The Goods: Chic, splashy Mercadito Midtown, a New York import, has set up shop in the foothills of Target with the assumption that if you build it, stock with cocktails and fill it with tacos - they will come.
Ambience: Mercadito ("little market" in Spanish) is in theory modeled after a Mexican farmers market. In execution, the 96-seat dining room feels more stylish and shiny than natural and earthy. Dine amid 3-D murals by graffiti artist Erni Vales or score a drink at the 24-seat bar.
The Grub: Traditional southern Mexican cuisine served tapas-style. Translation - platters of tacos wrapped in house-made corn tortillas, sampler trays of guacamole trios and mini bowls of ceviche. Portions are moderately priced ($8.50-$12.50 for guacamoles, $10-$11.50 for ceviches) and sized (leftovers are unlikely). Signature mango guacamole is studded with jicama, chipotle and pico de gallo while pesacdo tacos blend pan-seared tilapia, chile poblano and tomatillo-garlic mojo. Order one (or a few) of the 11 salsas to accompany camaron ceviche (shrimp, tangerine and roasted jalapenos in a citrus-guajillo broth) or crispy flautas stuffed with chicken barbacoa.
The dessert menu stays true to the Mexican vision, with highlights like torregas de bolillo (crème anglaise-soaked Mexican bread with vanilla ice cream), flan de tres leches and mango “ceviche” (mango, cinnamon custard, cookie crumbles and Key lime juice). Spend some time with the cocktail menu. The Tippling Bros. (billed as beverage experts) have created a bevy of fresh fruit margaritas (think tequila reposado with fresh pineapple and cilantro) and Mexican cocktails (the Smokey Pablo blends cien anos reposado, mango, chile morita and blueberry).
Verdict: Innovative cocktails, communal dining and emphasis on authenticity stand out at this Midtown newcomer.