Favorite Mexican grocery store?
Northgate on 43rd. I understand not all their stores are created equal and the 43rd St. Store is one of their flagship stores. The produce is very reasonably priced and the quality generally good to very good. Their meat counter is good as are the cheese and ceviche counters. The chocolate bar cake from the in-house bakery is surprisingly good. The in-house taqueria is good. The hot food is not all made in house and much of it is frozen and reheated. Don't care for their masa or bolillos.
Pancho Villa is part of the Bony family of stores. Some of their produce is not first rate but it is dirt cheap. While their bolillos are too airy inside, the flavor is good and at 4 for $1.00 they're a good deal. Like their masa a lot. Meat counter has been hit or miss for me.
Both have dried chiles in bulk. Northgates selection of chiles is somewhat more extensive, as is the grocery selection.
Have not yet been to Vallarta.
Seems like Northgate would be hard to beat, but then I haven't been to either Pancho Villa or Azteca. Since it's much closer, I find myself usually just going over to the Carnival store that's near LV Blvd and Aero, at least for their very fresh and dirt cheap produce, and tortillas. If I need selection I drive down to Northgate. Carnival isn't just Mexican, though, and may not qualify for your list in the first place. It's a small, neighborhood-type store, not at all in the same league as Northgate, but worthy of mention, I think.
Agree with the above; have been to many of the Northgate Gonzalez locations and 43rd Street is best, largest, has better selection of baked goods (especially for Dia de Los Muertos and Rosca de Reyes for those special days).
Pancho Villa also good for basics and has good produce prices, as is Vallarta and Carnival-which has been adding kabobs and also has a tanur oven and makes hot, fresh flatbreads.
However, we live in Santee and Kaelin's in El Cajon is closest and similar to Carnival, having not only Mexican basics and great produce prices (and the best flour tortillas-flaky layered magical sold in sizes from teensy to gigantic) but also a tanur oven and selling fresh made kabobs and schawarma right at the entrance door.
Yes, all of those stores have an eat in/steam tray area and that's where I stop first, before shopping.
Gracias' on Main Street in El Cajon does not have the biggest selection of produce, but their tortillas are warm and wonderful. Recently, we re lucky enough to have their Wednesday Carnitas family special. Beans, rice, carnitas, tortillas and salsa for 15.99. More THan enough for 4 people, one light eater, for a couple of meals. They make nopales tortillas that were great!
Otay Farms Market in Chula Vista (southwest corner of Broadway and Main street) has a large selection of nice, fresh produce and in-house made flour tortillas (that always have a line of people waiting for them). They have a restaurant within it that serves delicious food (barbacoa, caldo de res, red enchiladas, carnitas, etc.) and has trays and trays of guacamole and salsas (molcasalsa is my favorite).