Walking into the new Vallarta Supermarket at Clinton and Weber avenues is like taking a food adventure.
The Southern California grocery store chain sells all the standard staples, but what you’ll also find are Latino specialties, including fresh tortillas, special cuts of meat and more types of ceviche than you have ever seen.
One of the fastest-growing grocery store chains in the state, Vallarta has nearly 50 stores in California, with three of them in Fresno.
It’s sought out by its regular customers who prize the freshness of its products, the selection of items from Latin America, and its in-house sauces, salsas and cheese.
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“This store is a big hit,” says store director Isidro Martinez. “People have been waiting for this for a long time.”
To get you started exploring and tasting, we provide a list of 10 things you should know about the Vallarta Supermarket.
1. This is way more than a grocery store. There is an in-house bakery that makes 50 types of Mexican sweetbreads, cakes and pastries. There is also a kitchen where you can munch on Latino prepared foods, including chili rellenos, soups and pupusas, a thick corn tortilla stuffed with different ingredients.
2. Visit the La Isla (the island), a stand-alone section in the store that sells fruit water, ice cream, paletas (flavorful frozen treats on a stick) and fresh juices with names such as vampiro, or vampire, appropriately named because of the crimson color it gets from its ingredients: beets, celery, oranges, carrots, parsley, apples and spinach.
3. Try the crema. If you like sour cream, you will like Mexican and Salvadoran crema. Vallarta makes several styles, ranging from mild to extra tangy. The Salvadoran blend tends to have a creamy, slightly richer flavor. You can ask for a sample, if you like. Liz Sanchez, owner of Casa de Tamales, says crema can be drizzled over enchiladas, tacos or chili rellenos.
4. Cheese, please. Mexican cheese is growing in popularity, and Vallarta has all of the major styles, including the crumbly queso fresco, the semi-hard cotija and the super melty Oaxaca. The queso fresco can be used on tacos or crumbled over enchiladas. It’s also a great snack when wrapped in a warm corn tortilla. Cotija is similar to Parmesan and can be used as a topping on most Mexican foods for an added layer of saltiness. And there is perhaps no better cheese for making quesadillas or grilled cheese than cheese from Oaxaca.
5. Carnicería is Spanish for butcher shop. At Vallarta, you can buy regular beef cuts such as rib-eye, T-bone or porterhouse, but you can also find diesmillo, a thinly sliced chuck steak that is good for steak sandwiches, and ranchera steak, known as flap steak. It is ideal for steak and eggs or as filling for tacos. You can also buy chicken that has been marinated in citrus juices; thick, center-cut pork chops; or a whole cow’s head.
6. Fans of ceviche will delight at the selection. The store has seven types of freshly made ceviche, ranging from mild to a spicy lemon juice. And if you can’t decide on which one to get, don’t worry: They will give you a sample on a tortilla chip to help you decide.
7. The produce section is loaded with exotic fruits and vegetables. You will find mild-tasting squash called chayote, as well as guava, softball-size avocados from the Dominican Republic, papaya, Mexican banana leaves and a fuzzy fruit known to Filipinos as rambutan.
“It is very rare to see this being sold,” says customer Mila Gravidez of Fresno. “It has an interesting taste that is both sweet and sour.”
You can also buy stalks of sugar cane that you can cut, peel and suck on for the sweet juice.
8. Liquor. Vallarta prides itself on many things, and its liquor selection is one of them. The store boasts one of the largest offerings of tequila, including premium bottles such as Roca Patron Reposada, Cazadores Reposada and Milagro Select Reposada. There are also several Latin American beers available, including Pilsener, Regia and Suprema from El Salvador.
9. Fresh, warm corn tortillas are like comfort food. And you can find them here. You can see the condensation inside the package, they are that fresh. The store makes its corn tortillas from scratch and with only a few simple ingredients. You can see the workers preparing the corn to be boiled and ground into a pastelike consistency. The dough is then put into a tortilla maker and oven, and tortillas come rolling out on a conveyor belt where they are scooped up and packaged. The store also has flour tortillas, but those are made elsewhere.
10. Bulk foods are often a budget saver and at Vallarta, they can save you money and help you experiment with new foods. The bulk food section carries several varieties of beans, including Peruvian beans and Flor de Mayo beans. Sanchez, owner of Case de Tamales, says the yellowish beans have a creamy taste that is preferred by many over pinto beans. Flor de Mayo beans are very much like pinto beans but with more flavor.