In doing some research on Santiago's Mercado Central, I noticed little in the way of information about specific restaurants aside from the touristy places that are located in the middle. Having read some advice to check out some of the smaller places in the secondary ring of interior stores, we happened upon this place.
By way of location description, I think the Mercado Central can be described as having three rings. The interior ring in the very center has restaurants and a few little artesania stands. This ring one is the open center of the market, and the places here clearly cater to tourists, almost exclusively. Nice tables, all serving similar menus of seafood. The outer ring includes places that really front on the outside of the building. The secondary ring, where you will find Tio Lucho, is where all the fishmongers are located, as well as smaller restaurants such as this one.
On to describing this place. It is a small storefront, with a handful of little tables on the first floor and more seating on the second, though I did not go up there to see it myself. The owner of the restaurant was very welcoming to us. It is Spanish only (though there is an English written menu), but if you are able to even just get by in terms of language skills (like me) you will do fine. He is very helpful in explaining the various dishes. This, like all the other places in the secondary ring of restaurants is not fancy, but they serve good food. It would not surprise me if this place is very typical. I have not tried others yet, though might since I'll be here for a while, so I cannot make explicit comparisons. But to me, the best part about this place was the kindness and high level of service of the owner.
Both my wife and I had fish. I had sea bass, corvina, grilled. She had merlusa, or hake, lightly fried. Both were delicious, served with rice and salad (french fries also an option as a side). Half bottle of wine to complete the meal, all for about 12,000 pesos. Nice portions, and very fresh fish.
I also saw what looked to be a wonderful seafood stew, chupe. Full of great seafood. There was a magnificent crab that went out of the kitchen that I got a good look at that appeared to be wonderful. It's pretty clear the fish is very fresh here because they were literally cutting up the fish at the fish monger across the hall and carrying it over as each order was made. I read somewhere that some of these places are no good because they use what's leftover from yesterday. Not true in this case.
The clientele was a mix of locals, Latin American tourists, and us from the U.S. After the meal, we decided to buy some fish at the fish market just across the hall (where our fish for the meal came from). Bought a whole, small corvina for about six dollars. The owner of Tio Lucho even helped us with this purchase, which was nice since it was our first time buying at that market. He explained a bit about how it works and also described some of the more exotic seafood that was on offer.
Great place. Highly recommended. I've scored the place a five. If I were rating for the NY Times or something, it would be 2.5 stars, because it's so simple, but it is good. It's a 5 for a hole in the wall. But don't expect a fancy experience or anything. I guess you would have to have your head in the sand to have that expectation if you do any research on Mercado Central. Oh, and by the way, felt completely safe. Some have mentioned increased petty theft in this area. We had no problems, FWIW.
As with all places in the market closes late afternoon, so lunch only.