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Reviews of brunch dishes.

The Brunch Dish: Sex-Mex at Mercadito in Chicago

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[Photographs: Chelsea Ross]

Mexican food has never had a lot of sex appeal to me. I love all things masa-related, I would bathe in horchata, and there is no such thing as enough tacos, but it just doesn't seem like sexy food to me (spaghetti slurped in an alley with an Italian tenor crooning in the background is sexy). Then along comes Mercadito, the contemporary Mexican restaurant with enough sex appeal to melt a pack of popsicles. Not only is the space incredibly sexy, but the food is as well. The menu is loaded with contemporary riffs on Mexican favorites, and the presentation is so chic it's practically foodie foreplay. Mercadito recently added a number of new dishes to their shareable brunch menu (choice of any three items for $13.50 or $19.50 with cocktail). You've heard of Tex-Mex. This is Sex-Mex.

Mercadito has a way of turning standard egg dishes into seductive pieces of edible artistry. Huevos ahogados is the perfect example. One of the most popular brunch items, it's Mercadito's version of eggs Benedict, made with poached eggs, cornbread, and chipotle hollandaise. The cornbread was tender and rich, to the point where I wonder if this was actually just corn compound butter, and I brought my cholesterol levels to dangerous new levels by eating all of it. Chipotle brought a kick to the hollandaise, mellowing out the heaviness with some spice and smoke, while a smattering of salsa overtop freshened things up.

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The other table favorite was the carnitas hash, part of Mercadito's new cazuelitas, or "little skillets." Remember when you were young and you woke up early enough to go to McDonald's for breakfast and you tore into those greasy, irresistible hashbrowns like a cheetah taking down a gazelle? No? Umm me neither. But the potatoes in this hash are what I imagine that sensation is like, with soft, shredded morsels of potato cooked until slightly crispy on the exterior, all entangled with sautéed onions. A layer of braised pork, juicy and fatty like the most succulent pulled pork, rests over the potatoes, infusing them with meaty goodness. A poached egg is placed on top because that is always a good idea. It's like a McDonald's Big Breakfast, but with dignity.

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Don't miss the huevos rancheros. It sounds commonplace, but Mercadito does a bang-up job with this Mexican brunch essential, serving up a beautiful plate of eggs, black bean hash, and red and green salsas, all living harmoniously together like a black and white cookie. On the bottom are soft corn tortillas, which like all the tortillas at Mercadito, are made by a darling Mexican lady, because Mexican ladies beat Italian tenors any day.

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In this scenario, pancakes make for a fitting dessert. Made with Manchego cheese, which gives the pancakes a rich, nutty flavor and a denser consistency, the petite pancakes are decorated with bits of strawberries and an incredible citrus-splashed cinnamon butter that I would like to exfoliate with.

Coupled with refreshing, sassy cocktails, brunch at Mercadito is as sexy as Mexican food comes. The salsa roja won't be the only reason you're sweating.

Mercadito

108 West Kinzie Street, Chicago IL 60654 (map)
312-329-9555
mercaditorestaurants.com

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