Northgate comes to San Diego
I've studied Mexican cooking with the best of them. Diana Kennedy, Rick Bayless, Roberto Santibanez, Marilyn Tausend, Susana Tilling and more. But I've always found it hard to cook good Mexican food in California. Partly because - as Diana Kennedy said - Mexican food is "laborious" to prepare. It takes time and care to prepare it well. And partly because it was always difficult to find just the right ingredients here in California, no matter how close to the border we were. I have no excuses now.
Northgate grocery stores opened their first San Diego store earlier this month on 43rd St., just off the 805 in National City. http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontr... In fact, the 43rd St. exit off the 805 leads right into the Northgate parking lot, making it impossibly easy to find.
Here is just a partial list of Mexican produce that I found at Northgate today. Fresh banana leaves, verdugas, white camotes, chayote Peruero (white chayotes), red and green tunas, bola squash (round calabacitas), chayote con espinas (with spines), fresh yucca, tomatillos milpero (exquisite, tiny tomatillos), mamey, xoconoxtle, mamosilla, and sweet limes. In addition to almost every known dried chile, the following fresh chiles were among the vast selection offered today - chilaca, guerito, red fresnos, peron (manzana)and chile amarillo. There were, of course, mounds upon mounds of serranos, jalapenos, pasillas and habaneros.
There is a fresh cheese counter selling the usual Mexican cheeses along with grab and go fruit con crema. The entire back wall is devoted to meats and seafood. Need beef lips? They've got 'em. Want tripa? It's there in 4 or 5 different cuts and grades. Latin meat cuts prevail and include preseasoned and breaded offerings as well as the unadorned varieties. You can also get crema, salted and unsalted in bulk from the meat counter.
Dying to try sopa de siete mares (don't laugh, hot soup on a hot day is NOT an oxymoron). They've got the seafood already cleaned, cut and combined, all you need to do is make the soup base. Shrimps come with or without heads and feet, and are a steal at less than $5 a pound. Fresh and cooked octopus, catfish whole and fileted, also looked good today.
The grocery aisles also yielded some interesting finds. Canned guayabas for one and a guanabana drink. And if you're interested in making ponche at Christmas they've got the tejocotes in a jar. I daw the line, though, at the nances (preserved in a jar here), an acquired tast if ever there was one. An entire aisle was devoted to canned chiles, but there were comparatively few varieties of bottled table sauce; Valentina, El Tapatio, El Yucateco and Bufalo being the most notable, and each offered in 2 or 3 variations.
The entire South side of the store is given over to the food court, which I left for a future trip since I made the mistake of eating first before going shopping. Pizza fresh out of the wood burning pizza oven was sandwiched in between a taqueria doing a land office business and a deli offering everything from ceviche and pickled tripe to guacamole and potato salad. And I'm pretty sure I spied some fish eyes peaking over the edge of a pan of the steamtable selections. Plenty of seating was provided and was being well used by families having a quick snack while shopping. I don't know yet if the food is chow-worthy, but I definitely think it's worth investigating. The salads and fruit combinations looked especially appealing; or maybe it was just because it's so danged hot today.
Both the tortillaria and panderia were going full blast and turning out massive quatities of tortillas, bolillos (regular and intergal), cookies, and other goodies.
Prices were all reasonable with some of the specials being very good. Quart containers of Powerade were only $.69, great for keeping hydrated on a day like today!! Fabuloso (the wonder cleaner of Mexico) for less than $1. Meat prices were low but not dirt cheap, nor were the produce prices, but they are certainly more than competitive with mainstream grocery stores. Quality of both meat and vegetables was quite good, and in some cases better than the local mainstream groceries such as Von's and Albertsons.
Northgate is to latin food what Ranch 99 is to Asian food, or at least it's that way in SD. As our govenator says "I'll be back". I think I'll also be cooking a lot of Mexican food <gg>
Oh, I love IGAs....most of them have turned into veritable gourmet shops- look at Major Market in Escondido- they sell kobe and Prime beef-and also most of the ones in the rest of the county have small taco shops, tortillarias and panderias and delis in them, selling fresh made stuff at great prices (the little chain of IGAs called "Food Land" in El Cajon, on Federal Blvd in SD and one in NC all sell Danish Blue cheese for $4.99/lb, along with fresh cotija and cremas by the lb). I absolutely adore IGAs, they are the best kept secret around...I have mentioned that in other posts.
The Mexican yogurt was a good price...the one flavor that got to me was prune with pecans...in one way it sounded good and in another way...hmmm...although the cream top yogurts either by Brown Cow or Trader Joes brand will always be a first choice...
The prices were wonderful on the kitchenware also...the stovetop tortilla pan/griddle with small handle for hanging away at $5 was a steal, as were the rolling pins, mortars, tortilla presses and such.
Everything was very fresh and the samples abounded. I will go back, probably during the week, when it might not be as crowded. (Just like 99Ranch is not as crowded on Mondays and Tuesdays). Sorry to sound dismisive; I *loved* this place and think you did a far better description of it than I could have.
Hey, I just got back from there, first time too. I think you said it all.
The food court is *very* nice...selling all tacos for $1.50 and everything else for $2.99 it seemed. The cafeteria style plates were a nice value,($3.99-$5.99) as was everything by the pound and the 8 different "Meal Deals" (2 lbs of carnitas, rice, beans, 3 doz tortillas, cilantro/onions and salsa for $16).
The panderia had choclate flan...I have never even thought of those two flavors together, but considered it for a moment...
Oh yes, I will be back soon also. I had to go elsewhere and absolutely did not want to leave anything inside my car....
The things in the aisles were the generic IGA stuff- Springfield Farms brand, but there were a *lot* of Mexican products thrown in (Nestle brand sweetened condensed milk in a 16 oz squeeze bottle, many carmel sauces made of goats milk, aquas frescas mixes in small envelopes 3 for $1 or a large package fo $2.50..). Oh, I'll go back too.
It was so hot outside in the parking lot, I could feel heat rising through my shoes...but it was nice and cool inside there...
I'm probably much less disposed to dismissing everything in the aisles as "generic IGA stuff - Springfield". The bulk of the packaged goods *are* readily identifiable brand names, although some of them are likely to more redaily identifiable SOB. I saw plenty of Kraft, Kellogg, Frito-Lay, and General Foods products, along with Goya, Gamesa, Jumex and Herdez products that are found at any grocery SOB.
There were far more brand names in the paper, cleaning and soap aisles than generic product. When the dishsoap bottle at work in the lunch room hits empty, NO ONE ever thinks it's their responsibility to replace it. I got 2 large bottles of Palmolive dish washing liquid for $5. That will last us at least 6 months or longer at work.
Mexican yogurt is amazing stuff, closer to a European yogurt than an American one. I picked up some LaLa coconut yogurt that I had with fresh blueberries for breakfast this morning. Refreshing and YUM! LaLa is distributed by Foremost dairy, a very old CA company.
It's really all a matter of perspective. If IGA is the distributor, so be it. The food and other goods have to get delivered some way in order to end up on the shelf ;-)