Restaurants , Mexican River North
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • 4 out of 5 stars
(4 user reviews)
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Photograph: Martha Williams

The server warned me the fish tacos were spicy, slathered with a chipotle aioli that gave them significant bite. I said bring it on. I wasn’t worried about the spice. The mole poblano guacamole had promised spice, too, but it boasted more sugar than heat. My companion’s “Little Market” cocktail was supposedly rimmed with guajillo chile powder—and by all appearances it was—but the spice was only barely perceptible.

Maybe this is what New Yorkers think Mexican food is. Years ago, when I lived in Brooklyn, the joke was always on the Empire City when it came to Mexican food, because it didn’t have any that was good. That’s allegedly changed, thanks to places like Mercadito, which has three always-packed locations in Manhattan. Still, New York exporting its Mexican joints to us? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

If we have anything to learn from Manhattan—and I’m not saying we do, necessarily—it might be cocktails. But we’ve learned that already, as evidenced by the talent Mercadito amassed for its bar—folks like Daniel Love and Kyle McHugh. Yet, while the restaurant obviously did its homework on whom to hire, it hasn’t yet given them any real ownership over the list. Their task is simply to execute drinks designed by the Tippling Bros., an East Coast consulting team that is a giant in its own right. Tippling Bros. has created an enticing menu for this place, but its take on the margarita (which all of the cocktails are riffs on) is an unusual one—the drinks are round and smooth and lack a punchy lime presence, so much so that they almost fall out of balance. They take some time to reveal themselves, too. The para té, a pear-and-black-tea variation, didn’t give off its dark tea notes until I was half finished.

Some of the food was the same way. The shrimp ceviche was inconsistent—one bite would be all sweet pineapple, the next all guajillo spice, which was a shame, because the rare bite that included both was pretty satisfying. The sope-like picadas, on the other hand, never came together—their tough masa shells ruined them from the start.

I preferred the tacos: carnitas married with cool coleslaw and rich peanuts; those crispy estilo Baja tacos with an aioli that, as promised, made me sweat. These were the flavors I’d been waiting for. Before them, the menu had been teasing me. Now it was finally putting out.

Still, the place has some significant growing up to do. Despite the all-star bartending team, the cocktails were painfully slow (they didn’t arrive until long after the first courses did), and desserts are a work in progress. “The chef’s working on that. But tonight we have caramel flan, coconut flan, coconut flan and caramel flan,” our server said, jokingly repeating the two dessert choices.

They were experiments, tests for the upcoming pastry menu, but they were phenomenal—some of the creamiest, richest bites of flan I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. I took that as a sign of chef Patricio Sandoval’s talent and as evidence that if he keeps on experimenting, maybe we’ll learn something from New York Mexican after all.

Venue name: Mercadito
Address: 108 W Kinzie St
Cross street: between Clark St and LaSalle Dr
Opening hours: Brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner
Transport: El stop: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Merchandise Mart; Red to Grand; Blue, Green, Pink, Orange to Clark/Lake.
Price: Average main course: $15
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Average User Rating

3.7 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:1
  • 4 star:0
  • 3 star:2
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Carrie G

I really enjoyed my after-work crowd experience recently at Mercadito. It is a bit pricier than I'd like to pay for tacos, but alas, when in River North what can you expect? My tablemates and I split the mango guacamole, 2 orders of tacos (pollo and pastor at our waiter's recommendation), brussel sprouts, and mac & cheese. For three women, we could've gone with at least one less side because we definitely couldn't finish all that we got. All of the food was excellent, but my favorite item was the vida rosa cocktail. If you're looking for a good experience in the trendy / pricey part of town, give it a shot!

Mike C

Mercadito embodies the true spirit of a culinary experience. Led by their owner, Patricio Sandoval, Mercadito thrives on customer satisfaction, which is evident by the quality of food as well as their impeccable customer service. Upon entering Mercadito, the hostess will greet you with a smile. Once seated, the waiter/waitress will be sure to answer any questions you have regarding the menu. Mercadito's tacos are the best in the city. The combination of flavor and taste will equal satisfaction within your taste buds. Also, their cocktail menu is second to none. Mercadito offers the biggest selection of tequilas and mezcals in the city, and they offer more than just your average margarita. The Big Nose Goes to Mexico is their best drink, and it's impeccable taste will leave you wanting more. Once you're done dining, be sure to stop downstairs at La Mez. La Mez is Mercadito's hidden bar, and you'll be exposed to a mezcal experience that's unique within the city of Chicago. La Mez offers dozens of mezcal selections which you can either try neat or as a base for a cocktail. You won't regret your experience at La Mez.

Overall, Mercadito is not just a restaurant. Mercadito will take you on a tasting adventure that'll make you want to come back on a consistent basis. I nominate Mercadito without hesitation or reservation.

Dana B

Their tacos are really good even though they are a bit expensive. It is a fun restaurant to go with a few friends and share a couple different types of tacos. Their shrimp tacos are amazing, however, they are veryyy salty so I can't have more than two. The restaurant gets very crowded and is extremely loud at times.

Christine G

I love tacos so much! The food here is delicious, tacos al pastor taste just like the ones at Mexico, prices are a little expensive but its worth it! Also habanero sauce its really good and not spicy at all and its one of my favorite sauces. I will be back, the have a great drink menu and I love a spicy sweet combo. It does get loud and very crowded though.