My review of Mezcalito: Are you #DownToFiesta? I’d say we are :-)

Chef Marissa Tuñon’s molletes, featuring refried beans, cheese and pico de gallo

Somewhere in hip River North, tucked in the basement of the famous Mercadito, lies a cocktail lounge that offers inventive food and drinks in an immersive atmosphere. The name of Mercadito’s younger sibling is Mezcalito, and its goal is to capture the hearts and minds of customers who want a quality bar experience, which blends authentic Mexican food with upscale tequila-based cocktails. Ever wondered how to make your night downtown memorable? Whatever you do, I strongly encourage you to check out Mezcalito at some point. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I’m here to spill the beans – or the mezcal, more likely 😉

I visited Mezcalito recently for its official launch. The invite mentioned trying out dishes developed by Executive Chef Marissa Tuñon as well as taking part in an “experiential mixology academy,” where guests would learn how to make cocktails. As I went inside I was immediately mesmerized by the eclectic decor, which featured exposed AC ducts and modern spotlights blending in nicely with luxuriant vegetation and warmly colored wood furniture. The contrast between cool and warm lighting accentuated the uniqueness of the place, and added to the relaxing ambience:

The burst of colors provided by Alebrijes (Mexican wood sculptures) provided personality, authenticity, and fairy-tale enchantment. I just loved the creative mix of tradition and innovation!

Mezcalito’s cocktail menu features eleven tequila and mezcal-based drinks. The spirit selection they had looked impressive:

Before the mixology class began I got the chance to try several dishes from Mezcalito’s menu, which contains an assortment of Mexican “quick bites” to settle the appetite and to encourage conviviality. I particularly appreciated the Sopes de Tuetano, which featured crispy masa boat, bone marrow, and salsa arriera. I’m not a bone marrow fan, on the contrary: I have vivid childhood memories of everyone around me eating boiled bone marrow and the marrow looking greasy, unappealingly brown, and absolutely awful (blech!). The bone marrow in this dish however was a different story: succulent without being heavy or fatty, its buttery flavor was brightened up by the addition of salsa, with the crispy masa boat providing just the right bite of texture to make the dish whimsical and fun. Chef Marissa Tuñon can definitely turn bone marrow into a winner – and that’s a glorious achievement in my book:

The Papas Escabechadas (pickled new potatoes, jalapeños, pearl onions) were equally enchanting. I have never pickled potatoes, but now I’m tempted to give it a try, having seen how delicious they can be!

After a brief encounter with bite-size crunchy Chicharrones served with a creamy avocado dip…

…and deliciously sweet Esquites (Mexican street corn salad featuring off the cob corn, lime mayo, and chile pequin)…

…it was time to taste some of the traditional Mexican sandwiches on the menu. Up first were the Molletes, open-faced sandwiches with refried beans, cheese and pico de gallo. I’m a BIG fan of refried beans – I have fond memories of mom making a dish that was similar to refried beans when I was a child – and as such I thoroughly enjoyed Chef Tuñon’s use of refried beans in this dish, and its pairing with the delicate vibrancy of the pico. Food really is memories!

I also tried the Pambazos, traditional Mexican sandwiches featuring chorizo and potatoes. These packed a big punch of flavor despite their rather understated appearance. Loved the soft bread, loved the chorizo!

Moving on to the cocktail making lesson, it was time for me and the other guests to meet Scaredy Cat:

What’s a Scaredy Cat? The answer is simple enough: it’s one of Mezcalito’s signature cocktails featuring Hornitos tequila, cucumber, tomatillo, serrano pepper, lemon and cilantro. The execution, however, seemed more complicated to me:

Thankfully, Mezcalito’s chief mixologist explained every step of the cocktail-making process in super great detail, and after much trial and a lot of stress (!!), I was able to finish making my drink:

Taking into account my very limited cocktail-making background, I thought this was an amazing accomplishment. I tamed Scaredy Cat, and Scaredy Cat tamed me!

I had an amazing time making – and sipping! – cocktails at Mezcalito’s official launch. I also loved the traditional food and eclectic decor, and could see all these elements (the food, the drinks, the atmosphere) coming together seamlessly to create an overall pleasant dining experience. With Chef Tuñon at the helm, you will experience gentle flavors put together – a powerful statement of Chef’s confidence, skills, and authenticity. Visit Mezcalito, and you’ll be in for a treat. Guaranteed 🙂

*Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary tasting to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.

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