San Pablo: Las Montanas - One of the best Bay Area Mexican supermarkets with Mexican Fanta and sanitized street food (in a good way)
This is a family-owned market with two other stores in Concord. The children have grown up and they are expanding the business. A second Concord location opened in Jan 2011 and the San Pablo store opened about a month ago. A little history in this link
"The business is run by Elba and Manuel Gomez and their six children. They opened the original market in the Park & Shop Center on Willow Pass Road in 1997."
The San Pablo market has a tortilleria, tacqueria / deli restaurant, barbeque, beverage bar, bakery, cremeria, carneceria and seafood counter in addition to the grocery.
Let me explain sanitized street food. Some people just aren’t comfortable eating from street carts and trucks.
Las Montanas is a place you can get street eats such as Mexican elote (corn covered in mayo and cheese), fresh fruit cups sprinkled with chili, fully-loaded Mexican hot dogs, etc. The employees wear protective gloves when handling the food.
Don’t misread this. I love street food and have zero problems with it. However, I know a lot of people who won’t eat it because of the mistaken perception it is not safe. If you fall in that category, Las Montanas is the place to indulge without the fear factor.
If you are ok with street food, no need to divert the discussion about its safety. I’m ok, you’re ok, some people aren’t ok with it.
The super-helpful staff is fully bi-lingual and it was a little amusing to watch them in action. If someone was Latino they were addressed in Spanish, otherwise it was English.
They will give samples of almost anything if you ask. One guy asked for a sample of buche. I got tastes of the mango yogurt and strawberries and cream yogurt when I asked.
There are also lots of sample stands. The Yas mango sample made with fruit pulp was excellent, the Yas horchata … not so much.
Reading yelp, it seems that they have great specials which I found was true on my visit. However, some of the regular groceries can be as much as Safeway and no bargain, so be aware.
Flicker photo stream
Details in the first reply.
Las Montanas Market
13901 San Pablo Ave, San Pablo, CA 94806
There is zero reason to buy the pupusas at the deli.
At $2.75 they are the most expensive in the area They are pre-made and sit under a heat lamp. There are only two fillings cheese or beans. The cheese was on the solid side. There was a slight film of grease coating the exterior
The stingy curtido lacked any flavor which was better than the dead-cold, thin tomato sauce that picked up flavors of the fridge.
With two top-notch Salvadorn restaurants nearby, El Tazumal and Susy's, if you gotta have one, go elsewhere
I've come to the conclusion that the deli at Las Montanas is to Mexican food as the delis in Raleys, Whole Foods, etc is to American deli. Some items are good, but you can often do better at a Mexican restaurant.
They also got rid of the salsa/condiment bar wich is a major mistake, IMO.
I finally tried the al pastor taco which had a generous serving of tasty pork, covered with lots of chopped onions, cilantro and mildly spicy salsa verde (or red salsa). There was a piece of lime and a few slices of radish It was a little on the oily side ,,, not something to be eaten without a fork I liked it.
The chircharrons were ok, there were a few pieces that were on the hard side, but they were mainly puffy Still, I wouldn't buy these again.. I liked the carnitas better which had good pork flavor and a nice meat to fat ratio.
I was put off by the ham and macaroni salad because it was studded with fresh pieces of jalepeno .... with no indication they were in there. While not overdressed with good chunks of ham, a spicy hot salad wasn't what I was looking for.
The rompope raspado (Mexican egg not shaved ice) was on the sweet side. It was interesting watching it put together with almost the ceremony of a cocktail. I'm not sure if I'd try anothre flavor though.
As far as the bakery, I like the pound cakes pieces the best. One day they had a great blueberry pound cake. The coconut tres-leches was ruined for me by the frosting which was shortening based. The cake was nicely moist and not soggy. I might try another flavor, but it would need to have whipped chream.
Np Wolfe. Forgot to mention that my nephew had one at Los Montanas last week and although it was cheaper, the Los Picudos ones look much better. He did like that the LM one had a egg in in though. Los Picudos can just take a little long sometimes though.
Haven't had tortas at too many places, but I'd have to say Los Picudos and Bakery Mexico(SJ) are 2 of my favorites
LAS MONTANAS SUPERMARKET DETAILS
TACQUERIA / DELI RESTAURANT / TAMALE COUNTER / BARBECUE
There is a wood-fired bbq outside. Inside there are huge pots where mountains of chicharrones and carnitas are made. There were also huge hunks of buche.
Al pastor on the spit is in one corner and there is a large steam table with a cold section of ceviches. The chicken in black mole and the huge chile rellenos looked delicious. The taco salad is humongous. The tortas on grilled buns looked good. This week’s special is a torta and a 16 oz soda for $4.50.
There is a salsa bar on one end and a tamal section, with the tamales frequently replenished from huge pots.
On the recommendation of a friend, I had the beef soup which came with the house-made tortillas.
If ordering soup, get the large size which is a dollar more and served in huge ceramic bowls. The medium is served in much smaller Styrofoam bowls.
While I wouldn’t order the beef soup again, it had some good points … there was lots of soft, tender pieces of beef, some bone-on. The carrots were tasty and sweet. There was a little cabbage and a small piece of sweet corn on the cob.
I didn’t like the broth though which wasn’t too interesting. I punched it up a bit with a few squirts of fresh lime and some excellent green salsa.
The six thin medium-sized corn tortillas wrapped in aluminum foil were a good example of the Mexican type.
On Sunday afternoon, there were tables outside serving elote and Mexican hot dogs.
There are tables next to the deli and some outside picnic tables near the bbq. Order at the counter and wait for your number to be called … in English and Spanish.
BAKERY / TORTILLARIA
There were lots of fruit covered whipped cream cakes and a few geletinas (gelatin cakes). The squares of tres leches with coconut and topped with a cherry looked excellent.
I tried the strawberry agua fresa. The medium size was generous, but it was the type made from fronzen strawberries, so I won't get this flavor agaoin.
There was lots of chocolate covered fruit such as chocobananas, strawberries and apples covered in nuts or topped with coconut.
The tortillaria has a conveyor belt which seems to be in perpetual motion. They also sell buenelas. The crispy sample I tried was good, thin and crispy.
The pan dulce I bought was pretty standard, nothing that stood out. Prices are inexpensive. Guayabas were on sale at 3 for 99 cents. These are almost like a scone, but harder and more cookie-like. There were plain, raisin or walnut. The walnuts that topped it were nicely toasted. I had a piece of chocolate angel sponge cake … skip that one … dry and zero chocolate flavor ... 75 cents.
There are agua frescas, liquados, squeezed-to-order juices and raspados at the beverage counter. Cups of fresh cut up fruit, rice pudding and fruit in cream were also in this section.
Next to it was not only a cooler of Mexican Coca Cola, but also Mexican orange Fanta.
They have a good selection of soft drinks such as bottled tepache, a fermented pineapple drink. Shades of Orbitz, the soda that looked like lava lamps, there is Micoco with pieces of coconut magically suspended in the soda. There were also less common sodas such as Columbiana.
The beer selection is a bit boring, mainly the usual Mexican beers and American beers that taste like Mexican beers.
While the coffee section isn’t great, they have Nescafe varieties I read about, but never found when I was in Guatemala.
In addition to lots of Latino cheese, there are strings of sausages, yogurt and some interesting-looking cremas. One was jocoque which this site writes
“A Mexican style sour cream. It has equal or less fat content than the American sour cream. Some labels describe it as salted buttermilk, but its thicker; some call it a thin sour cream. The taste of jocoque ranges from mildly tangy to refreshingly sharp”
It looked wonderful and rich. Here’s a recipe using it.
There was also chongos zamoranos, which this site describes as
“a sort of sweet cottage cheese. It is made from milk and cinnamon and sugar and it is very well known in Mexico. It was supposedly invented by a nun in a convent who needed to salvage some milk that had gone sour and had begun to separate into curds and whey.”
When I worked in Mexico in the 90’s, I bought a can of chongos zamoranos which sat on my shelf for a decade and I never opened it because I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. I had some recently at a Mexican chain in Guatemala and liked it a lot. I’ll have to try these.
I tried the mango yogurt and strawberries and cream yogurt. Both were good, but I bought the latter which was chock full of fresh, sliced strawberries. Next time I’ll give the walnut yogurt a try.
CARNECERIA AND SEAFOOD COUNTER
This place has the neatest display of offal I have ever seen. By neat I mean, nicely folded almost like shirts from a laundry.
I didn’t look too closely at either section, but they were extensive. There was a big cooler of huge pacific oysters, bags of 24 for $14.99
It was along the lines of the average supermarket, but all very fresh-looking. The specials were excellent. On my visit there was the following:
Manila mangoes – 10 for $3.99
Oranges – 4 lbs for 99 cents
Fuji apples - 2 lbs for 99 cents
Onions – 5 lbs for 99 cents
Jicama – 3 lbs fro 99 cents
Lots of Goya, El Mexicano and standard American brands. However there was always something interesting if you looked.
I forgot the brand, but a 33 oz bottle of olive oil was $4.99 this week.
They carry Amazonia products so items like sweet potato flour or garbanzo flour are available. The jarred ricaito, sofrito and guava jam looked interesting.
It wasn’t all Mexican. There were lots of Guatemalan products such as frozen jocote rojo or yellow nance. It almost broke my heart, to see those fruits grown in the extreme tropical heat, cold, hard and frozen … but if you need a fix … here it is.
There is not just one type of jarred pacaya, but a half dozen as well as bottled nance, fleur de izote, fiambre, loroco and paterna. There was jarred Salvadoran curtido for pupusas.
They had a few different varieties of paletas, once case was next to the aqua fresca stand.
This seems a much needed addition to the East Bay … as the packed parking lot proved. A neighbor went later in the day and said cars were lined up the street waiting to get in.
re: gordon wing
re: gordon wing
Beautiful photos, gordon. I'm getting some books on photography ... in English ... and looking into a better camera so people don't have to suffer through my shots.
Have you tried anything at the deli yet?
From reading yelp, it seems hit and miss. Some stuff is very good ... only positive reports on the bbq chicken and chicharrones ... and others get mixed or 'meh' reports. However, the food reports are about the Concord location.
re: gordon wing
Chicharrones, carnitas, grilled chicken, buche. They didn't have the ribs on my visit. You can ask them for a taste.
Chicharrones - eat like popcorn. All else, buy a stack of tortillas and either eat meat on the side taking bites of the tortilla or make your own tacos with the tortillas.
re: c oliver
There are other markets in the East Bay: this market sounds very similar to the Mi Pueblo Food Center in Oakland, which is part of a rapidly expanding chain with several stores in the East Bay (two in Hayward, where it originated, one in Newark, and others around the Bay and the state). I also get their weekly ads in my mailbox in Alameda. But Las Montanas seems to have beaten them to fill the void in the North-East Bay.
I love Mi Pueblo! It's always so festive there: the people are very nice (it seems to have a much higher staff-to-customer ratio than the average supermarket and all the employees have their country of origin on their name tags), they play really loud salsa music (annoying until I get used to it), the chicken grilling in the parking lot always smells fabulous, the customers seem like they're having a good time, too.
Mi Pueblo Food Center
1630 High St, Oakland, CA 94601
re: Ruth Lafler
Yes, there was definately a void for the Mexican supermarket in this area. I can't decide if I like Las Montanas better than Mi Pueblo. LM, being new, is nice and shiny bright with more parking. I'll have to revisit Mi Pueblo. LM reminds me of my favorite Mexican supermarket in the US, El Tigre in Encino, but I still favor El Tigre.
No noticable music at Las Montanas.
I don't think the small Latino Markets will have problems because of the cultural thing where many Latino's like walking to the local corner market that they've established a relationship with.
One stepdaughter prefers the crappy Mexican market on the corner to Las Montanas because it reminds her of home. Seriously ... I've been to almost every small Latino market in this area, and this particular joint is especially odious ... poor quality produce, scary meat and high prices.
Heh ... scary meat ... at least they don't leave raw chicken out in the tropical sun all day unshielded from flying visitors ... something I will NOT miss about Guatemala.
From what I'm getting from a few neighbors, the only business that will be cut is Mi Pueblo which they often go to for major shopping while continuing to go to the corner market daily.
At the moment my favorite is Mi Pueblo. I fear I am there at least two or three times a week for a quick and easy meal. I think I will be more Mexican then Chinese soon. But the way food is purchase reminds of shopping in Chinatown. The ingredients are very similar but cooked in a another style. Buying cooked meat by the pound is how it is done in Chinatown. The only thing I miss is the BBQ Pork Buns.