There’s nothing quite like seeing food trends come to life. And, when you walk into a Mercadito restaurant, you see more than a trend—you see a trendsetter.
Part of it is the ethnic heritage showcased in original recipes and historic tradition. Part of it is their insistence on the basics, using fresh ingredients with a seasonal focus.
Mercadito has locations in New York, Chicago and Miami, where they serve their signature tacos, ceviches, guacamoles, salsas, and margaritas. Credit for the menu goes to Chef Patricio Sandoval, who, with his brothers Alfredo and Phillipe, make up Mercadito Hospitality.
On our first visit to Mercadito, we were entranced by the ability to select not one, not, two, but three guacamoles in order to taste a wider selection. Same with the salsas, and with the ceviches. So, if you’ve never had Manzana Guacamole with its ingredients of apple, tomatillo pico de gallo, chile morita, and crispy sweet potato, this is the place to give it a try. Or get the Granada, with pomegranate, tomatillo pico de galo, queso fresco, and habanero. Go ahead, you can pick the third!
The salsas range from Chipotle to Chile de Arbol to Verde. And the ceviche offering includes Callo, with bay scallops, red grapes, mint, pumpkin seeds, and key lime-habanero broth . . . or Dorado, with mahi mahi, Asian pear, plantain chips, and tamarind-chipotle broth.
Save room for the tacos made with homemade corn tortillas; they come three per lunch order and four at dinner. The traditional skirt steak, shrimp, and pork are available and delicious, but true raves come for their fish tacos. You can get the Estilo Baja, with crispy beer battered mahi mahi, or the Pescado with sautéed tilapia. They have short rib tacos, chicken, and a few vegetarian options as well.
Mercadito has a full brunch and lunch menu in addition to dinner, but you can check those out online; let’s skip to desserts! Here, they keep the choices simple—and yet, you’ll want to try them all. Torrejas de Bolillo, which is crème anglaise soaked Mexican bread. Pastel de Chocolate cake, spied with ancho chile. Fan de Cajeta, made with goat’s milk. Or Pastel de Queso, a delectable cheesecake served with raspberries and hibiscus sugar.
And, it goes without saying that you may want to try one of their many margaritas. In fact, check out the recipe for their Margarita Tradicional, which you can order with Fruit, a little Smoke, or Heat. You'll find that, just as with their tacos and salsas, there are some great variations and flavor twists available.
We also found that Mercadito is not only about the food, but about the ambiance as well. The owners have recreated the Southern Mexico feel they grew up with, and the feeling of community is simply enhanced with the shareable food (wait, you mean you want all three of those guacamoles to yourself? C’mon, share!).
While there are menu classics, the chef will tweak the toppings on the tacos and other items in order to present a fresh, seasonal note. So as summer approaches, you may find notes of strawberry or pineapple as a nice surprise.
Perhaps because the recipes appear complex, patrons feel like they are getting something special when they eat at Mercadito. In reality, there is a use of basic techniques and ingredients that may well require the hand of an experienced chef—and that give you an elevated dining experience that is also approachable.
Mercadito Hospitality is growing, too, with the addition of Tavernita in Chicago, headed by Chef Ryan Poli. It’s being called a “sexy, spirited, modern restaurant that offers a diverse mix of dishes inspired in Spain and Latin American flavors,” and features small plates that are designed to encourage sampling and sharing.
Note: We also like a restaurant that gives back. Chef Patricio Sandoval and 12 of his fellow chefs have joined in the fight against child hunger by supporting Tacos for Strength, a year-long campaign offering a signature taco by each chef every month. For the selection throughout 2012, check their website or ask your server when you go.
Some photos taken at the Noble margarita-themed Color Party. For additional photos and recipes from Mercadito, see the recipe links.