On a mid-week night, La Food Marketa (2620 Quarry Lake Drive,  415-0606, lafoodmarketa.com) is a blur of bright light and conversation. Headlights beam through the floor-to-ceiling windows along the front of the restaurant, as cars wind their way through the service roads and parking lots of Quarry Lake at Greenspring. At the bar, men in polished shoes and open-necked shirts nurse wide-mouthed glasses of microbrews alongside young couples done up in denim and plaid. Two women dig into something chocolate lurking under a mound of whipped cream, while an older couple claim a bench near the hostess stand; other members of their party squeeze into the glass vestibule to wait for their table. Our reservation is for 7:15 p.m. It's 7:35 before a hostess leads us from the bar area, where we have been standing and frequently dodging a parade of servers, to a table along a banquette in the back of the restaurant.
La Food Marketa is hopping.
And also very, very loud. Words leave your mouth only to ricochet off a row of globe pendant lights and hit the wood floor before landing across the table, distorted, in your companions' ears. That tickle in your throat is not the flu; it's the effort you've put into making yourself heard. The Food Market, Chad Gauss' Hampden establishment with the similar name, had the same noise issues when it first opened, and hopefully Gauss and Chef John Bedingfield, the business partners behind La Food Marketa, will address the issues here, too.
Despite the playfully similar name, La Food Marketa is not the Food Market's suburban twin, though there are some similarities. The Food Market's Baltimore club, a hard-to-resist combo of crab cake and shrimp salad, becomes Baltimore club tacos at La Food Marketa, and clever takes on the classic Reuben show up on both menus—with a duck confit version at the Hampden establishment and corned beef stuffed empanada at the Quarry Lake space. But while both restaurants' menus are wide-ranging, La Food Marketa is distinctly more global.
La Food Marketa's website describes the expansive menu as a "blend of flavors from the Americas that is fresh, fun, comforting and easily understood," and a close look finds fish taco dip and wild boar schnitzel larded among more straight ahead choices like roasted chicken, beef tenderloin, and rockfish in lemon butter sauce. Choosing carefully through the "small" and "big" plates is essential, or else the whole meal can feel like a bit of a mishmash.
Saying no to French fries is beyond my admittedly weak limits of self-control, so not ordering poutino ($9), La Food Marketa's version of poutine, is out of the question. Instead of Quebecois cheese curds, these fries are smothered in Mexican fundido and green onions and drizzled with sour cream and a tangy mole that makes the whole dish an addictive dive of sweet, salty, and creamy. They would be perfect hangover food. The fish taco dip ($10) arrives in a glass jar—a savory, layered sundae of smoked trout, dill-spiked sour cream, and guacamole that we scoop up with tissue-thin tortilla chips. So by the time we get to the kraut and silky corned beef and 1,000 Island dressing stuffed into the Rueben empanada ($8), we're feeling a little woozy from all the richness. And these are the small plates.
La Food Marketa's "big" plates range from fajitas, tacos, and a burrito, to Latin-inspired preparations of meatloaf, scallops, and duck. Ordering the "farm to taco…" ($18) gives you the opportunity to choose your preference of tortilla and three different fillings. While I'm a sucker for falafel, this version—dry and crumbly—gets lost in all the taco accouterments. Better is the chopped steak filling; best is the lamb barbacoa, which shows off the meat's inherent sweetness.
If you, like me, are intrigued with the idea of wild boar schnitzel ($27), and, like me, you have gorged yourself on poutino, best consider sharing. The thin, breaded, bone-in cutlets fan out over a bed of brilliant yellow grits like the blossom of a dark-petaled flower; visually, the dish is a stunner. One of the cutlets suffers from dryness, but the rest yield tenderly to the fork, and the spicy grits and plantains, just barely caramelized from their contact with the fry pan, make fitting accompaniments.
Despite the wait for a table, service is cheerful and efficient, though be warned that plates come out of the kitchen in rapid succession once your order is placed. The bar is up to speed on cocktail ingredients of the moment—cucumber vodka, various amaros and mezcals—and the wine list offers reasonable choices mostly, though not exclusively, from the New World.
If the whole experience feels a tad generic, chalk that up to La Food Marketa's shopping center location and the fact that the menu tries a little too hard to please everyone. Still, as the Greenspring corridor expands, it's hard to overestimate the value of having an independently owned restaurant like La Food Marketa with its clearly talented creative staff as part of the community.
La Food Marketa is open for dinner seven days a week and brunch/lunch Friday-Sunday.