El Mercadito de Memphis is destination for food, shopping, services and more

From the outside, El Mercadito de Memphis is a nondescript building at the corner of a mostly vacant strip mall in Hickory Hill.

Inside, it's a bustling, bazaar-style market packed with more than 25 independently-owned shops and stalls. In a single building, a customer can stop by the pharmacy, file their taxes, get a haircut or new cell phone service, ship a package and buy clothes, art and even tires. 

All of the market's vendors are Hispanic and some offerings are specific to Mexican and Latin American cultures, like quinceañera dresses, but the market welcomes and attracts a diverse clientele. 

For many Hickory Hill residents, El Mercadito de Memphis' biggest draw is its restaurant, El Mercadito.

Billed as '110% Mexican,' the restaurant is owned by Juan Antonio Hernandez and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

"This is my favorite Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood," said Hickory Hill resident Alvin Smith. "It hits the spot every time.”

“We have real Mexican food,” said Hernandez. “People really like the tacos, fajitas, taco salad, enchiladas and other food.”

El Mercadito de Memphis also offers one of the wildest playground in town. The jungle-themed Lion's Playground sits adjacent to the restaurant and its ice cream parlor.

“We come here sometimes to hang out. It's like a mix of Chuck E. Cheese and McDonald's,” said Smith. “Sometimes me and my wife sit and eat while the kids play on the playground, and sometimes I'll play the video games with them. We always have a good time, and it's one of my favorite hangouts in Hickory Hill when we get the time.”

A child plays on the playground inside El Mercadito de Memphis. The market's restaurant and playground are managed by Juan Antonio Hernandez. (El Mercadito)

Hernandez manages El Mercadito de Memphis, in addition to directly owning and operating the restaurant, ice cream parlor, playground, video arcade and party hall.

The party hall is available for rent with a range of event services and party packages and can host up to 2,000 guests. 

Hernandez opened the restaurant in February 2005 inside the then-vacant building. He knew before opening that he wanted more than a restaurant. He wanted to provide a fun attraction with a family-friend atmosphere for Hickory Hill and the surrounding communities. 

With support from his family, he decided to expand his business to include the hall, arcade and playground. He leases the building and coordinates the other vendors who share the space.

The market also hosts holiday celebrations for Mexican Independence Day, Christmas and more. Parties and celebrations take place in the playground area or the elaborate party hall.

“This is a family business ... my wife, my son and me," said Hernandez. "I have a playground for the kids. I have video games. I have many attractions for the people coming here to stay and have a good time."

The El Mercadito de Memphis is located at 3766 Ridgeway Road. It's open 6 a.m to 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It's closed on Tuesdays.

Read more articles by A. J. Dugger III.

A.J. Dugger III is an award-winning journalist and native Memphian who joined High Ground as lead writer for its signature series, On the Ground, in August 2019. Previously, he wrote for numerous publications in West Tennessee and authored two books, “Southern Terror” and “The Dealers: Then and Now.” He has also appeared as a guest expert on the true-crime series, “For My Man.” For more information, visit ajdugger.net. (Photo by April Stilwell)
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