My waiter has the nicest smile I’ve ever seen; his teeth almost blind me. He doesn’t seem to know much English and though I’m trying earnestly to order the “very best thing” on the menu, all I’m getting are up-and-down nods and those big, white pearls. I’ve heard Taqueria Mercado offers authentic Mexican grub and so far it’s a good sign that I feel like a completely clueless foreigner.
The downtown Taqueria Mercado (its original location is in Fairfield) opened last month and is currently thriving on curious lunch crowds. But since I’m here for dinner, the clientele is a little different. They’re serious.
Take the guy just ahead who is dining by himself. There’s nothing on his table except for his elbows and an enormous plate of meat tacos. He glares at them as if he hates them but I can tell that the opposite is true. He isn’t here for the amusing ambiance or the doting service (good thing, because neither of these things exist in extreme at Taqueria Mercado), he’s here for a taste of Mexico.
Tomatoes, chiles, garlic and onions. These are the cornerstones of authentic Mexican food and all are present on the table in various forms. Three squeezy bottles hold classic Mexican table sauces: a smokey chipotle (made from smoke-dried jalapeÃ±os), a salsa verde (tomatillo-based, puckery and distinct) and a hot sauce (tomato-based with chiles). All the flavors are good though I wish they each packed a little more heat.
I order tacos because damn it, the place is named after them. I am soon confronted with a double-decker of soft corn tortillas covered in fried pork, raw onion and fresh cilantro. (Other choices are grilled steak, steamed beef, chicken, suadero, chorizo, tripe and tongue.)
The tacos are simple but their flavors are deep and earthy and they almost have me convinced I’m in a snack parlor or a street stall in Mexico. Which is to say, they’re nothing like you might find at an overly Americanized restaurant chain. I even forgive the slightly underseasoned rice and beans because the warm tortilla chips make up for them. Having just been fried, they are even better when dunked into the fresh tomato salsa.
The spirit of Taqueria Mercado is right: the almost completely Spanish website, the divey ambiance, even the bottles of imported Mexican Coca-Cola. If it’s authenticity you’re looking for, TaquerÃa Mercado delivers. So when their bar opens in a few weeks, I’ll be the one in the back with a margarita and carne asada â€“â€“ trying desperately to talk to the waiter with the nice smile.