A chile relleno is a thing of beauty if done well, and Viva Mercado’s has been serving its beautifully simple version for years. “It’s been our calling card,” co-owner Bobby Mercado says. “We really introduced the authentic one here, because everybody else was using Anaheim peppers. But the Poblano is the true chile relleno.” In his kitchen, they roast the pepper to mellow its acid and heat and bring out its earthy, smoky nature, stuff it with Monterey Jack cheese and lightly fry its savory egg batter coating. Most restaurants make it too crispy or too soggy; this one is right on the money.
Because Mercado and his family are steadfast—and maybe because Las Vegas demands it—this relleno has returned. Viva Mercado’s reopened at Village Square in November after Mercado, who had relocated to Minnesota after going broke trying to keep his former location alive on Rainbow Boulevard, struck a deal with the owners of the fledgling Chinita restaurant operating there. It seems like the right fit for both Village Square, which has been adding popular restaurants to its movie theater-anchored center in recent years, and Viva Mercado’s, which maintains a strong local following. (It had 17 solid years in its original location at Flamingo Road and Jones Boulevard before moving to Rainbow in 2007.)
Mercado said it seems like an old customer finds the new location every day, a reassuring sign that maybe the economic factors that drowned his business are brightening up. There are still not many family-friendly, full-service Mexican restaurants in this area, and even fewer with a menu as big as Viva Mercado’s. All the staples are here, from enchilada-style burritos to Enseñada-style fish tacos, but there are plenty of signature items created by Mercado or his chef of 28 years, Jose Rodriguez. Chicken mulitas ($14.95), soft corn tortillas layered with beans, cheese, meat, cabbage, guacamole and sour cream, are another simple joy. The seafood taco salad ($10.95) incorporates a ceviche of shrimp, crab and tilapia, and the sharp flavors saturating the chicharrones ($14.95) come from salsa costeña, laced with garlic, tomatillos and amarillo peppers, a bright contrast to the rich chunks of crisp pork.
If you like sticking to combination plates in this type of Mexican restaurant, Viva Mercado’s is a terrific place. Great tacos, great enchiladas … just make sure to tack on a relleno.
Viva Mercado’s 9440 W. Sahara Ave. #165, 454-8482. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.