Growing up in a city that's 78 percent Latino, I spent a pretty good amount of time in Mexican-style markets that sold fresh tortillas, Mexican candy, and ingredients specific to Mexican cuisine. When my boss told me there's a new, giant Gonzalez Northgate Market in Anaheim, my first thought was, 'This dude's probably never been inside a marketa, and is all worked up over nothing.'
I was originally skeptical, but from the very first steps I took inside the Anaheim store, I knew it was different. This Northgate Market is a Mexican supermarket on steroids.
As soon as we walked in, there was a little hut that sold street-style corn, like you'd find while perusing the streets of Los Angeles. They literally had the boiled elotes on deck, topped them with butter, mayonnaise, cotija cheese, chili powder, and salsa.
I was immediately impressed, thinking to myself that I no longer had to chase down the elotero down the street, as he books it on his mobile cart.
After that, every station in the supermarket felt like my childhood, and I could tell they didn't just throw up a new grocery for the hell of it. There really was a lot of attention to detail.
It's not unusual for a grocery stores to make fresh bread, but I was really impressed by the handmade churros, as I was able to grab them straight out out of the fryer, while they sprinkled them cinnamon and sugar, and joined it with fresh caramel.
It's the little things, like such freshly made treats, that really made a good first impression.
As I walked around the store, and browsed around the different meat and seafood departments, nothing made me happier than seeing that they had free sample stations. These weren't your typical microwaved chicken nugget samples you get at Costco. I had the choice between three different cooked taco meats that the booth had ready, and with a little tortilla supporting it, I was basically able to sample a handful of mini tacos. Then as I walked a little down, there was yet another free sample booth where I tried some of their ceviche and aguachiles.
I can't think of any damn place whose sample game was that legit.
One of my rules of thumb for great taco spots is fresh handmade tortillas. I'm going to have to apply that to grocery stores now, and Northgate passes that test with a tortilleria on the far back corner. There were a couple of dudes back there, just cranking out tortillas as they came through a belt like that one I Love Lucy episode.
The whole store really does have a Disneyland feel. Well, a Disneyland of Mexican food, and the last thing that I really loved was the Whole Foods-like hot bar. You won't exactly find health-friendly soups like at Whole Foods, but if you're into pozole, albondigas, and other Mexican-inspired soups, this is a soupy dream come true. Not to mention you can just roll up and grab pre-made tamales.
It's safe to say I was impressed by the store, when I was so ready to write it off. If you want to go through a pretty legit Mexican market feel that has pretty much everything, Northgate in Anaheim did a pretty damn good job of providing that experience with its newest super duper market. Northgate said there are similar, new markets like this one in La Habra, and Norwalk, California. If this is the future of supermarkets, count me in.