CHICAGO — Greetings from the Windy City! I got here after a 20-hour trip that consisted of two stops and a little bit of jetlag. I’m very glad to be visiting this city again. The truth is, the Chicago I last saw in 2008 had a gloomy vibe for me. And why not? My trip was in the middle of winter. No one was out on the streets, and the chill added to the gloom. The city was all white and devoid of color. So the truth is, I wasn’t particularly excited when I found out that Chicago would be my first stop for this trip.
Until I arrived. Paradigm shift. I’ve arrived during a beautiful time, the transition between spring and summer. Chicago is bustling with so much life and activity. There’s a lot of color in the city. And finally, I’m seeing a lot of leaves and people outside. I finally have been bitten by the bug that is Chicago. I’m loving it here.
Now, in any trip out of town or out of the country, I always consider the first meal as a milestone. After all, it’s not only what you see that gives you the first impression, but also the food. And, first impressions last.
Chicago is known as one of the best places for a foodie. Mention Chicago, and you’ll always here of the Deep-Dish Pizza and the Chicago Dog. We’re saving these for a few days from now. So for my first food trip here in the States, my sister brought me to a highly-recommended place downtown called Mercadito.
Mercadito is a hip restaurant that serves traditional Mexican classics with their own fusion/modern twist. The name stands for “little market” in English. Aside from Chicago, they have restaurants in New York City.
We ordered based purely on the staff’s recommendations. And, they recommended well! Allow me to share some of the things I got to eat. Now, allow me to apologize first. I forgot to load my SD card into my camera, so I used my phone instead at this dim but relaxing place.
What’s the cure for jetlag? I’m not sure if margarita will do it. We started our meal with their Mango Margarita (Tradicional Margarita). It was sweet and it had a very strong kick from both the tequila and the spices that lined the glass. I believe the spices were black pepper and cayenne pepper. You’ll have to drink this slowly to enjoy it, and so that you don’t get intoxicated too fast. Remember, it’s tequila! Hmmm… I bet Alicia Florrick of TV’s The Good Wife will love this drink.
We then had two kinds of guacamole. Personally, when I hear about guacamole, I would always associate it with avocado. We veered away from this and had two kinds of guacamole. The first is the Toreado (left) — a combination of sauteed chile serrano, garlic, oregano, and tomatillo pico de gallo. I somehow got scared when I read pico de gallo as an ingredient. Remembering my Spanish, this translates to rooster’s beak! Turns out that in Mexican cuisine, pico de gallo is a mix of chopped tomato (which explains the tomatillo), onion, vinegar and chili peppers.
The other guacamole is the Granada (right) — pomengrate (they used strawberry though that night), tomatillo pico de loro, cheese, and chili.
Both guacamoles tasted great. I actually liked the use of strawberry instead of pomengrate. The guacamoles were not given too much, allowing for the full appreciation of its flavor. It’s very light, unlike the traditional avocado guacamole that becomes very heavy once you have too much of it. By the way, the guacamoles were served with their own tortilla chips.
The next pair of dishes were Ceviches — raw fish cooked in citrus juices. Yes, my dear Filipino readers, kinilaw! We had the Callo — scallops, grapes, mint, pumpkin seeds, and a key lime-chili broth. The scallops were so fresh!
The second ceviche was the Mixto — octopus, shrimp, mahi mahi, tomatillo pico de gallo, passion fruit-chili broth. Again, a combination of fresh seafood. I loved the softness of the shrimp.
Our main dish the Pastor tacos — chile ancho (wide chili) rubbed pork, grilled pineapple, and salsa. The pork had a very smoky flavor. For some reason, the pork reminded me of adobo. It was smoky and salty, which was a good contrast with the pineapple.
Finally for dessert, we had the Torrejas de Bollilo — Mexican French Toast dessert, which had vanilla ice cream on top. Who knew that Mexican and French cuisines would hit it off so well? The dish had very delicious contrast between hot and cold. Twas a very creamy dish, and a perfect way to end the meal.
Service was excellent. Mercadito summarizes what Chicago’s food — exciting, hip, and of course, very delicious! It was a good way to start my rediscovery of Chicago.
Mercadito is at:
108 W Kinzie Street
Chicago, IL 60654
Tel: 312.329.9555 / Fax: 312.329.0454