Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mercadito Cantina, Where They're Gonna Know My Name

I like tacos. They are great. They bring together many things I love, such as citrus, tomatoes, avocado, tortillas, grilled meats, heat, acidity, beer, and the list goes on. When I lived in Memphis my friends and I would travel almost thrity minutes to eat at a taqueria where guys wore real cowboy hats. I'm not sure that makes it the real deal, but it was pretty darn good.

Up until recently I had not had any mind blowing tacos in New York. Then I read about Mercadito Cantina in the New York Times' $25 and Under column. Not only is the place worth a visit, but it's good in the best way a restaurant can be. Every time I go, I am humbled by the fact that I know that I cannot replicate this at home. The caliber of the execution is top notch.

Mercadito strikes the perfect balance between East Village casual cool and delicate, uncompromising culinary delivery. The salsas are not chunky approximations that you can buy in the chips aisle of your supermarket. They are perfectly calibrated in texture without being soupy.

The tacos, as well, are exacting. When I eat their tacos I feel like I've entered the sushi realm of taco making, not because they are playing at fusion, but because each taco comes to the table with a clear nod to aesthetics and balance. Like sushi, each taco comes with sharply defined elements that drape the pallett like a rainbow. You marvel at the clarity of each flavor and how beautifully it blends into the others. Like sushi, too, they are smaller, and so allow one to sample a greater variety of flavors.

I think though, what really makes this place a winner is not just the easy, yet tasteful decor or just the thrilling food, but the combination with a helpful, non-intrusive staff. It is a rare thing to feel so completely taken care of and pampered at a restaurant with so few interruptions. This place is perhaps my favorite discovery of 2008 and I can't wait to go back this year.

Mercadito Cantina
172 Avenue B (Btwn 10th and 11th Street)
New York, NY 10009

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