It’s easy to get sick of all the touristy restaurants on the 3rd street promenade, which is why Mercado on 4th feels like such a diamond in the rough. Yes, there are a lot of great restaurants in the area but this one was just new enough to fly under the tourist radar so that I could still get a reservation night of. Its trendy and tasty with a fun atmosphere and good prices, so basically go now before more people find out about it.
We started with two of the best house margaritas I have ever tasted. They were strong and fresh with the pulp from the lime stuck between my teeth as the evidence to prove it. If you like your marg a little tangy then this is the one for you! Also, the thick layer of kosher salt on the rim was a huge plus for me (sodium addict right here).
The tequila shots were fun! They have a huge selection here so we just told the waiter to surprise us! The blanco ocho was a hit and the partita, a miss (kind of tasted like sake).
Tamales de Queso con Rajas – Pork, fresh masa, rajas poblanas and salsa verde. Masa is the most difficult and crucial part of making a successful tamale (as I have been informed). Mercado imports all their masa directly from Mexico which, apparently makes a huge difference because this masa was unlike anything I have tasted before (keep in mind my tamale experience extends from the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe’s to the real “authentic” stuff at Tito’s Tacos). The masa was fluffy and airy while the meat inside was tender and juicy. The pork had a nice heat to it as well that was balanced out by the crema fresca drizzled on top.
Escabeche they have this at other Mexican restaurants, it’s that carrot, jalapeno mixture in vinegar on the table next to the salsa. However, this escabeche was fresh and chunky and had a huge variety of different veggies. It was a great addition to the meal because it is acidic and spicy and pairs well with the other dishes. The jicama was especially tasty because it soaked up all of the vinegar while also maintaining its crunchiness.
Tacos de Pescado Estilo Baja – Red Pig Mexican Ale beer-battered white fish, with Mexican slaw, avocado salsa, chile de arbol aioli. The tacos were good not great. Even though the fish was flaky and juicy, the addition of two aioli’s made the it feel thick and heavy. Also, the Mexican slaw lacked the acidity needed to counteract the aioli’s. Fortunately, adding the escabeche gave it the brightness in flavor I wanted.
Because it took so long for main course to be delivered the chef sent us some shrimp taquitos. They were awesome and unfortunately NOT on the menu. The shrimp inside was tender and thick and the outside was thin and crispy. With the added bonus of a huge dollop of homemade guacamole we promptly stopped complaining.
Carnitas – Slow-cooked natural pork, guacamole, chile de arbol salsa, cauliflower with escabeche. I personally was shocked when I saw the dish because I didn’t know carnitas were severed as a huge chunk-o-meat (I clearly learned a lot throughout the course of this meal if you’ve been following from the beginning) but you could shred this thing with a spoon. The carnitas had this char on the ends which were my favorite bites because they had this crunchy saltiness that tasted delicious wrapped up in a little happy tortilla package with the guacamole and escabeche. My only complaint was I wish there had been more of the chipotle sauce! I was practically licking it off the plate after my first taco, it was smoky-spicy and added the perfect heat to the pork that had this maple syrup quality.
Overall, the staff was friendly and conscientious. The vibe and the decor was cool and comfortable and, I hear they have a great happy hour that I can’t wait to try. Two Forks Up!