reviews of tacos!

Mercadito Madison/La Nena

Madison WI

3559 e washington ave, madison WI 53704
9am-9pm mon-thurs, 9am-9:30pm fri, 8am-9:30pm sat & sun

Mercadito Madison/La Nena (Madison WI) - taco review

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Mercadito Madison/La Nena (Madison WI) - taco reviewMercadito Madison/La Nena (Madison WI) - taco reviewMercadito Madison/La Nena (Madison WI) - taco reviewMercadito Madison/La Nena (Madison WI) - taco reviewMercadito Madison/La Nena (Madison WI) - taco review

Price: $$

The To-Go

Excellent customer service, a comfortably spaced store, and a new papitas taste sensation make Mercadito Madison worth a visit. And the tacos are darn good too! Note: takeout only.

The Sit-Down

In the run-up to the most important day of the 21st century, business associate Erin & I were feeling too nervous to activate the stove, mostly out of an all-consuming fear of doing anything that could possibly jinx the Seahawks. After crouching motionless in the basement for several days, we were overcome with hunger to the point of desperation, and Erin found an Isthmus review of a taco spot we had never even heard of. There are several names associated with this establishment (La Nena, I think, is the correct one), but the name you'll see as you're pulling into the parking lot is always the most important- so we'll call it Mercadito Madison for now. Mercadito Madison is located right next to the massive (and not yet reviewed…) Pedro's on E Washington, just west of the intersection with Stoughton Rd, in the very same parking lot.

Like other Madison taco spots Mercado Marimar and Enrique's, Mercadito Madison is actually a market with a deli counter that sells tacos. Unlike most of market-style taquerias the hive mind has visited over the years, Mercadito Madison's layout is decidedly more clean and minimalist, and a very non-overwhelming place to walk into. This is perhaps enabled by the lack of tables inside - Mercadito Madison sells food for take-out only - and the extremely friendly staff. The layer also leaves plenty of space for products and food preparation, which is put to good use. The deli counter area takes up about â…“ of the store, and has several distinct components :
a) La Nena, which is the place you go for tacos;
b) Fruteria Ali, which specialized in aguas frescas;
c) An (unnamed?) carniceria, which had a variety of delicious-looking cuts for purchase and home cooking.
Naturally, we spent most of our time at La Nena. After browsing the menu for a while, Erin and I decided on a lineup of tacos almost as formidable as the Legion of Boom: al pastor, suadero (shredded beef), and chorizo. While our tacos were cooking, we browsed the store and ended up getting some papitas (fresh potato chips) with salt, lime, and hot sauce as an appetizer to eat on the way home, as a type of chips-and-salsa substitute. I'd never tried this combination of flavors before, and I was lovin' it. The chile was surprisingly spicy, but was nicely offset by by the saltiness of the chips and a bit of lime tang. Actually, through the rest of the meal, I couldn't stop talking about how good these chips were (Editor's note: business associate Erin felt the chips got a bit soggy after being doused with hot sauce. This is true, but I didn't mind it).

The tacos were also a hit. After the short drive home (in the warmer months, one could potentially enjoy their tacos in the parking or in the back of their pick-up truck), we busted open the tacos, along with a couple of salsas provided to-go. The three tacos were unique in filling, but similar in construction; all were on doubled-up yellow corn tortillas, which were relatively thick & flavorful, and topped with cilantro & onion. I started off with the al pastor, which ended up being my favorite in the end. It was on the milder end, as far as pastors go, but the meat was nice and juicy and the sauce wasn't overwhelming, with a surprising subtlety reminiscent of Red Bryant's run-stopping ability. Of the two salsas (one spicy peanut-red, the other more of a milder sweet-tangy green), al pastor went better with the red. The suadero and chorizo were also both quite mild, though in different ways. The suadero was nicely shredded and sauteed to an almost saucy complexion, and went well with a blended salsa combo. The chorizo, made in house, was a crumbly mild style, without either the overwhelmingly oily or salty flavor that plagues some lower-quality sausages. The meat was excellent, and well-accented by a nice of lime squeeze, but was a bit lacking in flavor in comparison to the tangier chorizos I've grown to love. I surmise there must be a trade-off between greasiness (undesirable) and tanginess (desirable), and Mercadito Madison seems to trend in general towards the healthy end of the spectrum- definitely a noble aspiration!

Mercadito Madison has a lot on the menu in addition to tacos, but they seem to specialize in tortas. There's a bunch of torta options and a pile of fresh-baked bread behind the counter, and they even advertise via Facebook about 'torta tuesdays', a unique day on which great deals are offered on tortas. As tortas are one of the world's greatest and most filling foods, it seems like a necessity to try these out as soon as possible. Overall, even though I can't rank the tacos as Madison's best (unlike the Seahawks, who are the world's best), Mercadito Madison has definitely earned a return trip as quickly as I can justify it.

Parts of this review were originally written for The Dish as part of my ongoing collaboration with Madison's premiere culinary magazine.

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