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Sep 14, 2006 06:06 AM

Vallejo - La Tapatia Market & Deli - $1.25 carnitas taco with 2 salsas, pickled carrots, hot chips & all-u-can-eat guacamole

It was delicious. Right now this is my favorite Mexican market in the Bay Area.

A little restaurant is next to the meat counter in the back. Thare are tasty and artfully wrapped tamales ... 5 varieties ... including a killer pineapple tamale that beats anything I’ve tried in Mexico City.

While the carnitas is not crispy, but more of the roast type, it is straight from the butcher counter, tender and deeply flavorful pork, piled high on two small grilled tortillas with a pleasing lard taste and mixed with generous and stellar-fresh chopped onions and cilantro.

Place an order at the counter and then go to one of the twelve tables with attractive green table cloths protected by glass. A generous basket of thin, house-made chips is brought to the table. If lucky, they are fresh from the fryer, hinting of lard. Otherwise, they come from the glass case with a heat lamp.

There is a condiment table with red and green salsa, a container of pickled jalepenos, carrots and onions and a big vat of delicous, fresh guacamole ... help yourself to as much as you like. The salsas were fresh, but mild and not especially memorable. The carrot mixture good but a little too vinegary. A fresh half lime is on the side.

Did I mention this was $!.25 ... for all of the above !!!

This goes into the all-time $1.25 taco hall of fame.

The horchata ($1.25) was perfectly balanced, not too thin or thick with the right about of cinnamon and sugar.

There are all the standards. They have 4 soups daily, seafood, chicken, beef stew and chicken tlapia. On the weekend there is menudo, pozole (I think) and beef birria. Tortas are available including an ahogada (sauced) version. There’s a seafood section with fried fish and seafood cocktails. One guy had a plate with a big pickled pig’s foot. There are three bottled hot sauces, bottles of A1 steak sauce (?) and Del Monte catsup. Next time I’ll give it a try to add to a recent catsup tasting.

Mexican country music plays in the background. One of the songs, translated from English to Spanish was Jambalaya ... me oh my oh Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou ... but in Spanish.

Next to the register where the overflowing trays of chicharrons and other hot meats are kept, there were bags of tamales. There are 5 kinds, the three I bought, pork and a 4th I can’t recall.

Craft and care went into these tamales. I have never seen more beautiful corn husks and they were artisticly tied.

Tamales purchased ($1.25):

Pineapple: Moist with deep, fresh pineapple flavor and plump raisins. This was the real winner. Highly recommended.

Cheese: It might be requeso cheese with a long piece of fresh green chile.Excellent too, it was mainly filling with just enough masa to hold it together.

Chicken: Generous filling in a red sauce but it didn’t taste like much. Skip. Beautifully wrapped though.

To the right of the deli is a little cheese counter with a decent selection of cheese including two types of Salvadoran cheese ... with or without lorroco.

The meat counter had plastic pints of cajeta, a caramel sauce that looked so delicious.

There were two types of carne seca (Mexican beef jerky) ... lime and chile. The chile wasn’t available on any visits.

The lime was disapointing. There was not enough lime or beef flavor and the meat was too shard-like. There is far superior carne seca at the markets in San Pablo. It is still much better than the chemical-laden over-salty commercial brands of beef jerky in the US, but I’ve had greatness elsewhere. That’s not to say if the chile ever is available, it will be ignored. No one makes chile carne seca in this area.

Nice little fish counter, GREAT meat counter. They make their own fresh chorizo. The dry chorizo and the liquica is made elsewhere.

House-made fresh chorizo: The medium grind, brick red chorizo links were the most fiery of all the chorizos sampled to date. These were chile seeds with attitude and they spilled out of the frying sausage into the golden colored oil with dabs of red ... the heat was not coming from red powdered chile. It was not overly oily, but juicy, porky ... and HOT!

Langoniza: This came in a long coil and was even hotter than the chorizo, but that’s all it had was heat and was not too interesting.

Dry chorizo: Mushy links that are a fine grind with absolutely no character ... no spice, no nothing. They tasted like Jimmy Dean sausages. The only spice seemed to be salt.

Stay with the house-made fresh chorizo

Next to the chorizo was an interesting liverwurst-like roll in a casing. I asked what it was and didn’t understand what was said.

“So how do you eat it”

“Fried with tomatoes and onions”

Sounded good. Looked good. I asked the name again. The nice butcher finally wrote it down ... thankfully in English ... pork blood ... I don’t have a poker (or is that porker) face. What a gringo ...

“Uh, ok, well, I’m not going right home ... maybe next time”.

We both knew there would be no next time for this product.

There is a really nice grocery and produce section that has lots of variety. They have, it seems, almost every spicy potato chip and snack available. That’s where I bought a bag of Lays Jalapeño Kettle Chips.

I actually found a new brand of canned sardine, Forrelli, no longer easy since I’m at about can 52 of my sardine sampling. They also have something I haven’t seen at other Mexican markets, bulk dried chile powder. Some of the varieties like Santa Fe are not common.

The little case of baked goods up front has nice looking pan dulce and an excellent selection of pretty Mexican candy ... the big fresh slabs of caramel and cranberry-colored guabaya and tamarindo that are nice to eat with a glass of milk (so I’m told) ... fresh-looking red, green & white candy, the color of the Mexican flag, sugared fruit, and pretty little dime-sized decorated candies I’ve never seen before. They are in little packages of 12 and have the word leche on the label. They were pretty like teeny petit-fours, but I'm guessing the consistancy of fudge.

This is a popular market, for good reason. It is in a section of Broadway which I’m beginning to consider Vallejo’s Gourmet Ghetto (no really ... emphasis on ‘gourmet’).

A block up is a seafood shop with an amazing selection of Louisiana items where they will fry any of the fresh fish to order.

Almost across the street is one of the best panadrias in the Bay Area that makes it’s own excellent paletas, Mexican ice cream and fantastic aqua frescas ... major tip ... fresh coconut paleta, dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts ... almond joy on a stick.

One recent brief chowhound mention of La Tapatia

The staff in every department, from the registers in the front to the restaurant in the back corner, has been very helpful and cheerful in a good way. I loved the woman at the restaurant. When I asked what meat was best she didn’t hesitate and said carnitas (right on that). Asked about the tamales, her favorite was the chicken (while I didn’t like it as much as the pineapple or cheese, I asked which of the three meat tamales was best, could be). She didn’t give one of those annoying ‘everything is good’ answers.

However, at La Tapatia it is almost all good.

La Tapatia Market & Deli
601 Broadway Ave
Vallejo, CA 94590
(707) 551-4890

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  1. i'm so drooling right now... even after being stuffed with naan and paneer tikki masala at dinner. was the guacamole the smooth blended kind or the chunky fresh style?

    the pineapple tamale sounds so good and different. i've actually never seen that on any menu. usually just meat or cheese. is it more a sweet or savory item?

    great write up. i'm so there next weekend. =)

    4 Replies
    1. re: lawrence

      The quacamole is the chunky kind with little pieces of tomato. They walk the boxes of avocados and other veggies over from the produce section.

      I wasn't greedy and didn't take too much because ... $1.25 with taco & chips ... I want these people in business and not losing money on me. I was thinking about buying a pint to take home.

      Sweet tamales are a little different than regular tamales. It is not a filling but the masa is fruit-flavored ... with real fruit.

      Most I've had didn't have a strong fruit flavor. Tacubaya in Berkeley makes a sweet tamale with raisins which is fine, but not great.

      This isn't a fancy market, we are talking Mission decor ... but it is a step up with touches like real cloth tablecloths.

      You must ... must ... go to the panaderia across the street and get a paleta, especially the coconut or pineapple.

      That strawberry aqua fresca is a winner too.

      I'm not a fan of pan dulce, but these are good ... really, really good. I had a small piece of this one small roll that was shaped like a crown, sprinkled with sugar and was soft and yeasty and aromatic with cinnamon. I'd rather eat this bit of light wonderfullness than a La Farine morning bun ... it is a different bun altogether ... but elegant and not heavy.

      1. re: rworange

        perfect. i'm more a fan of chunky guac. must be amazingly fresh. the paleta sounds enticing too so i'll definitely make a stop there along the way. almond joys are my favorite candy bar. ;)

        my parents used to own an italian bakery that also baked mexican sweetbreads, pan dulce. parents are asian. don't ask how that all came together. anyway, i've always been curious about more genuine pan dulce, but the versions i see in hispanic supermarkets just don't look appetizing.

        by the way rworange, have you had a chance to get into daly city for fil-am's filipino bbq off mission blvd? i think you'll love it.

        1. re: lawrence

          No, I haven't but if I am anywhere in the area of fil-am it is a definate stop.

          Odd you mention Italian. I was thinking some of the cookies tasted more Italian than Mexican.

          Most pan dulce is miserable, tasteless and stale. I didn't even like it all that much when I worked in Mexico City. They have a larger variety, but it never did much for me.

          There's only two places I've found so far that are better than average, Five Star bakery in San Jose on Alum Rock and Casa Latina on San Pablo in Berkely.

      2. re: lawrence

        Pineapple tamales are very common. In Mexico, most Tamale Shops will sell about 75% Savory varieties & 25% Sweet varieties. In California, I have only seen Raisin-Pink Candy & Pineapple-Raisin. I don't dig the Pink Candy ones & can barely eat raisins these days (I had too many in my college days). My favorites in Mexico (with some of these people... if you request something & tell them it would sell great... they might be willing to do it):

        > Fried Plaintain with Sweet Cream
        > Strawberry
        > Guayaba
        > Zapote

        Also there are sweet bean tamales... where the corn masa is replaced by sweetened black beans (not to be confused with the Michoacan highlands tradition of making savory tamales with beans instead of corn masa).

      3. Here's an old post that recommends the chile relleno there.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Thanks so much. My search only came up with that one result.

          Given that the salsas haven't improved over the years, thanks for the warning about the menudo. I was seriously considering it because I really liked the other items I bought.

          Those chile rellenos do sound good ... on the list of things to try ... and more paletas ... dipped in chocolate.

        2. Wow rw - I didn't notice that little area the last time I visited there (that was some time ago, though.) Maybe that's just a recent addition - regardless, I'm definitely going to check that out.

          1. The pineapple tamale held up well the next day reheated in the microwave. I'm looking forward to finishing it up for breakfast tommorrow. Not a huge tamale, but trying to avoid the big calorie & lard hit, so only eating little bites.

            The chile cheese actually tasted better then next day since by time I got home, the cheese had cooled. Reheated it was nice and melty.

            I remembered the fifth tamale variety type ... corn.

            Also, Laurence, I was thinking about where you are located. This is, after all a $1.25 taco ... so great if you are in the area, but given gas prices and a $3 bridge toll, not trip worthy ... now the paletas .. they are trip worthy.

            If you search the board or ask, I remember Ruth mentioned some place on International Blvd that sold pineapple tamales which I think she liked. So if the fruit tamales are the draw, there might be a closer place. That being said, these are really good tamales ... except for the chicken which is, eh.

            1 Reply
            1. re: rworange

              good point there. but seeing as i used to drive for 2 hrs in 405 traffic down to orange county for $2 banh mi, i might just take that vallejo trip. =)

              i think you should just devour that tamale and call it a happy night.

            2. hey rworange - i went to a "la tapatia mexicatessen" in south san francisco last week to pick up mini corn tortillas for my party. could this be related to the one in vallejo?

              i got there right as they were about to close so i didn't have time to really check things out, but they had a meat counter and a grill at the back where i ended up getting a super burrito al pastor. good tasting, but just too mushy in texture with all the beans, cheese, sour cream, etc.

              1 Reply
              1. re: lawrence

                Not sure, but I'll ask next time. So many of these places have the same names and are not related. On 23rd there are now three La Raza Markets, none of them related. It seems though that some of these places use a number if more than one ... La Loma #11 (though I can only locate #5 so far), Calvadores #2, etc. Glad you got your mini tortillas.