Hot tamale!

Well, not really, but everything else at Mercadito Latino is pretty great

Mercadito Latino translates to “Latin market” in Spanish, which is the first thing you’ll notice when you walk into the small restaurant/grocery store. 

The Salvadoran restaurant – located at 570 Sargent Avenue, previously home to Peruvian restaurant La Rica Vicky – is warm and inviting with Spanish music playing in the background, a small handful of tables and orange shutters on the windows looking out onto the street.

Mercadito Latino isn’t a joint I would bring a first date. It’s more like a place to grab some comfort food, followed by lounging on the couch. Personally, I wasn’t worried about eating with my hands in front of my date, but that’s something to take into consideration.

The owner’s son was serving us; he was informative, and made some great suggestions when I told him this was my first time trying South American cuisine. The food came out lightning fast, but the staff took a while before giving us menus or anything to drink.

Prices are relatively inexpensive. Most entrees are between $9.95 and $12.95, and are excellent for sharing. They also have plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians. 

The only downfall is Mercadito’s lack of a liquor license and dessert menu. However, there is a fantastic selection of sweet juices and soft drinks from all over South and Central America. I chose Chicha Limena, a purple juice from Peru which boasts antioxidant properties. It was sweet without being too sugary.

My date and I ordered a single ground beef enchilada ($3.95) and a tamale de pollo ($3.25) to start, and then the tortilla soup ($8.50) and tacos de pollo ($10.95 for 4) for our main. 

I tried the banana leaf the tamale was wrapped in, despite the server advising otherwise, and it wound up being the only thing I tried that didn’t blow me away. Consisting of corn dough filled with seasoned chicken and potato, the texture was something I wasn’t used to, and probably never will be.

Everything else we tried was exceptionally fresh and well-balanced, and the green salsa that was served with the tacos had bite without being hot.

The tortilla soup deserves special mention as well. It’s an artfully-presented bowl full of homemade chicken broth, tortilla strips, chicken, avocado, melted cheese and is topped with sour cream and green onion. As my date went for a taste, I had an urge to slide the bowl back towards me, whispering “My precious”, but I decided against it.

I probably wouldn’t go back to dine in, but this would be the perfect place to get take-out, or taste test some different South American specialty items off the grocery shelf.

Published in Volume 68, Number 9 of The Uniter (October 30, 2013)

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