Just short of perfect
At first glance, Mercado seems overpriced for a cuisine that is widely known for both its rich culinary history and its budget friendly price points. The menu is made up of popular street food staples and the name of the restaurant means market lending to a specific expectation with regard to the price. A closer look reveals that the menu is designed to be shared among two or more people, making Mercado a great place for dates and groups.
Located on the terrace floor of Kenrail Towers in Westlands, Mercado, like the other restaurants in the Food Library, is very stylish with its own unique personality. The vibrant colours in the indigenous Mayan style are balanced by dark and heavy woods. The ambience exudes a warmth and coziness akin to a favourite grandmother’s house even when the restaurant is empty. Add to this an excellent music selection and friendly and attentive service and Mercado is arguably one of the best restaurant experiences I’ve had in Nairobi. I can see why it won the 2019 World Luxury Spa and Restaurant awards for Best Mexican Restaurant in Africa and Best Luxury Interior Design in East Africa.
For my meal, I order the Grilled Steak Tacos and the Tres Leches. I don’t particularly like tacos (the texture and smell of corn tortillas just do not do it for me) but with a menu designed for two or more people, they are what I feel I can manage. I am pleasantly surprised. The taco is packed with the juicy, tender beef on a smear of refried beans and topped with Pico de Gallo; I barely register the corn tortilla. I absolutely adore the Tres Leches cake. It is a delicate sponge cake soaked in three milks and is to die for. Served in a jar, it is perfectly moist and perfectly sweet.
That said, there is something lost in translation. It is said that the further away from the Rio Grande one gets, the less authentic Mexican food tastes. And Mercado is very far from the Rio Grande. To be fair, Mercado doesn’t promise authentic Mexican food; Mexican food, it seems, is one those cuisines that can only truly be called authentic in its country of origin. And while the food at Mercado is of high quality, if you’re looking for the authentic Mexican taste you will find that there is something missing in the flavour profile. It’s like get 98 percent in an exam, it’s still an A but it’s not 100 percent.
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