Patricio Sandoval of Mercadito can hold his own in the kitchen - even when that kitchen is full of well-respected chefs and restaurant owners who have made significant contributions to the landscape of Mexican cuisine and happen to be members of his immediate family. In fact, it's this that might just give Patricio an edge when he competes with other local and national chefs at the Best of The Munchies: People's Choice Food Awards on the closing day of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.
Though practically raised in his father Manuel Sandoval’s well regarded Acapulco restaurant Madeiras, Patricio started at the bottom when he joined his older brother Richard Sandoval at his restaurant Maya in New York City in 1997. After relocating to San Francisco to assist Richard in opening a second location, Patricio found himself back in New York attending the French Culinary Institute (FCI) during the day and working with Peter Hoffman at Savoy at night.
“Mexican cuisine is my culture and I learned it from my brother for two and half years; but, going to the FCI and working at Savoy really shaped who I am today as a chef, what I do with Mexican food, and how I treat the ingredients,” explains Patricio.
Following FCI (now the International Culinary Center), Patricio opened the first Mercadito in New York City to showcase the tacos, guacamoles, and ceviches he grew up eating. It was a concept inspired by the Mexican markets he visited as a child with his mother, markets wherein everything was kept out in the open and people did their food shopping on a daily basis to secure the freshest possible ingredients.
“When I was coming up in California, I never really got to experience Mexican food as I remembered it," Patricio said. "That’s one of the reasons I opened Mercadito. I wanted to make sure that the tacos stayed true to themselves."
Among Mercadito’s true tacos, you’ll find pancita tacos made of chipotle-piloncillo glazed pork belly and carne tacos topped with rosemary marinated skirt steak, potato-poblano rajas, and avocado-tomatillo crema. Patricio’s estilo baja tacos featuring crispy beer-battered fish and chipotle aioli are slated to appear at the festival as well.
“Mexican is not this fancy food with French technique, but at the same time it’s not this pedestrian food that is cheap to eat because it is beans and tortillas," Patricio said. "All ingredients cost the same and labor is the same. We wanted to portray that and offer a sharing style so people could enjoy the different flavors and spices of Mexican food."
With locations in Chicago and Miami in addition to his two New York spots, there’s always room for local inspiration. While the Miami menu focuses on seafood and lighter fare options, the Chicago operation will soon serve Mexican tacos and American hot dogs at Mercadito Counter.
In addition to the Best of the Munchies, Patricio will appear at the Master Card Grand Testing Event. Regardless of the venue, he will undoubtedly know how to stand out.