Hamptons Restaurant Review: A Winning Dinner at Mercado

A Mercado margarita.
A Mercado margarita.

If you ask most people what they think about when they think about Mexican food, the chances are they’ll say tacos, burritos, nachos, guacamole, salsa and ice-cold margaritas. In other words, party food. Fun food that you may get to assemble for yourself and customize to your own taste—and then eat with your hands.

Mercado, located at 1970 Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton, voted Dan’s Papers Best of the Best Mexican Food 2013, offers all of those familiar pleasures of Mexican cuisine, but with the added attractions of providing truly authentic traditional south-of-the-border selections as well as innovative twists on Mexican standards. Take their wide variety of Mexican street tacos—which include the traditional carnitas (slow roasted pork) and the carne asada (grilled steak), while also offering the more inventive fish taco with chipotle slaw, guacamole, garlic aioli and chile de arbol salsa.

Now, for the chile-averse diners out there, don’t worry: most of Mercado’s selections are quite mild, and the spicy-hot ones are clearly indicated on the menu. However, unlike some other Mexican restaurants, when Mercado promises heat, you’ll feel it.

Far from being chile-averse, I rather like a little fire in my food—so much so that on a recent visit I opted for one of Mercado’s unique spicy-hot cocktails. The Spicy Mango, which is a kind of citrusy Bloody Mary with a firm jalapeno kick—just because a drink is cold doesn’t mean it can’t pack a little heat!

Luckily for those who would rather not set their mouths on fire, Mercado also offers a prodigious number of beers on tap, including some Mexican favorites like Negra Modelo and Dos Equis Amber. And, naturally, they offer a large selection of margaritas. (They also have 75 different tequilas! More on that later.)

Pre-meal, along with the Spicy Mango, we sampled the chips and salsas. The chips were nice and warm, and a very fresh tomatillo salsa had a nice kick to it. Mercado’s homemade guacamole is chunky yummy with a straight-up avocado flavor—you can’t improve upon that.

On to our meal. An appetizer of grilled jalapenos stuffed with bacon, roasted tomatoes and cotija cheese was a snacky bar food but with an elegant touch, and very tasty, if not quite as spicy as indicated on the menu. My dining partner thought about the squash blossom quesadilla, a seasonal item, which may well be off the menu at this point, but she eventually opted for her old standby—the tortilla soup. Topped with crispy tortilla strips, this savory and delicious soup combines grilled chicken, avocado, queso fresco, black beans, grilled corn and zucchini in an exquisite melding of textures, the flavorful broth cooking the avocado ever so slightly. Perfect.

While Mercado is known for its tacos and enchiladas, we decided to take the opportunity to sample some of the main dishes that are a little harder to come by at Hamptons-area restaurants. This included the grilled mahi-mahi with tomatillo-avocado salsa and grilled pineapple, served over red rice with a side of fried plantains, which was among the more inventive items on the menu, and which was very nicely turned out. The chile relleno de piccadillo, meanwhile, was a batter-fried poblano pepper stuffed with an authentic traditional Mexican piccadillo of pork and beef with almonds and raisins. The piccadillo was rich and savory, like a Mexican comfort food, and blended well with the smoky-flavored pepper.

Mercado is a family-friendly space for dinner, and, let’s face it, kids love tacos. However, as the 75 varieties of tequilas on the menu might suggest, after hours Mercado shifts gears slightly. TEQUILA! They have the blanco, they have the respasado, they have the anejo, they have the premium and extra anejo. You can order a flight, which is a tasting of three tequilas from a single category—that is, if someone else is driving. If you thought tequila was a generic commodity, think again.

To go with the after-hours bar atmosphere, Mercado does chicken wings in various ways, including hot, medium, or mild Buffalo sauce. Obviously, various Mexican-style finger foods are also available.

On a different note, Mercado also serves lunch. Check out their tortas, griddle-baked sandwiches with fillings including grilled chicken, chorizo, pulled pork, and skirt steak. Delish!

Mercado Mexican Grill & Tequila Bar, 1970 Montauk Hwy., Bridgehampton, 631-237-1334, mercadony.com

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