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Café Mercadito Latino

Neighbourhood: Downtown
 570 Sargent
Phone: 415-2870
Entrées: $8-$10

When Robert Frost penned the famous line, ‘I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference,’ he could easily have been waxing poetic about all the hidden gems in Winnipeg’s restaurant scene.

These ‘hole-in-the-wall’ restaurants, family-owned-and-operated joints, lunch counters and ethnic spots serve outstanding food in humble surroundings.

One exploratory ‘eat-venture’ leads to the discovery of Café Mercadito Latino, a Latin market and wee eatery located in a Henderson Highway strip mall.

Latin American foodstuffs like fresh corn tortillas from Winkler-based CT Foods, hot sauces, salsas and sweet dulce de leche are sold at the front of the house. The magic happens farther back, inside a modest kitchen.

Inside the 12-seat dining room, eclectic artworks, mismatched plates and the family’s hot sauce collection transport diners to an abuelitas’ kitchen.

A charming young server—Jesse Lemus, the owners’ son—proudly explains Latin American cuisine.

Pupusas, tamales, tacos, quesadillas and burritos are all prepared by Jesse’s mom Sonia, and served individually or in combinations. Specials like tortilla soup and dulce de leche desserts are sometimes available on the weekends.

The pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador, are phenomenal. You’ll be hard pressed to find better versions in town.

Dense, handmade corn tortillas are packed with savoury fillings and served with smokey red sauce and curdito—a coleslaw of pickled cabbage, onion and carrot. Café Mercadito stuffs its pupusas with combinations of beans, cheese, pork, beef and loroco, an edible vine flower from Central America that tastes like broccolini. Cheese and loroco pupusas deliver rich and sharp notes.

Corn husk swaddled and steamed tamales are made using subtly spiced masa dough laced with carrot ribbons and green olives. The vegetarian and pulled chicken are both fantastic.

Burritos are hefty packages jammed with ground beef and black bean purée, spiked with onion and bell pepper and then bonded by a melty web of Salvadoran Petacones cheese, mozarella and feta.

Soft corn tacos use brawny slow-cooked beef and green and red bell peppers and are tossed with vibrant pico de gallo.

Café Mercadito Latino is open Tue to Sat 9 am-9 pm.

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