Ah, Cincinnati’s Mexican food scene. I feel like a bit of a connoisseur. Ryan and I have tried almost every restaurant in the city – we are obsessed with the colorful food and the variety of the dishes, and enjoy everything from the extremely casual to the most dressed up varieties of the cuisine.
We have a couple of go-to places to enjoy some seriously delicious Mexican food. Whether we’re dressing up for a meal at Nada, having a casual meal served at the El Toro, our friendly neighborhood spot, or just picking up a Turtle from Gomez Salsawhile we’re out on the town in OTR, each place we’ve tried is special for different reasons. But Taqueria Mercado is a hidden gem and by far the Mexican restaurant that Ryan and I frequent the most.
Taqueria Mercado has several locations, but we have found that the one on the corners of E. 8th Street and Walnut in downtown Cincinnati is their best (this location is technically called “Taqueria Mercado 3). Sure, the atmosphere is nothing to write home about – don’t expect cliche El Rancho Grande sombrero-and-piñata-themed decor, or for the upscale, trendy vibes of Nada. Mercado, as we fondly call it, is a bit a hole in the wall – and that’s part of its charm.
This isn’t your typical chain Mexican restaurant. Don’t expect to get your chips and salsa for free. Here, they are worth paying for. Ever tried the chips at Nada? These are just as good. Flakey, crispy, delicious – perfect to go with an order of their fresh guacamole.
Their Sopa Azteca is another great appetizer choice for cold days. This tomato soup features lots of cheese, sour cream, tortilla strips and avocado. It’s creamy and totally delicious.
The entree menu is simple: choose the type of dish you want, the type of meat you’d like, and watch them prepare it through the windows from the dining room to the kitchen. They have the regular staples: pollo (chicken), carne asada (steak), camarones (shrimp). And then there’s the things you can only find at a few restaurants in town: birria (goat) and tripas (tripe). Whether you stick with what you know or are a little bit more on the adventurous side, whatever you order is guaranteed to be served to you piping hot.
My go-to? The carnitas chimichanga. This is the best chimichanga in the city and totally worth the splurge. The outside is perfectly crispy, and inside, the carnitas are hot. With just the right amount of queso on top (don’t you hate it when your plate is swimming in queso?) the dish absolutely melts in your mouth. The rice and beans on the side are perfectly cooked, and are also some of the best we’ve found.
While I mostly stick to my chimichanga, Ryan jumps around the menu a lot. The last time we visited, he ordered tacos – although he frequently opts for the shrimp quesadilla or one of the tortas.
Pro tip: they also have insane margaritas and pina coladas. Their bar is pretty lively on a Friday or Saturday night, especially if they are featuring live music.
Polly Campbell recommended the Mercado as one of the best Mexican restaurants in Cincinnati, and we couldn’t agree more. The next time you’re feeling hungry for the taste of Mexico, give this place a try. You’ll become a regular in no time.
Until next time,