The restaurant business is in Adalberto Leon's blood. After immigrating to the United States from Mexico in 1979 and living in Chicago for 20 years, he moved to Cincinnati to bring the spicy flavor of his heritage to the Tristate.
"All my family is in the restaurant business," Leon says. He grew up in Jesus Maria, a small town in the state of Jalisco just two hours from Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city. As a teenager, he was already getting a taste for the business as he worked for his cousins at a restaurant in nearby Michoacan.
In 1999, the 54-year-old moved his family to Cincinnati to take over Cancun Mexican Restaurant from a friend with his sister's husband, Antonio Leon. Then, Adalberto and his wife, Lourdes, opened Taqueria Mercado (which means Taco Market) in Fairfield in 2000 and followed with locations in Erlanger and downtown Cincinnati.
"She's the boss. She's the one who does most everything," Leon says smiling. But you'll find Adalberto downtown five days a week helping his nephew and general manager, Victor Romo, with the busy lunch crowd.
"I don't just stand around," he says. And he doesn't. Whether he's working at the register, taking orders or even busing tables, Leon makes it a point to taste everything that comes out of the kitchen. "I have to like everything," he says. "I won't put it on my menu if I don't like it."
But it doesn't seem to be any dish that Leon doesn't like. Chef Alfredo Villasenor makes nearly every recipe from scratch including the beans, rice and sauce. Even the flan, bread for the tortas (Mexican sandwiches filled with meat, avocado and beans) and churros use fresh eggs and milk from their Fairfield location's bakery. "It's hard to say a favorite," Leon says.
If you want a plate that fills you with dreams of Mexico's sandy beaches and rich culture, Leon suggests the Enchilada Plate ($10.50), and to sample all of Taqueria Mercado's homemade red, green and mole sauces. "People request something authentic," he says. "We try to focus on what we do in Mexico."