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Jill and I were hungry and it was late.  We were on our way to our usual Chinatown spot when I threw out trying. Mercadito (108 W. Kinzie) as a fun and new alternative for a quality focused late night option.
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We ordered a duo of salsa – Chipotle and chile de Arbol.  The portions looked a bit small upon arrival but after the first few chips you realized you needed very little salsa to pack a whopping punch of layered, spicy and slightly pickled flavor.The profile of both salsas was really complex.  In fact, Jill and I noted that at first the two tasted the same possibly because our taste buds hadn’t warmed up to the mosaic of ingredients that went into the dish.
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The consistency we enjoyed – it was the opposite of what many salsa lovers may be used to.  They were pureed with no chunks left behind.  Sometimes chunky salsa is great, but Mercadito has me sold on their version.  The Chipotle had a distinct smokey quality that separated it from the more tangy vinegar toned Arbol.  Both were exceptional and neither of the two were really that hot – which was fine – they were two of the most enjoyable salsas overall I’ve tasted in quite some time.
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We put in an order of the queso fundido with slow braised short ribs.  Served with nice and warm corn tortillas, the Oaxacan and Chiuhuahua cheese weren’t too oily as in some cases.  This is a hard dish to mess up; it’s merely melted cheese with some sort of protein and tortillas.
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Mercadito has perfected the ratio of cheese, the cooking time time and the braising of the short ribs.  This was the most gourmet and upscale fundido I’ve sampled – it was all I could ask for and was worth the extra coin.  I saw that come through in product quality and technique – true in most cases of culinary excellence as you may have noticed by now.
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The restaurant is known for their Estilo Baja – beer battered Mahi Mahi tacos.  I’m always down for a great fish taco so we were sold.  Four tacos for fifteen bucks is steep but I knew they would be some of the most savory and gourmet of taco around.  I was right.
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Fried to perfection, the fish was super moist and had great oceanic flavor and essence.  Served with a Mexican slaw that had chili spice and a vinegar base, there was a creamy, and again, smokey chipotle aioli to cool down the zesty coleslaw.  An excellent example of a well composed taco dish – if there’s such a category.
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I’ve heard that the tortas at Mercadito are top notch; they’re only served on their lunch menu.  I seem to always find excuses to return to the places I enjoy most.  How convenient.
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