It’s been a long while since Nairobi has had a decent Mexican joint. Well, at least, till now.
Let me tell you a story…
Once upon a time (well, actually in April 2017), two brothers – Jigar and Dil Patel, seeking an authentic and sensory culinary experience, found themselves in San Miguel de Allende, a small town in Mexico. They stayed at a local inn, run by Tia Maria, the soul of the community. Every morning, she would travel to the Mercado (the local marketplace) and return with a basket full of fresh, seasonal ingredients to cook up a storm, even inventing new recipes.
Upon their return home to Kenya, these brothers yearned for her lavish, home-cooked meals. And now enter Mercado – Mexican Kitchen and Bar in October 2017– the two brothers’ dream has come true and Mexican food made with fresh, organic local ingredients has arrived in an alluring, delectable way!
Upon entering the restaurant located on the terrace floor of the Kenrail Towers, I was instantly pleased with the ambiance. There is a large indoor seating area, complete with a bar at one end where you can watch the seasoned bartender whip up your margarita, and a nice outdoor patio with a view of Westlands. Plenty of cool, vibrant décor accents such as unique light fixtures, swings instead of chairs, and adorable succulents in geometrical glass pots, make me quite excited because it’s all totally ‘gram-worthy. In fact, I was immediately attracted to the wall displaying miniature vintage cars.The gorgeous painted plates and geometrically-patterned glasses also caught my eye. As I waited for my companion, Yashvi, who recently agreed to photograph for me, as Diva has gone off to university, the wait staff constantly checked up on me.
Once Yashvi arrived, we quickly ordered our drinks. She got a Mango Mojito while I ordered the Cocorindo Margarita that I had previously enjoyed when I made a visit to the restaurant, prior to this one.The Cocorindo Margarita, a wonderful concoction of coconut milk, tamarind paste and Blanco tequila, along with the usual margarita mix-ins, was the perfect mix of sweet, spicy and tangy notes. I mean, I could not stop licking the sugar, salt and chilli on the rim of the glass. I tried a little of Yashvi’s Mango Mojito and it was a delight with the sweet mango harmonizing the fresh mint and rum.Mercado serves up small, tapas-style plates with a diverse menu, ranging from starters, soups and salads, tacos, tostadas, and tamales to burritos and other dishes. They recommend patrons order three tapas per person, and then if you’d like, go to the larger mains, and then finish off with dessert, of course.
Since I don’t have a gigantic appetite, Yashvi and I decided to order four dishes: Guacamole Molcajete, Nachos Mexicana, Baby Corn and Cheese Tacos, and a Spinach and Mushroom Quesadilla.
Before our dishes arrived, a tray of assorted salsas was brought over. There are four complementary salsas to choose from: the mild Pico De Gallo (also known as kachumbari locally), a Green Tomato Sauce, a hot Chile Morita Sauce, and a Habanero Salsa, which was extra hot.
Always make reservations before visiting Mercado as it is quite popular.
The Spinach and Mushroom Quesadilla comprises layered, toasted wheat tortillas grilled with cheese, sautéed mushrooms and garlic-tossed spinach inside. Each bite was cheesy, with the meaty mushrooms complemented the garlicky, green spinach nicely. I especially loved dipping the quesadilla in the Chile Morita salsa for a nice, spicy kick.Then, I moved on to the Nachos Mexicana – a layered dish of crispy tortilla chips, stacked with refried beans, pico de gallo, cheddar cheese and a vegetable ragu (with peppers, zucchini, carrots, onions and garlic). Broiled in the oven to get that melted finish, and then topped with fresh guacamole and sour cream, these nachos were cheesy and delicious. I especially loved the contrast between the crispy nacho chips and the softer veggie ragu and beans.As we were dining on this, the Guacamole Molcajete was prepared tableside. It was both exciting and intriguing to watch as the server mashed up a ripe green avocado, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and lime juice. The chunky guacamole was so fresh and served up with a large helping of freshly-fried tortilla chips. It was hands-down the best guacamole I’ve had in a long time!Then on to the final dish: the Baby Corn and Cheese Tacos. At this point, I was so stuffed but I carried on. The two homemade soft corn tortillas were filled with tender baby corn tossed with garlic and Mexican herbs and then garnished with a layer of melted grilled cheese. The intricate flavors of the taco were elevated by the baby corn that had a slight crunch for that perfect texture combination.And now Yashvi and I were stuffed but as you know, dessert goes straight to the heart. So we ordered Tres Leches and a Chocolate and Tequila Tart.The Tres Leches was a layered traditional Mexican vanilla sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk and topped with fresh whipped cream and strawberries. One of the moistest cakes I’ve ever had, the Tres Leches was decadent and indeed moreish.The Chocolate and Tequila Tart comprised of a crunchy tart shell filled with a rich, velvety Mexican chocolate ganache spiked with tequila and garnished with a coffee sauce. I clearly remember telling Yashvi as I shoved forkful after forkful of this tart in my mouth, that I could eat more, despite being so full.And as we were getting ready to leave with our leftovers (we clearly ordered too much!), Reuben, our server, suggested taking a photo of us. I highly commend Reuben, who was always making sure all our requirements were met, from explaining the menu to us to making sure Yashvi could photograph the food well.So after a wonderful dining experience at Mercado, filled with scrumptious food and fine service in an impressive setting, Yashvi and I left gratified.
Photos by the talented Yashvi Kotedia