Mercadito in Midtown Miami Offers an Uneven Dining Experience

We were invited to dinner last night at Mercadito, the new Mexican restaurant at Midtown Miami. This much-hyped eatery is located next to another newcomer to Miami's restaurant scene, Sugarcane. Both are gorgeously decorated, high-concept spaces with multiple locations behind them. While Sugarcane was a hit from its first day, we think that Mercadito needs to work out a few kinks before it becomes a part of our regular dining-out rotation.

That being said, Mercadito gives off a great first impression. The setting is chic and urban, like being at a cool restaurant in New York. That's probably because New York City-based Seed Design Studio created the space. Adding to the allure are the 3-D graffiti-style murals by artist Erni Vales.

The drinks are also phenomenal. This being a Mexican restaurant, of course, one must order a margarita. Mercadito has an impressive list of tequila cocktails. We opted for two: The Pepino el Pyu (with tequila blanco, cucumber, lemon, hoja santa, and cumin salt) and the Little Market (with tequila reposado, fresh pineapple, chile guajillo, and pico piquín). Both were refreshing and innovative.

The menu lists six different guacamoles. In order to taste a few, we ordered the sampler of three. Unlike the recent trend of tableside guacamole preparation, Mercadito opts to mash their avocadoes in their kitchen. We tried the Tradicional (tomatillo pico de gallo, jalapeño, garlic, key lime, and cilantro), Chipotle (jícama, mango, and pico de gallo) and Mole Poblano (plantain and pico de gallo). The Tradicional was by far our favorite of the three. The accompanying chips were crispy and salty, which is how I like my chips. However, if you are on a low-salt diet, you may want to ask for crackers instead.

Other observations: The shrimp ceviche tasted like it was marinated in V8 juice, kind of like a shrimp gazpacho. The shrimp tacos were creamy, almost like the rock shrimp at Nobu with tortilla wraps. The chicken flautas were crisp and set on top of a luscious black bean puree. The Tampiquena (grilled 12-ounce skirt steak with mole sauce) was sweet, thinly sliced, and tasty. We were very disappointed with the side order of Elote Mexicano (Mexican style corn on the cob), which, while prepared with the traditional accoutrements, was unsuccessful because the corn was woefully undercooked. The meal ended on a happy note with the Torrejas de Bolillo, a dessert of crème anglaise-soaked Mexican bread with vanilla ice cream.

Prices at Mercadito are moderate for Midtown Miami. While the guacamole trio was $13.50, the tacos were $14.50 (for four of the same tacos; no mixing and matching of proteins per order). Entrees are all $20-plus and sides will run you $5 and higher. The margaritas may be the best deal with prices ranging from $9 to $12. They just started offering lunch, although the stylish atmosphere is better suited for nocturnal dining.

3252 NE First Ave., Miami

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Jacquelynn D. Powers