, but our order came quickly: two tacos de carnitas and two of al pastor. Both came on small, griddled tortillas (two or three to a taco) that were decent, nothing remarkable, with a salsa with a nice bit of heat, cilantro and onions.
Both meats were good but not remarkable. Ramon's Taco Truck in Planada has better food I think.
That said, tacos were only $1.25 and sodas a dollar. Total for our light lunch for two (four tacos and two sodas) was $7 even. Decent food, very good value.