Above: Fresh finds at La Tienda Mexicana, clockwise from the beer: guacamole, fresh tortillas, Mexican rice, salsa chica, birria de res, Goya brand hot taquera salsa.
By Wini Moranville
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican military’s victory over the French army in 1862; the David vs. Goliath battle remains a meaningful date for those of Mexican heritage and a way for the rest of us to honor Mexican history and culture. While you can celebrate Cinco de Mayo at scads of restaurants in town, if you swing by La Tienda Mexicana, you can bring it all home, without even cooking.
This Mexican grocery store carries plenty of Mexican produce and staples, but for me, the real fun begins with their prepared foods. Grab a stack of freshly made warm tortillas ($1 for about a dozen), and head to the deli counter for something to fill them with. My choices here include the moist, tender, roasted and pulled pork or the birria de res – beef stewed in seasonings anchored by the dried, deep-red guajillo chile. If you go the latter route, refrigerate the meat a while to make it easy to skim off the fat (the fat gives the meat richness during cooking, but makes it a bit oily – for my tastes, anyway – at the table). Then, simply reheat and serve.
Once you’ve selected the prepared meat, turn around and check out the case of fresh house-made condiments. Favorites here include the buttery and unmistakably lime-sparked guacamole and a fruity green salsa.
In fact, I’ve been so stuck on those last two condiments that I never ventured to try others – until recently, when I went to La Tienda with a pal who goes there about twice a week. He introduced me to the salsa chica – a bravely hot, subtly smoky, bright red salsa. It’s based not on tomatoes, but rather on fresh roasted peppers, both sweet and hot. I’ve never had anything quite like it. Another new-to-me find was the Mexican rice, with its moist, stand-apart grains and little bits of veggies scattered throughout.
An aisle or two over, you’ll find Goya Hot Salsa, a deep and spicy condiment made with chipotle peppers. It’s possibly my favorite of the bottled salsas available around here, and it’s always in my fridge.
La Tienda Mexicana is at 1524 E. Grand Ave.; 515-264-8614.