Flavours and family from Central America

Don’t underestimate small spaces and plates at Mercadito Latino

Mercadito Latino hits you with an array of welcome stimuli.

Walking through the entranceway the market area sits before you. Taking up a corner of the roughly square restaurant, it’s a glossy, iridescent display of colours that hosts a multitude of Latin American products. The unique scent of Central American dishes being cooked is inescapable.

It’s quite busy for 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon. Six of the nine four-person tables are occupied and I can tell everyone’s enjoying themselves. I take a seat with my date and within two minutes the owner brings out menus for us and takes our drink order.

The restaurant boasts a homey ambience that provides an easy comfort. With the wooden window shutters open, the room is full of light and teeming with talkative energy. Pictures, paintings, flags, and mirrors cover the walls and various collectibles are scattered throughout.

With a debate-worthy assortment of appetizers, entrees, and sides (including some vegetarian options), and the majority of entrees ranging from $9.95 to $12.95, it’s easy to see how one might get a little lost in the menu.

We order Rigua as an appetizer and I order Pupusas De Queso Con Loroco while my date orders Tacos De Camaron.

Rigua is a corn pancake that is described on the menu as being “cooked between banana leaves and then on the grill”. It’s served with refried beans and sour cream as toppings. I found that even by itself, the corn pancake was savoury and delightful. But the smooth refried beans and sour cream gave it an added variety and contrast of tastes.

Shortly after ordering, our dishes arrived. The portions looked smaller than I had expected them to be.

The Pupusas De Queso Con Loroco (at $10.50) consists of three corn flour pockets filled with cheese and Loroco, which is described as “an exotic vine flower found in Central America...some say it taste like squash or zucchini.” It came with a side of coleslaw and a dipping sauce.

Taco De Camaron (at $12.95) is grilled shrimp with Pico de Gallo - “diced tomatoes, onion, cilantro and fresh lime juice” - in a vinegary salsa-type sauce and served in a bowl with a side of taco chips for dolloping on.

The pupusas dish was quite cheesy but I found it was good on its own or with the dipping sauce.

The Taco De Camaron was also good in the way that no flavours really clashed or overwhelmed. Both dishes were savoury and sweet with their own flavour palettes that accentuated their inclusive tastes nicely. What seemed like smaller portions at first was hardly true. At the end of the meal, we were stuffed.

When we first showed up, there were two larger groups in the restaurant. The service was slower throughout until those groups had left and then, in a lull moment, the owner came over and explained how his son was usually with him but he wasn’t that day. It was only himself and his wife taking care of everything: He took care of customers and she took care of the cooking.

Despite them being down a person, the food was still amazing. Mercadito Latino is truly a cared for family business and the love they put into it shows. I’ll definitely be going back there again.

Published in Volume 69, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 18, 2015)

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