East Village Mexican: Skirt Steak Tacos, Tilapia Tacos, Unique Guacamole, and Perfect Churros at Mercadito Cantina

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There’s still no definitive “best taco shop” in NYC and while Pinche, La Esquina and Pampano Taqueria are quality, they’re not supreme enough to keep me from telling you about the delicious skirt steak taco, tilapia taco, unique guacamoles and perfect churros at Mercadito Cantina.  Read on to find out which tacos disappointed and which of the six guacamole choices impressed…

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Eye-catching tilapia tacos and a simply delicious, cinnamon-sugar covered churro.

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A Note on Mercadito Cantina

The third location of the Mercadito Manhattan triumvirate, Mercadito Cantina is billed as an informal dining and drinking destination to catch the overflow of Mercadito Avenue B on the next block.  The prices aren’t cheap at any of the locations but what’s lacking in value is made up for with quality ingredients, innovative recipes and great service.  Mercadito Cantina is narrow and loud but the atmosphere lends itself to making friends with neighboring diners and shouting questions to your waitstaff.  Don’t be put off by the fact that Mercadito Cantina doesn’t have a liquor license, they make up for it with very creative drinks.  “Tric-quilla”, a combo of sake, agave nectar, orange blossom oil and assorted spices, is an almost dead-on replacement for tequila and provides the base for several drinks.  The $12 “Papa Low” offers a little bite complements of  jalapeno combined with passion fruit, papalo, salt and pepper.  Open your mind and your wallet and prepare for fun and good food.

Start with the guacamole…

One ($9.50), Two ($11.50), Three ($13.50)

From left to right you’re looking at Chipotle (pineapple, pickled chipotle, tomatillo pico de gallo, mint), Mole Poblano (pico de gallo, plantain, mole poblano, chile serrano) and Calabaza (cinnamon spiced pumpkin, tomatillo pico de gallo, roasted jalapeno, toasted pumpkin seeds).

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In order of deliciousness, the Calabaza is number 1, followed by the Mole Poblano and lastly, the Chipotle.  The unique taste and subtle cinnamon undertone of the Calabaza separated it from the pack.  The sweet flavor and hearty texture of the Mole Poblano surprised me while the Chipotle disappointed lacking any smokiness or heat.

Other guacamole choices I didn’t try:

  • Tradicional – tomatillo pico de gallo, jalapeno, garlic, lime cilantro
  • Oaxaqueno – chile pasilla oaxaqueno, apple, pico de gallo
  • Torreado – sauteed chile serrano, garlic, oregano, tomatillo pico de gallo

Move on to the tacos…

Two per order served on homemade corn tortillas ($9.50)

Carne – hoja santa marinated grass fed skirt steak, salsa verde

The Carne tacos were my favorite. The tender, perfectly cooked skirt steak had a great char-grilled flavor which balanced well with the hint of cilantro and onion resting beneath the mildly spicy salsa verde.

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Pescado – tilapia, chile poblano, tomatillo-garlic mojo

To my surprise, the Pescado tacos were a very close second to the Carne.  As a whole, each taco is as brightly flavorful as it is colorful, the citrus of the tomatillo played well against the garlic mojo creating an almost marinara sauce flavor.  The neutral flavor of the fresh and tender fish allowed the stronger flavors to shine.

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Carnitas – michoacan style braised Berkshire pork, cacahuate salsa

My excitement for anything with braised Berkshire pork is at a consistently high level.  Expectations aside, the Carnitas taco was mediocre at best.  The tender, fatty pork was adorned with a bland and sweet cacahuate (peanut) salsa which failed to offer any notable heat or flavor.

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Milanesa – lightly breaded beef, roasted poblano, avocado salsa

Paltry strips of beef fried in a mundane batter and topped with bland avocado salsa and cold strips of roasted poblano.  How many things did you just read that disappointed you? I felt the same way.  Steer clear of the Milanesa.

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Add some sides…

Arroz Verde al Horno ($8.00) – Green rice casserole, manchego and oaxaca cheese

Cilantro flavored rice and burnt cheese, how can you go wrong?  Salty, stringy and delicious, this green rice casserole was excellent proving that all food served in a skillet is supreme.

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Papas y Chorizo ($7.00) – Potatoes, homemade Mexican sausage

I only had a small taste of this simply prepared concoction but the fact that I have no lasting memory of the flavor is not a good sign.  This dish is what is sounds like, soft potatoes mixed with chorizo and other spices.  It didn’t disappoint but I’d opt for another side dish such as the Elote Mexicano ($6), Mexican style corn on the cob.

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And make room for dessert…

Churros with Chocolate Abuelita Sauce $8

The only other churros I’ve tried in Manhattan are the not-sweet-enough version at Despana and those of the Churro lady in Union Square.   Regardless of the competition, I know my churros and Mercadito Cantina is spot on.  Greasy, chewy dough is fried to a crisp revealing an almost milky interior that melts in your mouth upon every bite.

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The churros are great on their own, rendering the deeply-flavored chocolate abuelita sauce (abuelita is used in mole and for Spanish hot chocolate) unecessary.

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Mercadito Cantina (website)

172 Avenue B near 11th street

New York, NY 10009

212-388-1750

(Link to Google Map of Location)

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16 Responses to “East Village Mexican: Skirt Steak Tacos, Tilapia Tacos, Unique Guacamole, and Perfect Churros at Mercadito Cantina”

  1. Nick Says:

    Did these tacos fall apart? They’re lacking the traditional 2 tortillas per taco which help hold the tacos together during eating. Expensive too.

  2. moe Says:

    thank you,

    Moe

  3. FN Says:

    Those churros look mighty tasty. Gonna go check those out when I get back to NY.

    Thanks, NYCFG.

  4. Phil Says:

    ive been to all 3 locations and they are all horrible!

  5. nithya at hungrydesi Says:

    Any good veggie tacos or should I skip this one? Churros look yum.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Wow, a place where Phil-ate wont eat!

  7. Adam Says:

    Mmm… Mercadito is good, but the prices do add up.

  8. Ambitious Says:

    Please tell me you had the SPICY hot sauce with your tacos! It’s a must have at Mercadito. That place is dang expensive though. I always leave feeling jipped and hugry. haha. 🙂

  9. Phil Says:

    NYCFG – the above phil is NOT me. I don’t understand why people are impersonating me? I have been to this restaurant and thought it was great.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Phil-ate himself

  11. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Nick,
    They didn’t actually fall apart but we also ate them pretty quickly. And yes, as i stated earlier, it’s not cheap.

    FN,

    These Churros ARE mighty tasty. Freshly fried. Some of the best I’ve had.

    nithya at hungrydesi,

    Just go for the churros. I didn’t see any veg tacos.

    Adam,

    Well said, sir.

    Ambitious,
    The place is expensive but the churros are worth it. I didn’t have the hot sauce though. Definitely ready for it next time.

  12. missymnewbie Says:

    Have any of you been to the Calexico truck in Soho? I just moved here recently from So Cal (where I was used to getting amazing Mexican food) and their carne asada tacos and burritos are DELICIOUS.

  13. FN Says:

    NYCFG,

    Get a metrocard, hop on the R train to Sunset Park, Brooklyn and get some tacos from Tacos Matamoros. No hemming or hawing, you are NYC Food Guy, not Manhattan Food Guy.

  14. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    missymnewbie,
    I haven’t been yet! I’ve heard nothing but good things. Do you have any recommendations in regard to toppings there? Have you had any other Mexican street food in NYC? You should check out my roundup of a few late night taco trucks here

    FN,
    Oh, FN, great minds think alike. Stay tuned to NYCFoodGuy and I have a feeling your thirst for Matamoros will be quenched. What do I get there?

  15. FN Says:

    I had the two varieties of pork tacos and loved both…..

    Short burst here:

    http://pufflist.blogspot.com/2009/03/tacos-matamoros-brooklyn.html

    Look forward to your report.

  16. missymnewbie Says:

    NYCFG, As for Calexico burritos and tacos, they stand up really well on their own. They do have a sauce though that they call “crack sauce” that everyone I know who is a fan swears by. I personally like to put a little Cholula on their just to spice it up a bit (they have packets of Cholula on the side of the truck). Everything I’ve eaten there has been great, but they are known for their carne asada, so when in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a carne asada burrito and maybe a little “crack sauce” on the side… I’ll check out your late night taco trucks piece.

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