I love Mexican food. A lot! And I like it authentic. Ironically, as much as I've traveled this globe of ours I have not ever been to Mexico, so I have defined my own authenticity markers which I'll discuss later.
Late in 2007 I was introduced to Tacqueria Mercado in Fairfield by a friend of mine who is also a big Mexican food fan. Up until then I had always gone to La Mexicana which is in Newport, KY, and is also pretty good. We dont have a very ethnically diverse population in greater Cincinnati, so when the Mexican population started to grow, I got very excited! Unfortunately though, the majority of the restaurants and establishments by and for our neighbors from the south, happen to be way out in the northern suburbs, which for a Cliftonite, are just too far.
Anyway, my friend Chris raved about Tacqueria Mercado for so long and swore it was worth the drive, so early last year my wife and I drove out to try it. It's an unsuspecting little place tucked on the left side of a Latin focused strip of 4 likely related businesses. Next to it are a Mexican grocery/meat store and a great little Mexican bakery. All worth a visit if you're there for a meal.
So, one of the ways I judge the authenticity of a restaurant is by looking around at the clientèle. Upon walking into Tacqueria Mercado, you feel like a welcomed visitor to another country. The mostly full restaurant seems like a taste of home for the locals and offers a menu that caters to all. For the less daring you can order tacos with almost any sort of meat on top. If you are expecting hard taco shells a la Taco Bell, then you may not like this. You get a plate of 3 soft corn tortillas topped with your choice of meat and dressed with cilantro and onions. Very simple and very delicious. While the carnitas and pollo are great options, a more adventurous visitor may go for the tongue, birria (goat) or even suadero (which sounded exotic and ended up just being brisket).
One thing that I'm sort of notorious for and often ridiculed for, is that I order the same thing at the same types of restaurants pretty much all the time. I do this with solid reasoning. If I want to judge apples to apples, or in this case Carne Asadas to Carne Asadas, then I'm going to try the Carne Asada at every place I go to and pick the restaurant that does it best to return to. And for the record, the Carne Asada at Tacqueria Mercado is to die for. The meat is tender with a delicate carmelization and I love how the warm tortillas stick together so you need to use 2 at a time. Not necessarily good for the waistline, but good for the soul.
This past weekend when we went again with some friends for lunch I ordered the Birria platter which is prepared only at the weekends. It can be ordered either as a soup or on a plate with beans, rice, guac and salad much as Carne Asada would. I dont think I'd have it as a soup again as I did once before though. It was tasty, but a bit too rustic. As a platter though the rice, beans and pico really complement the seasonings of the goat really nicely. The selection of the 3 homemade sauces are a nice addition as well. If you have room in your stomach after the meal for dessert, then the flan is worth having, or if you want to grab some baked goods to take to the movies, then that's a solid option too.
In closing, if you like well prepared, authentic Mexican food served by friendly Spanish-speakers while in a lively place that you can tell is a second home to many, then Tacqueria Mercado will be well worth the drive from any part of Cincinnati.
Price - $
Decor - Homey
Gluten Free friendly? - Yes!