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)