Until just recently, it was hard to find downtown Cincinnati restaurants that were open late, or served breakfast, or served lunch on weekends. Usually, you could find one of the three, but not all. Javier’s had recently closed, and there wasn’t any authentic Mexican in town. Enter Taqueria Mercado, which had an existing location in Fairfield, a sister location (Taqueria Maya) in Mason, and had closed their Erlanger location. Seemed like a match made in heaven. Before even having lunch there a couple of weeks ago, I knew they’d be a step up from Javier’s for one simple reason: they seemed to have consistent hours. There’s nothing more frustrating than a website whose hours seem to be at the whim of the management, and have no resemblance to the hours posted in the window or on the website.
I guess my bar was low. I know my expectations are pretty high: be open when you’re supposed to be. So sue me.
Anyway, after an afternoon on Fountain Square, we decided that we wanted Mexican. A quick search revealed that yes, indeed, Taqueria Mercado was open for us to try. So, we trekked the few blocks north from the square. When we entered, it looked pretty much exactly as it had when it was Javier’s– still bright, airy and open. They host bands nearly daily, and often have salsa, merengue, and other Latin dancing, so a good portion of the dining room was dance floor. We ate at a high-top near the bar.
The one consistent complaint I’ve heard is service, and we noticed it right away. We were sitting near the bar, but not at the bar, so not technically the bartender’s section. There was on
e other server milling around the two other tables (we went in the late afternoon), but pretty much ignoring us for about 20 minutes before the server asked us if we’d been helped. After this initial hiccup, however, the service was great– our food came out quickly, and it was otherwise efficient.
As it was happy hour– their happy hour lasts for a good part of the day– we ordered Margaritas and beer at .50 off of the regular prices (which aren’t bad– $6.25 for the margarita, $3.25 for the Dos Equis). The Margarita is touted as “fresh” and “homemade”, and they’re good, but I’m not convinced there isn’t some sour mix in there. All in all, it was a pretty good margarita.
For our lunch, we went in two separate directions. I went for traditional tacos, as they serve as a good baseline for this sort of restaurant. Terry, on the other hand, went for something more Americanized– nachos.
I ordered one barbacoa taco and one al pastor taco (which are my usual preferences when going to a traditional Mexican restaurant for the first time). The barbacoa was every bit as good as La Mexicana’s (my gold standard in Cincinnati): tender, flavorful, not too messy, and simply topped with cilantro and onion. The al pastor was okay– some pieces were very overcooked, while others were tender and flavorful. I’d probably stick with the barbacoa next time. At $2.25 a piece, two tacos is a good-sized lunch and fairly inexpensive.
Terry got the nachos, which were, well, awesome. Seriously. I don’t often rave about nachos (generally, what is there to rave about?) but these were really good: crisp, fresh-from-the-fryer chips, steak, cheese (it’s a “queso-style” but not the plasticized version most places use), fresh pico de gallo, lettuce, avocado and jalapenos. Though nachos aren’t from the “authentic” portion of the menu, if you’re craving nachos, this is the place to get them. The portion was definitely enough to share (which was good, because after I gave up on my less-than-stellar al pastor, I kept stealing bites from his plate).
I’m looking forward to stopping in when they have live music, and I’d also like to try their breakfast menu, which features eggs and chorizo and chilaquiles. It’s a welcome addition to the downtown restaurant scene.