I don’t travel to south OC much, but of course I’ll travel at lengths when it comes to great food. I was alerted to MRK Public by a long-time reader of mine and walked away rather pleased with my first meal there. I went back again last week to make sure my first visit was not a fluke.
Sitting on its lonesome right off the El Camino exit on the 5-fwy, MRK Public is truly a neighborhood eatery in every sense. The menu is small, but the food is good — everything I have eaten here has been stellar. I posted a story about wings not long ago where MRK Public’s Vietnamese Sticky Wings ($13) was featured. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about these delicious chicken wings and on this visit, we ended up ordering two plates. The wings are fried to perfection so they’re crispy on the outside, but they are also coated with a roasted chile caramel sauce, giving it a lip-tingling spicy sweet finish. This is what great wings should taste like!
The Pecorino Crusted Bone Marrow ($10) is a hit on both my visits. The gooey marrow works well with either of the two sauces served alongside: salsa verde and roasted red pepper. Slather onto a slice of grilled baguette and dig in!
I fell in love with the Thai Basil Clams ($13) the first time, and understandbly, the dish has found new admirers this visit. The lemongrass coconut broth is very fragrant — though just a tad too sweet for me — and highly addicting. We find ourselves soaking the grilled baguette into the broth, not wanting to waste it.
If you are constantly looking for decent poke outside of Hawaii, there are several choices in OC, but not so much in South County. My son, the poke connoisseur, declares the 1+ Ahi Poke ($16) delicious. Tossed with pickled red onion, scallion and seaweed among other things, the seasonings are spot on and served more like a salad than poke. You might find yourself ordering another because your child has devoured almost the entire bowl.
I thoroughly enjoy Thai Beef Salad ($13). The beef is seasoned well, and grilled before it is laid atop a mix of finely shredded Napa cabbage, red bell pepper, sugar snap peas and carrot. Of course, no Thai salad is complete without peanut, mint, cilantro and Thai basil. I love how the spicy Thai vinaigrette perfectly coats the vegetables but there isn’t an excess swimming on the bottom of the bowl. Over-dressed salad is a pet peeve of mine!
When it comes time for something a little more substantial, there are several sandwiches to choose from. Banh Mi ($10) is an elevated version of what you will find in lil Saigon. A generous strip of pork belly is presented with a very respectable đồ chua (pickled carrot and daikon), jalapeno, cucumber, herbs and ginger aioli. The baguette is a little less dense, but the filling is very much on point and delicious.
I wish they’d offer a fried chicken plate because the Fried Chicken sammie ($12) is seriously good. I’d just rather eat chicken and no carb. Applewood smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, romaine lettuce and tomato combine together with a slather of spicy mayo to make this a memorable sandwich indeed — bread again could be just a little less dense.
Even though it has been well over a decade since my child has ordered off the kids’ menu, you will want to bring your child here for the Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($7). This is a grilled cheese I would serve my own kid, albeit a bit overdone here. Although I didn’t find out what the cheese combo was, there is no processed cheese slice here. It is crunchy on the outside with a gooey interior served with fries or salad. Really impressed with this.
Absolutely make room for the Lemon Ricotta Beignets ($8) with yuzu curd. These are cooked to order and light as air. The shards of lemon zest add another element of citrus to the mix. Next time, I will leave room for more than just one beignet.
It is so refreshing to see more places with great food cropping up in south county. It is a little far for me, but I will still pop in from time to time for those chicken wings. If you live in the San Clemente area and still haven’t tried MRK Public, you’re definitely missing out!
1402 S El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672