¡Viva Merkado!May 01, 2022 ● By Lisa Sciortino
I’m not a fan of surprises. Generally speaking, I find comfort in knowing what to expect when I visit a new place.
For example, when preparing to dine at a restaurant for the first time, I usually spend an inordinate amount of time checking out its menu online so that I’ll know before even setting foot in the place precisely what my order will be.
For whatever reason, I skipped performing my usual dining detective work in advance of a recent late-afternoon meal at Merkado Mexican Grill & Bar. The expansive eatery, located adjacent to Stonebriar Centre in Frisco, is a relative newcomer having opened earlier this year.
I am happy to report that the meal was marked by more than a few surprises that even I found extremely pleasant.
With my teenage children in tow, we entered through the place’s the large front doors and approached the host stand. The first thing that caught my eye was the long, raised stage situated to the side – very unexpected. It was inhabited by a stylish seating area as well as a full drum kit, an amp and several speakers. We’d obviously arrived too early to enjoy the live music that is featured here at other times, which was a shame for us.
We were led to one of the rust-hued, lacquered tables surrounded by sleek black upholstered chairs in the large dining room and joined about a half-dozen other occupied tables at that hour. Techno-style beats filled the air. Tall tropical potted plants are tucked into corners and festive photos of pinatas, sugar skulls and the like adorn the walls.
As my daughter noted, the entire space is oh-so-Instagramable. Our table was situated near a wide dividing wall covered from floor to ceiling in faux greenery, at the foot of which sits a royal-blue loveseat that serves no discernable purpose other than as a picture-perfect photo spot.
Although the bar area was relatively quiet this afternoon, you get the impression that it’s undoubtedly a hotspot on weekend nights. Bottles glow from beneath courtesy of cool neon green and purple lighting. Fat pendant lights hang from the ceiling above the bar top, which is adorned with a black-and-white mural of a mustachioed, sombrero-wearing, winged sugar skull resting on a banner that reads “Sin tacos, no hay paraiso” (“Without tacos, there is no paradise”).
Our server, Javier, appeared promptly to take our drink orders. Needing a little afternoon pick-me-up, I went with the Chili Mango Especial margarita, one of only a few of frozen margarita options on the menu (most others are served on the rocks, he explained). We also ordered the Guacamole Exquisito to munch on while perusing the menu.
The margarita, served in a petite glass rimmed with a thick line of Tajin, looked perfectly sweet and innocent given its bright yellow-orange hue. But each sip featured a noticeable (albeit unexpected) spiciness that tickled the back of my throat, making it surprisingly fun to drink.
The next happy surprise: Merkado doesn’t bother with a boring chips-and-salsa set up. Instead, we were presented a flight (if you will) of three salsas in small bowls. A dark, smokey chipotle salsa (my favorite of the bunch) was flanked by a tart, green salsa verde as well as an orange hot-sauce inspired salsa.
Into these we broke off and dipped bits of the whole, deep-fried corn tortillas (tostadas, according to the menu) and crispy chicharrones (deep-fried pork skins) that had been delivered to the table in oil-speckled, petite brown paper bags. I don’t recall ever having been to a restaurant that served the latter as a complimentary snack. It’s a brilliant idea and a welcome break from the norm.
Additional fried tortillas accompanied the artfully plated Guacamole Exquisito. A generous scoop of guac – a blend of Haas avocados, tomatillo pico, charred green peppers and bacon - is served in a large black bowl atop a banana leaf and dusted with Queso Anejo cheese. Not only was this one a looker, it was also super fresh tasting and delicious.
Never one to pass up an enchilada, my daughter ordered the Chicken Enchiladas with Ranchero sauce for her entrée while my son opted for the Tacos Al Pastor (marinated pork tacos with roasted pineapple and sauteed onions). Always down for a good veggie quesadilla, I went with the Madre Quesadilla featuring sauteed spinach and mushrooms, onions and peppers. For good measure, I requested the addition of Lemon Spicy Chicken into the mix.
We’d no sooner laid waste to the guacamole when our entrees arrived (service throughout our meal at Merkado moved seemingly at lightning speed). We gawked at the substantial size of each item as Javier set the plates down before us.
An entire halved lime garnished the Tacos Al Pastor, which was comprised of four corn tortillas piled with a generous serving of flavorful pork chunks. The sweetness of the diced pineapple and sprinkling of fresh cilantro tamed some of the spiciness of the tender marinated meat, and also lent a tropical vibe to the entire dish.
Served with rice and refried beans, the three Chicken Enchiladas were nicely coated in a zesty Ranchero sauce and plenty of melty cheese. Inside, pieces of white and dark meat mingled with savory strips of peppers and onions. These enchiladas are an excellent rendition of a classic.
For a solid week following our meal at Merkado, my thoughts repeatedly returned to the Madre Quesadilla.
Six sizeable wedges of spinach and flour tortillas (three of each) were stuffed with plenty of Oaxaca Monterrey Jack cheese, pieces of chicken, lightly wilted spinach, perfectly softened mushroom slices, chewy onions and peppers. The triangles were topped with fresh pico de gallo and a generous drizzle of Mexican crema and served with a small scoop of guacamole. This quesadilla was, without a doubt, one of the best I’ve ever had. Coupled with the chicharrones and that standout chipotle salsa, it is all the reason I need to plan a return visit to the restaurant soon.
Given the cool interior, stellar service and outstanding food, I probably shouldn’t be surprised by how much I enjoyed my meal at Merkado Mexican Grill & Bar – but I was, and that is a very good thing.
Frisco STYLE Magazine dining reviews are not scheduled with or paid for by the featured restaurant. All reviews are completed for the purpose of helping readers learn about and enjoy local dining options. Is there an area restaurant that you’d like us to review? Email us at [email protected]
Lisa Sciortino is managing editor of Frisco STYLE Magazine.