Our culinary columnist offers her take on Northgate’s newest property, Mercado González.
Literally one of the biggest openings in 2023 happened in November, when Northgate completed its puesto (food stall) concept in a former Costa Mesa Albertsons – three long years after the initial construction began. Two months and four visits later, I have yet to dine at even half of the specialty spots, but I’ll get around to them all eventually. Every single friend talks about what they’ve tried so far or how they keep forgetting to stop by; it reminds me of the time when Whole Foods Market opened at The District in Tustin and crowds flocked there to admire the Disney-esque surroundings. Mercado González is having a moment, that’s for sure.
With nearly two dozen puestos feeding curious crowds, you might wonder about the best way to navigate Mercado González. I’m no expert, but if it’s your first time to experience the eye-catching updates that distinguish it from a traditional Northgate Market – an OC-based Mexican grocery chain – and you don't want to get into the long line for churros, here are a handful of things to consider for your first visit.
PHOTO 1: La Nena Palateria is located near the check out at Mercado González. PHOTO 2: Toppings for the paletas. PHOTO 3: Paleta flavor options are posted. Photos by Anne Marie Panoringan, Culture OC
Paletas > Churros
Nearly everybody will tell you that the churros from El Moro are the treat to covet; to be honest, they’re fine for the just-fried factor – but I think the dessert pops referred to as paletas are the better choice. Crafted early in the morning in an exhibition-style kitchen along the furthest aisle (and next door to the in-house chorizo display), paletas are made in many flavors each day. Inventory is then sent over to La Nena Paleteria, a stall facing the registers and self-checkout.
Paletas are categorized into four distinctions: ice-based, chile-based, milk-based and specials (seasonal flavors). La Nena flavors its pops with fresh fruits and allows for customers to get creative with a multitude of dips and toppings at an additional cost. I’m partial to Jamaica (hibiscus) and fresca con crema (strawberry with milk) flavors. Bonus: Ice cream and mangoneada (a mango-forward treat served in a cup) are also available.
The González Family Mural
Festive colors and endless fonts bring signage and murals to life throughout the 70,000-square-foot property. In Mercado’s far corner, past the spirits, one mural in particular caught my eye. Joshua González (third-generation owner, project manager and personal guide for my tour) goes on to explain its significance.
Created by artist Claudio Limón, the mural depicts the beginnings of the González family. It features founder Don Miguel González Jimenez holding a heart (representing wife Doña Teresa Reynoso de González). Images of animals, food and the sun represent farming history in Mexico as well as relatives past and present of the González family.
The Mercado González Website
Mercado’s website is excellent. It can be used to look up individual puesto hours, dining menus and even a schedule for entertainment. It is the ideal resource for planning a visit (check out their interactive map) and probably has the most comprehensive listing of vendors and complete menus I’ve encountered when compared to any of the county’s food halls. If patrons forget to consult the site, an information desk at the very front of the store (on your left as you enter the main entrance) can share useful details as well as directions to whatever you are interested in.
Mercado’s lone revolving door found inside the market leads to Maizano’s authentic, fine dining cuisine. Sommelier Felicia Chavez translates the origin of its name. “Maizano is a play on words, combining “maíz” (corn) and “paisano” (fellow countryman),” Chavez said. She further explains how Maizano’s menu focuses on the regions of Mexico City, Oaxaca, Puebla and the Yucatán. A cochinita pibil consists of stewed pork shank, refried black beans and pickled red onion with habanero alongside fresh tortillas. Order a pescadilla and a fried corn empanada over smoked tuna sofrito is plated before being finished with sour cream and lime sauce.
In addition to agave spirits and creative drinks, the wine list she oversees is one of the few in Southern California made up entirely of Mexican wines, “representing small producers from regions all over Mexico, Baja (of course), but also Coahuila and Queretaro,” Chavez said.
Floreria Nayel and Hecho En Mexico Housewares
Mercado González isn't only for those looking for food. Right when you step foot inside Mercado you see the Floreria Nayel puesto: aka flowers! I’ve always noticed a fresh, bold selection of bouquets ready to grab for a birthday, anniversary, housewarming or other reason, making florals accessible and ideal for most occasions; there were extra roses already displayed ahead of Valentine’s week.
If flowers don’t impress your recipient, how about a molinillo whisk for hot chocolate/ champurrado perfection? Dishware, candles, copper cookware and other home essentials adorn bookcase-style shelving and decorate tables in the area called Hecho en Mexico Market across from the bakery, Pasteleria la Gonzalez. When in doubt, pay a visit to the delightful candy section located near the churros to sweeten your present – especially if you know their favorite treats.
What stalls will I try out next time I’m in the area? La Tamaleria (savory and sweet tamales), Cremeria (a comprehensive selection of domestic and imported cheeses) and some comforting carbs from Tortilleria La González are at the top of my to-do list next weekend.
As of now, my favorite spot is Chiva Torta serving messy but delicious tacos and sandwiches stuffed with meaty, saucy goodness; the puesto often sells out of both before closing time despite being slightly out of the way (it’s near the restrooms).