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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, December 2

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Event Fri Feb 25 2011

A lot on the plate at Mercadito

Photo courtesy of Wagstaff PRA week or so ago, Drive Thru got an invitation to try Mercadito's "Tacos for Strength," a promotion where 5% of the taco profits (priced at $12 for three lunch tacos, or $16 for four dinner tacos) goes to support the anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength. So, it's like eating out, so that others can eat. That's kind of a nice idea, especially at a place, like Mercadito, where the scene otherwise seems to be the main draw. I'd never been to the River North space until today to sample this month's "strength-y" tacos, created by Jimmy Bannoses (Banni?) Sr. and Jr., of Heaven on Seven and The Purple Pig, respectively. If you haven't been, I think it's safe to say that Mercadito is not the kind of restaurant you'd go to for lunch if you have a big, stressful afternoon meeting ahead of you. It's much more the kind of place you might go to for lunch after, perhaps, closing a big deal in the morning and breaking out the margarita mix is all you have scheduled for the rest of the day. The space is colorful and urban, with theater-style colored lighting and graffiti-style wall murals -- but the tacos have a nice, old-school style to them.

We tried the catfish taco, which had a crispy breading appropriate to its creator and his Heaven on Seven style, as well as pickled radishes that were a little lacking in bite; and the pork loin and belly taco, also an appropriate sister to the pig-heavy fare at the Purple Pig. The pork was the winner for me, with nicely crispy edges and a subtle green salsa holding it all together -- even though I didn't find any identifiable pork belly. We also tried a guacamole with mango that was surprisingly spicy, if a little strangely colored. (Extra cumin in the mix maybe? It was a little yellowy brown, though.)

Only a few other Chicago chefs will be contributing inspiration through the end of the year (a taco from Mercat a la Planxa's Michael Fiorello will hit the menu in May), but Tacos for Strength pulls from around the country, and will be available every month will a different celebrity-chef sanctioned recipe. I'd say if you're heading to Mercadito for drinks and small plates, Tacos for Strength are probably worth your dollars -- at the very least, you're helping out someone hungrier than you'll be when you leave. (You may have to ask about it, if you go for lunch -- we didn't see the promotion listed on the menu itself, though they were able to whip it up for us in the kitchen in no time.)

Also, you may have seen the Mercadito deal on Gilt City Chicago back in December for an evening of cooking and cocktails with Chef Patricio Sandoval and a group of your friends. If $2,500 was a bit too rich for your blood, however, and you like meeting new people, consider yourself presented with a second chance now, since Mercadito is holding a chef-led cooking class for only $70 per person this Monday, February 28. The evening, "Explore the South of Mexico Region," will feature five dishes, from tamales to flan (and who hasn't been to intimidated to try either of those in their apartment's galley kitchen?), with paired cocktails. (Reservations are required in advance, so call quickly if you're into this idea.)

On top of all of this, Mercadito is also extending the deals of Chicago Restaurant Week. The three-course prix-fixe menus will be available through Sunday, March 6.

180 W. Kinzie

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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