Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday; dinner: seven days
Saturday & Sunday brunch
Open late: Saturday till 3, Friday till 2, Tuesday-Thursday till 1, Sunday-Monday till midnight
Chicago location of Patricio Sandoval's New York-based Mexican restaurant minichain.
Could chef Patricio Sandoval possibly have anything to teach Chicagoans about Mexican food? You might think so: he grew up in the kitchen of his father's Acapulco restaurant, Madeiras. But by moving in just blocks away from the Bayless oasis, he blatantly invites comparison, and by comparison his loud, clubby shared-plates restaurant is a carpetbagger. The tacos, which made this minichain's reputation back in New York, are for the most part merely competently executed, though the battered mahimahi tacos deserve notice—light crispy fish bits with slaw and chipotle aioli—and the pastor, savory porky chunks counterbalanced by sweet pineapple, come close to the elusive ideal. The Ben & Jerry’s-style guacamoles are successful, chunky with add-ins like pumpkin, pomegranate, and plantains. And the salsas are unusually refined, silky smooth and distinctive—a grilled tomato and peanut number was memorable. But I can see fights breaking out among hungry friends confronted with the stingy portion sizes. Salsas arrive as mere dribbles in glass dishes so small and shallow they defy the incursion of tortilla chips. Same goes with the minuscule scoops of guac and ceviche, and the tiny tacos are the very definition of poor value. Other menu categories include a handful of entree-size platos fuertos; botanas (snacks) like the oversalted mushroom tostadas; and sides, including a mushy cheese-blanketed arroz verde and a grilled elote. Two of Mercadito's most-hyped features have been the all-tequila cocktail list, devised by the celebrated beverage-consulting duo the Tippling Bros., and the all-star cast of local mixologists recruited to work behind the stick. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, such as the complex, smoky, Averna-tinged, mezcal-based Tres Coops, their talents are wasted mixing up concoctions whose subtleties are lost in primal sweetness.
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