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Santa Maria: New Mexican Supermarket, Vallarta

The building, in a new shopping center on North Broadway, is brand new, spacious and looks very promising, though something tells me parking is going to be a bear (poor circulation design).

It's a chain (35 So Cal & Central Valley locations) market, the first of its kind on the Central Coast. All other Mexican groceries are small Mami & Papi types, either one-of -a-kinds or small chains like La Princessa. This one is relatively large with a full deli counter, full butcher with extensive seafood, produce, tortillaria, fancy cake and pan dulces bakery, and a full grocery section and well as liqour and housewares.

Vallarta opened Wednesday Feb 16, and I'll try to visit soon. Grand opening prices are attention-grabbers: Boneless chicken legs .89/#, Lemons .25/#, pintos .25/# , Fuji apples .33/# , Tri Tip $2.99/#, Modelo 18-pak $$16. There is a deli counter special on Wednesday --$1 tacos. Sale prices run Wed through Tues.

With the attraction of a large product selection at Vallarta, it may put the squeeze on the smaller markets. I hope after the initial rush to the new store, things will shake out and there will be room for all markets, but the pressure will be on to modernize and clean up some of the more causal attitudes about merchandizing and produce quality in the smaller markets. At least there are many small local growers they can source from for better prices in light of the Mexican freezes.

Vallarta Supermarket
1875 N Broadway
Santa Maria CA
(805) 349-9490

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  1. I stopped yesterday while running errands in SM. Vallarta is large, with a soaring ceiling that really distorts the loud speaker and canned pop music. The store was packed with shoppers at early dinner time, with tag-along, bored kids adding to the circulation problems. Note to self: always shop mid-day while kids in school.

    The large produce section brims with vast piles of basics on 6' high gondolas and a peripheral-wall cold case with every produce staple of the Hispanic kitchen. Lots of pepper types, specialty items, flavorings, herbs, etc. Well lit, but the layout leaves little room for two XXlg carts to pass or to park while bagging selections. Reminds me of Trader Joe's. Another foot of aisle width would help. Prices were definitely loss-leader: Asian pears 69 cent each, Onions 10 cents/lb. etc., for the grand opening.

    Main aisles are pretty standard American fare--miles of soft drinks and chips (hello-o-o, japlapeno Cheetos!) and sugary cereals, but with whole sections of popular Hispanic brands added in. I found it interesting that there are full 4' sections, floor to top shelf, of one brand like Goya, as if the shelf space is dedicated to one brand by reservation. Lots of new and unfamiliar products to try. 16' of floor-to-top shelving is devoted to packaged beans and rice, large for such semi-rural area. I was happy to find La Costena brand refried pintos made in Mexico (at least not the awful ones made in Arizona).

    The liquid dairy case is small--about 8', with snack-sized sweetened and flavored yogurts taking almost equal space. About 4' of juices. I was struck by the relatively small space given to refrigerated containers of juices and milk for a store this large that caters to families. There is about 1/2 an aisle devoted to packaged dairy like cheeses, sour creams, etc., as well as the bulk sour creams and soft Mexican cheeses in the cremoria cases.

    The butcher counter is full serve, with pick-a-ticket and accompanying blaring PA announcements that can probably be heard in the parking lot. There is the usual wide array of precut meats and seafood (whole fish, too) typical to a Mexican style supermarket, but not as artfully displayed as some I've seen. There are two cremoria (?) sections, one next to the butcher counter and one near the front of the store near the bakery and deli. Behind one is a wall display of link sausages in strings. Types of longaniza and a Salvadoran (small fat links).

    There is a grab-n-go case of precut packaged basic chicken, fish, beef and pork cuts, just across from the deli in case you don't need something from the service butcher.

    There is a bakery loaded with premade cakes in fanciful shapes and hot color combos designed to catch the eye. Nothing subtle or classic about these cakes. A smaller bakery section has a few types of more demurely decorated cake slices and Tres Leches to go cups, but they weren't very pretty. Sort of slap-dash looking, perhaps because the bakery was working at full steam and then some. I missed the fresh-fruit decorated plainly-iced cake styles of Mi Pueblo markets. They also house-bake bollios and a full array of pan dulces, and have a tortillaria. I picked up a package of Nopal corn tortillas (reading afterwards they rely on nopal powder and food coloring for their pretty light green coloring) but they were hot and I couldn't resist. So fresh. They later toasted up fine in the skillet for a quick taco dinner.

    The deli section was three deep, and I couldn't see selections or prices, so will have to go another time for some sampling. Many folks were grabbing a quick meal at the built-in tables and benches (seating for about 30-40).

    The liquor cabinet up front seems well stocked with the usual whiskies, flavored liquors, and a pretty good (tho' I'm no expert) selection of Tequilas. Nothing too exotic, I think, but a good sampling of brands and price points.

    All in all, the shopping experience was an adventure for this gringa. At dinner time it was terribly noisy. It will be interesting to see how far the produce prices rise in the next month or two, after the Grand Opening wears off. Many of the local small markets already have everyday prices 30% lower than area corporate supermarkets. And their deli hot meat selections are very good, with an established clientele. I'll be back for some more in depth deli meat and produce sampling, and perhaps will be posting for how-to's on some unfamiliar items.

    I'm sure the local Hispanic community is glad to have a large modern store for shopping convenience, but I hope the small markets can survive in their own niche. Food Maxx and FoodsCo will definitely feel the heat.

    1 Reply
    1. re: toodie jane

      We visited about 12 noon on Sunday. The place was packed and samples galore. Seafood looked fresh and nice salmon selection. Amazing choice of cerviche, with samples of shrimp, squid, spicy white fish, etc. I'll buy some next visit. Panderilla looked fresh and hot rolls coming out in trays at a time. People buying dozens. More to report next visit.

    2. I tried a package of Salvadorean chorizo, about 1 1/2 ounds, from the packaged meat cold case opposite the deli counter. Whole ropes of the chubby linked sausage (links separated by strips of corn husk) can be purchased behind the creamoria counter next to the fish display.

      They are delicious. I slow roasted them in a covered-kettle bbq, with a pan under the grill to catch the drippings. The sausage came out with a pleasant dry, rather than greasy, texture. Flavored with chile, ginger, cloves, garlic etc ., they had a light, almost sweet flavor (the cloves and ginger, I think) and were only mildly spicy from the California (Anaheim type?) chile powder.

      These would be great with any meal, not too assertive, but slightly sweet and flavorful. At about 2 1/2" long, the links become perfect BBQ finger food.

      2 Replies
      1. re: toodie jane

        Tried a quick b'fast of lengua tacos--they come with fresh, al vapor small corn tortillas, plain boiled lengua with not much flavor. A condiment bar was very inclusive, but I'm not fond of their vinegar-based salsas. They overwhelmed the lengua. The tacos were filling, but with very ordinary flavors. A more assertive meat like carnitas or pastor might fare better. I really missed the flavor point added by grilled corn tortillas. Next time I'll ask if they can be grilled. Anyone know the term in Spanish ?

      2. Saw this on the main page of Chowhound and had to jump in—Vallarta is beloved down here in LA. Cheap produce, decent meat, and those "slapdash" tres leches cups are really, really addictive. You can also get a pound of carnitas with tortillas, salsa, beans, rice and pickled carrots for $8-$10 or so at the ones down here, depending on location.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          I went to one of their locations in Bakersfield.
          I was impressed as well, store had a nice mix of products, and the bakery, deli, and carniceria looked like quality and were clean.
          There are a handful of regional Mexican supermarkets coming up in California.
          Is Vallarta the frontrunner?
          I live in Merced, and we have Rancho San Miguel which is pretty good, but their meat quality and produce deteriorated a few months after the opening.

          1. re: Agrippa

            Though usually located in older vacated supermarket buildings, I like the Mi Pueblo markets in and around the San Jose-Salinas area. More impressive meat counters, more fresh fish, better looking bakery. Perhaps Vallarta specializes in smaller towns.

            The Mi Pueblo Tres Leches and other cakes look like beautifully laid-out jewelery, either whole or cut into perfect clean slices. The TL cups are more like parfait cups with chunky cake, fruit and custard, and carefully piped cream.

            The SM Vallarta's TL cups looked like bench sweepings: fine crumbs stirred vigorously into custard, with a spludge of "cream" on top, not visually appealing at all. Everything looks too-hurriedly assembled. But in the interest of chowhound, I'll try one. ;-)

            1. re: Agrippa

              Agrippa, there are two Vallarta's in Fresno...(though I've only been to the one in North Hills (LA County). Agreed about the meat at Rancho San Miguel; I also found their seafood to be disappointing. Produce still ok IMO, but I get most of mine at the Farmer's Market and in my CSA anyway.

              Rancho San Miguel
              1930 Yosemite Pkwy, Merced, CA

              1. re: susancinsf

                I've found that the meat varies by store, as do the prepared foods. The Victory Blvd. store does their carnitas the right way, in a steel cazo bubbling in lard, and you can tell the difference; the Oxnard Ave. store seems to steam them and then pan-fry them.

                I love the produce mostly because I can get chiles there so cheaply that sometimes they don't bother to charge me for them... but since I've begun the dangerous slide into freeganism (check Craigslist for free produce if you pick it from someone's tree—wow) I have gone less and less.

            2. re: Das Ubergeek

              The 'tres leches' cups are indeed addictive in my experience. I also love the rice pudding and find that even more addicting than the tres leches when it is hot outside. So cool and refreshing and comforting: got my granddaughter hooked on the rice pudding also :-) . Unlike Clinton, I think the ceviches are very good and fresh (nothing scary), and I also love the nopales salad in the deli (at the North Hill location, which is the one I've shopped at).

            3. Great review! We visit Santa Maria at least once or twice a month and have been waiting and waiting to see when this market was going to open. Seen it when it was a dirt lot which took them like forever to finally open. Wanted to know if they carry freshly made chicharones like the kind they sell at that small shop on Main and Blosser? Will be stopping by this week to check it out.

              1. I liked this market. Very clean and the sale items were pretty reasonable. Their ceviche(s) were very tasty especially the imitation crab @$2.99 a pound. Went quite well with their homemade store tortilla chips @99 cents a bag. Not all things are cheap but one needs to know your prices before buying. Might give all the other local markets in the area competition though. May get a little braver next time and try the hot prepared counter food. Some of it looks good but some look a little foreign.

                1. Thanks for your heads up. To be honest the food didn't look all that appetizing. The only thing I really liked was the artificial crab ceviche and their home made tortilla chips. And both of them were on sale so it tasted even better. Think I'll pass on the other stuff for a while at least.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Clinton

                    "The only thing I really liked was the artificial crab ceviche ...."

                    Now that's one of the saddest things I've ever read. ; >P

                    1. re: PolarBear

                      As I see it, probably one of the safest things to eat there? Tried most of the other ceviche options and this one was the best of the lot in my opinion. What do you expect from a gringo? The chicharones was sub par compared to El Toro. Still experimenting on finding good Mexican in SM. So far it's been disappointing. LA still got them beat.

                      1. re: Clinton

                        Appreciate your efforts, Clinton. That whole corridor of 101 up to Paso Robles is seriously lacking. I've found only this short list:

                        La Simpitia in Guadalupe

                        La Tapatia Market on 13th st in Grover Beach (al pastor tacos and more)

                        Touch of Mexico in Templeton

                        Restaurant 4 Hermanos, Los Robles Cafe, and Tenexpa in Paso Robles

                        Tenexpa Restaurant
                        1912 Creston Rd, Paso Robles, CA 93446

                        Touch of Mexico
                        105 S Main St Ste 7, Templeton, CA 93465

                        Los Robles Cafe
                        1420 Spring St, Paso Robles, CA 93446

                        Restaurant 4 Hermanos
                        709 6th St, Paso Robles, CA 93446

                        1. re: PolarBear

                          PB: a couple of places to try:

                          Effren's on Beach St in Oceano, just across the intersection of Highway 1 and Railroad, near the cooling sheds--good flavors, both a take-out counter and a sit down room.

                          It's just a few doors south of La Tapatia Mkt on the corner, which is a bit grubby but has very good and very cheap daily specials, including tortillas hecho a mano on the weekend with menudo. I'd say both are worth checking out next time you're in town.

                          I forget about both--they used to be in the neighborhood of my job, but now they are off my beaten track.

                          1. re: toodie jane

                            Thanks TJ, what do you like at Effren's?

                            1. re: PolarBear

                              I had two tacos, one lengua and one carnitas, liked them fine, another time a lengua torta. Other than that it's been too long for me to remember. It's off my beaten path, so haven't been for several months. I seem to recall trying a tamal, it was ok. I just remember thinking it was a place I'd return to.

                              The little bakery @ 13th and Farroll in GB reportedly has decent tamales. They usually run out at lunch, so have missed them. Carmelita #2. (#1 is in the Stowell Ctr. on B'way, Santa Maria. Good pan dulces)

                              1. re: PolarBear

                                went back to Effren's today for a quick bite and everybody's eyes were glued to the tube--MU vs.Barca.

                                Carnitas was meltingly wonderful. yikes it was good. Lengua, under-seasoned.

                                tacos at $1.09 each. Nice salsa, fresh garnishes. Good deal. Maybe some time you come to visit in the area, we could all meet there for a mini chowdown?

                                1. re: toodie jane

                                  Had another taco feast at La Tapatia Market on 13th in Grover Beach this past week, all were excellent, the carnitas, al pastor, carne asada, and the lengua. I had hoped to have buche but they were out that day so went back for a second lengu, which just might be the best I've ever had, so tender and flavorful.

                                  La Tapatia Market and Deli No. 2
                                  646 S. 13th St

                    2. Just wanted to shout out a big Thank You to the hound that mentioned Lo Mejor de Jalisco on the SE corner of Main (Hwy 166) and S. Blosser on the west end of SM.

                      Warm chips with a deep rich red salsa to start, along with a complimentary cup of their housemade noodle vegetable soup (could have made a meal out of it), I had the Los Campechana Famousa Loca mixed seafood coktel (served hot), loaded with camarones, pulpo, and abalone. Lady PB went with the strangely named Chile Relleno Omelette, which was an open faced chile smothered with camaroes in a sauce topped with melted cheese, simply stellar.

                      Lo Mejor De Jalisco
                      116 S Blosser Rd, Santa Maria, CA 93458