As you walk in to Taqueria El Mercadito you’re hit with a strong aroma of shredded meats cooking on the grill with a mixture of cilantro and onions. When you approach the counter, you’re greeted by a friendly face.
Taqueria El Mercadito serves up authentic tacos, soups and burritos at its Pearl Nix Parkway restaurant.
The business started as a shop, El Mercadito, in 1998 when the Velazquez family moved to Georgia from California. Gabriel Velazquez Sr. didn’t want to work for someone else, so he decided to open his own grocery store.
Taqueria El Mercadito
When: Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays but closed Wednesdays, open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends
Where: 275 Pearl Nix Parkway No. 2, Gainesville
Velazquez owns the store, but his son Gabriel Velazquez Jr. is ready to step in when the time comes.
It started as a grocery store off Atlanta Highway that served meals to go. By 2015, the family decided to focus on meals and become a full-fledged restaurant, Taqueria El Mercadito, at a new location at 275 Pearl Nix Parkway, No. 2.
“My parents wanted to leave something behind for me and my sisters after they retired. And they knew we weren’t too interested in the grocery business but that we were interested in the restaurant business, so that’s another reason we did this transition,” Velazquez Jr. said.
The owners were a little worried customers wouldn’t follow them to the new business, but once they started telling customers about the changes, they said everyone was delighted.
“They were excited because at the grocery store, we didn’t have any room for them to sit and eat their food that they order. So they knew that once we opened the restaurant, they were going to have somewhere to eat rather than eating in their cars,” Velazquez Jr. said.
Taqueria El Mercadito is known for serving big portions.
“We have really good quality, and we always try to stick to what has always been there and things that are authentic, whereas other restaurants you see ground beef, cheese dip and nachos and you know that’s not something authentic,” Velazquez Jr. said. “It’s very good but not authentic.”
The meats are prepared ahead of time and everything is cooked in the kitchen as the orders come in.
“The meat is seasoned a couple of days before so that when it’s time to cook it, it’s well-seasoned with a good flavor,” Velazquez Jr. said.
One of the most popular dishes is tacos, often made with shredded beef or pork. Other meat options include the Mexican sausage, chorizo; beef tongue, called lengua in Spanish; beef brain, called cabeza; and breaded beef or chicken, called milanesa.
Carnitas: Shredded pork
Barbacoa: Shredded beef
Lengua: Beef tongue
Cabeza: Beef brain
Milanesa: Breaded chicken or beef
Carne de chivo: Goat
“Tacos are usually one of our most sold dish because they can always put whatever kind of meat they want on it — whether it’s grilled meat, pork meat, goat meat or any kind of meat available in our menu, it can all be put in a taco,” Velazquez Jr. said. “On the weekends, the request for every dish is usually the same, except we have a special dish called menudo that people are always asking for.”
Menudo is a Mexican soup made with beef stomach in a broth with a red chili pepper base. This dish is only available on the weekends because it is expensive and time-consuming to make. However, Velazquez Jr. said it is so popular they always run out.
The restaurant also sells large burritos. Regular customers know their burritos can be stuffed with however many meats they want.
“We do double meat in the burritos and people like to mix them up. They are some of the most popular ones,” Velazquez said “ We tell people to go crazy with it. Whatever they want we’ll gladly put it in there. People love it because you won’t see many restaurants do those kinds of combinations.”