Lighter and more ethereal than most Mexican food, Mercadito Grove‘s flavors are a watercolor of springy taste. Tiny portions, an airy cuisine and bright but not sharp flavors in each dish make this a go-to for a downtown pre-theater meal or a post-dancing late-night snack attack.
The meal begins with fried, flaky triangular chips dusted with salt. Order a well-mixed margarita to match, along with the trio of guacamoles, changed daily and brought to you in three mounded scoops on a tray. On one recent occasion, mild mango and zippy pineapple guacs accompanied the creamy-but-chunky traditional blend.
Mercadito Grove’s strength lies with their tacos. The tortillas are precious (between the size of a large silver dollar and a small Eggo waffle) and come in twos or threes, perfect for sharing with an adventurous date. Fish tacos with manchego cheese excel, with a brown savory sauce that slides into your mouth. (They even received an award from Zagat in 2008.) Another standout are the chicken tacos, so savory you think you’re eating steak. The regularly-changing menu ensures that everything from shrimp to cactus leaf an show up in these tiny dishes. On certain nights, the restaurant features $23 all you can eat tacos; a dangerously tempting deal.
The wonderful lightness of dinner makes dessert even more tempting. The delectable orange flan has a vaguely caramel taste, with surprisingly bright mandarin oranges garnishing the top and a delicate syrup pooling around the plate. Equally as yummy are the caramel plantains, which taste like a potato turned into a dessert. Streaked with a tangy white sauce and doused with sticky caramel, the plantains are starchy and sweet.
Mercadito Grove’s location, on a triangular spit of land along 7th Avenue, makes its outdoor seating great for people watching. Inside is cramped but fun, with lots of rustic wooden décor and criss-crossed hatching on the ceiling. The itty-bitty alcove of a bathroom features a neat old copper basin sink. The servers are personable and give great recommendations, and the atmosphere is relaxed, even during rush hour.
Mercadito Grove is located at 100 7th Avenue, at Grove Street. The restaurant is owned by Mercadito, which operates two other locations in downtown Manhattan, as well as in Miami and a new location in Chicago. Mercadito often hosts week-long discount deals and tasting parties; sign up for their newsletter for all updates.