Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Jun 21, 2007 05:12 PM

San Pablo: Food Barn - grocery, panaderia, carneceria ... 80 tortas 80 … with a sami-sosa torta

The sami-sosa has milenesa pierna & salchinica … fried breaded ham and hot dog … funny ... always thought Sosa was a bit of a ham and I always get a hot dog at ballgames ... an inspired theme torta, IMO.

I smiled and chuckled to myself at some of the 80 types of tortas. They are written on white paper plates neatly taped to the wall. A few others that caught my attention:

- Tacubaya: pork chop … a pork chop torta, ya hear … how good is that?
- Zona Rosa: Chuleta ahumanda, salchinica, y quesillo
- Ronaldo: milanesa y pina
- Lambada: sorry, forgot ... just thought this was a funny name. Does the taste dance?
- Tres Quesos: queso blanco, chihuaha y Amarillo
- Tuna Azada

The man making the sandwiches was wonderful. Didn’t speak a word of English but shared my amusement. I told him I just ate lunch but would return. He pulled out some of the food to show me what he had.

I have never in my life seen a larger torta roll … it was almost round and the size of those white paper plates. There is one of the largest sandwich presses I have ever seen in my life … you could press a pair of pants in it.

In addition to this dizzying array of sandwiches there are licuados, juices and aqua frescas. It wasn’t available today, but there was a pepino aqua fresca on the list. My new friend pulled out fresh celery, beets and carrots to show me the ingredients for a drink called a vampira … and then pantomimed a vampire sucking his neck.

There were signs for ricos bionicos and ricos Eskimos… the latter I’m guessing is a frozen Eskimo pie. There are tamales. I suspect that there is soup because that’s what the torta guy was having for lunch … I was just too dazzled by the sandwich selection to note what else might be available. There are a few salmon tortas including grilled.

Next to the torta counter is the fish counter with a decent enough selection of fish. You could also buy fresh octopus … baby and regular. There is a large meat counter with two on-site butchers. There were house-made plastic containers of mole poblano. Carne seca (beef jerky) was available for $15.99 lb.

Nice cheese case too. All the standards including queso seco verdevalle. I haven’t seen that before. They had all the Central American cremas and a queso duro.

Next to the in-house panaderia there is rotisserie chicken case. They make their own tortillas that were still hot in the bag – 60 for $1.89. You could also buy fresh masa from the panaderia.

The pan dulce looked pretty standard except for one thing … the one thing I bought … sesame bread.

This was a white cake / bread that was similar in texture to squares of corn bread. It was crumbly and moist with a touch of sweetness and salt. The toasted sesames scattered on top gave it a nice flavor … 45 cents for a large square.

There was a nice little produce section up front. They had milpero tomatillos … little tiny marble-sized tomatillos. There was a $1 discount corner which really was a discount with large packages of peppers, zucchini, and other produce that really didn’t look past their prime to me.

One long aisle was packaged dry peppers and spices. Didn’t see much different except for the dried chile puya. There was a big barrel of dried hibiscus. The grocery section was mainly Mexican brands … Baja Pacifica sea salt, Sarita vegetable oil (Mexican Crisco, so to speak.) There was a huge selection of powdered Mexican gelatins … two brands … D’Gari and El Mexicano. Such flavors as walnut, sherry, rompope, chocolate and pistachio gelatin were available in addition to the more mundane, orange, strawberry and lemon.

The refrigerated case with eggs and cold cuts didn’t look exciting. Neither did the beer / liquor selection. They were big on Don Julio tequila and even had fancy single-shot bottles for $6.99.

Up front is a jewelry counter and clothing section. Money orders can be sent. Utility bills can be paid.

This place looked like such a dump outside that even with my liberal policy to dives, I’ve avoided Food Barn. It is next to an auto parts lot and recycling center where shopping carts of glass and bottles are wheeled for a few extra dollars. This is a tough section of San Pablo that makes the International Plaza look upscale.

An El Grullenses Taco Truck is permanently stationed in the lot and it took a bit for me to work up the courage to give this a try (only ok). A block away a second El Grullenses truck that works the auto parts lot.

Who would have guessed Food Barn had anything good? I might just stop at the 1/4 Giant Burger joint across the street and finally check them out. Who knows what other gems I’ve been passing by for the past couple of years.

Has anyone tried the tortas at Food Barn? What did you like?

I’ll try to get over there this weekend and actually try one. They have one called the DF … can’t say that’s not a real District Federal torta, eh? Even in Mexico I never saw such a large torta menu.

Food Barn (aka Food Mart)
1835 Rumrill Boulevard
San Pablo 94806
8:00 am - 8:00 pm 7 days

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. That sesame bread sounds like the Salvadorean quesadilla. You'll see the bread at a lot of Latin markets wrapped in plastic. It's usually made with parmesan.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Mari

      Is it thick. This was like a piece of Marie Calanders corn bread, about an inch and a half high. It was baked at the panaderia so there was a large tray of it cut into squares.

      1. re: rworange

        I think they can be, but they are usually a little bit flatter than a square of corn bread. The sesame seeds on top are what make me think it was a quesadilla, and they are usually a little sweet.

        1. re: Mari

          Given everything described here... I could bet a $20 that there as a Pueblan immigrant from D.F. designing up the menu (the D.F. sense of humor is unmistakable). Interestingly, Melanie found a place dishing up Taco de Cochinada (Crap Taco), which I identified as a rare sighting of D.F.'s Naco Cuisine.... we definitely have another Naco cuisine sighting here.... this makes me very happy. One of my favorite Naco Tortas as a kid was from a small liquor store in a Naucalpan neighborhood.... nothing but pickled Jalapenos and a cup of crema :)

    2. For the person who asked via email ... the tortillas are totally vegan.

      On Sunday the bakery also sells fresh-fried tortilla chips which I would guess are not vegan.

      Without exaggerating, this panaderia makes the best pink turtle 35 cent pan dulce I have ever had.

      The soft, yeasty roll, still hot from the oven was lightly sprinkled with granulated sugar and laced with cinnamon. So good. so darn cute ... little pink bread shell with a brown head poking out. They also used the pink theme to make rolls shaped like pink ice cream cones.

      Have to spit. Went for one of the tortas and left my wallet at home. Next time. Didn't seem to be any specials at the torta guy. He had his wife, I assume, with him today. They are really a charming older couple.

      There was even cheese sampling. Across from the cheese counter there are packaged Central American cheese and cremas. There is one semi-soft cheese ... about the size of mozzarella balls but more elongated ... that comes plain, with chili and with lorocco. The chili was great. Not much lorocco taste but it had pretty green flecks. Plain was ok, but I'd probably buy the chilie.

      The Honduran crema was the best to me with a richness and tang. I liked the Salvadoran crema next which was thick and rich. The Guatamalan crema was very thin and not very flavorful, but I think it would be good on fish tacos.

      That $1 veggie discount corner remains one of the best deals for marked down veggies. The selection again was very good, the veggies looked fresh and the packages were large.

      2 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        Thank you. Fresh vegan tortillas will work great with my my net recipe Mole Pozole.

        1. re: wolfe

          Yeah, if you try them before me let me know. I want to get there early in the morning some time when they are just made. They have this whole long metal table that looks like a joint that made toritllas in Vista (nearish San Diego).

          I was going to grab a package of lard and point to the tortillas and ask, but lucked out. Some kid was cleaning up the tortilla area and he spoke both English and Spanish and asked the woman who made the tortillas.

          Her eyes just lit up with pride and she when on and on about how good they were just corn and I forget, but how there is no fat and on and on.

      2. another great report .... thanks!

        1 Reply
        1. Eskimos are simply Ice Cream Milkshakes. Eskimo is the popular brand of milkshake equipment (my parents owned a Liquados / Fruteria shop in Mexico City's Centro Historico during the 70's).

          1. I tried a "Plaza Mexico" torta Saturday. It's true that the roll is enormous, but the filling was substandard. This torta featured paper-thin pollo milanesa and a cold under-cooked hot dog. The best part was the chipotle pepper.
            There is no place to sit except in your car in the broken glass-filled parking lot.
            The torta plus a blender vampiro drink cost $11.25. Not a good value IMHO.

            For my money, the best torta in San Pablo is at Los Picudos on San Pablo at Church Lane. Their tortas are not enormous but are well-toasted with fresh and tasty fillings.

            4 Replies
            1. re: osc3

              Thanks for taking the bullet. There are times I ignore the signs from the food gods ... hitting the place right after lunch the first time and forgetting my wallet yesterday.

              Some of the meats were in a steam table and I was planning to go for the milenesa which I figured would be made to order or the grilled fish or the three cheese. I had been thinking the Ronaldo with milenesa and pineapple. Will skip the milenesa versions.

              Do they use that sandwich press to make the sandwich?

              I like Los Picudos a lot. It is my second favorite in the area with Los Guerenitas on 23rd near-ish grocery outlet as my favorite.

              How did the vampiro compare to the one made at Los Picudos?

              Thanks for coming up with the name of the joint.

              1. re: rworange

                Yes, they did use the sandwich press. Their vampiro was not as good as the one at Los Picudos. One down, seventy-nine to go!

                1. re: osc3

                  I'll take the bullet on the next one :-)

                  I'm still curious about them and want to give the Eskimo a shot. Kind of narrows it down to the three cheese or I can tap into my super bilingual powers and ask what he thinks is mas mejor ... but any other signals from the food gods and I'll listen and take a pass.

                  1. re: rworange

                    I should have taken the big hint offered by the food gods when I noticed I was the only customer at noon on a Saturday in the otherwise busy supermarket.