If you didn’t notice the unceremonious shuttering of Mercadito at Red Rock Resort, that’s because its replacement sneaked in like a ninja. Libre, a modern Mexican cantina, made a quiet debut in February, and much like its neighboring sister restaurants (Hearthstone, Salute), it’s a stylish destination for unfussy fare.
The changes are mostly subtle, like spray-painted depictions of luchadores (Mexican wrestlers) replacing graffiti murals of hibiscus flowers. Be forewarned that you have to cough up five bucks for a trio of salsas, which is fine, since mindless chip dipping would only rob your stomach of room for starting dishes like posole ($9). The deep red broth has a simmered-for-eons pork flavor, and nuggets of hominy land in every spoonful for a pleasant chewiness.
Tacos include standard stuffings like carne asada and al pastor, but we opted for an appetizer version ($13) made with king crab ceviche. Unfortunately ours tasted of imitation crab, and upon inquiry, a server confirmed the cheap building block of California rolls is mixed with the king crab as filler. Chicken tamales ($17), initially promising in their precious corn-husk packaging, were also a disappointment. The minute they were unwrapped, the wet masa dough fell apart in messy chunks.
That said, one must give Libre credit for a menu that is certainly au courant. For instance, an entire section is dedicated to trendy brown rice bowls: There’s a carne asada version for the part-time paleo, mahi-mahi ($17) for pescatarians, and (ay Dios mio!) chili-glazed tofu for the cruelty-free set. There are also plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, including a creative coconut ceviche ($12) with crispy plantain chips. Nachos, burritos, fajitas ($24 for chicken, fish, shrimp or carne asada) and heartier entrées like chile rellenos ($18) and shrimp Veracruz ($26) round out the offerings.
Much like its predecessor, Libre works best as a spot for sips and small bites. The tequila selection (there are over 60 to choose from) will make your head spin, and the entire cocktail menu cries to be taste-tasted at an outdoor table on a warm summer night. I’m partial to the Heated Moment ($12), made with reposado tequila, passion fruit and Fresno chili pepper, but any drink will pair just fine with the restaurant’s predictable but solid happy-hour menu.
Will the food remind you of your abuelita’s cooking? Not exactly, but hey—what do you expect? We’re in Summerlin, not Sonora. If you want that certain kind of taco fix, stick to Broadacres Marketplace or Tacos el Gordo. But for Mercadito’s mourners, Libre is a solid addition to Red Rock’s dining scene.
Libre Red Rock Resort, 702-797-7609. Sunday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 4 p.m.-midnight.