It was delicious. Right now this is my favorite Mexican market in the Bay Area.
A little restaurant is next to the meat counter in the back. Thare are tasty and artfully wrapped tamales ... 5 varieties ... including a killer pineapple tamale that beats anything I’ve tried in Mexico City.
While the carnitas is not crispy, but more of the roast type, it is straight from the butcher counter, tender and deeply flavorful pork, piled high on two small grilled tortillas with a pleasing lard taste and mixed with generous and stellar-fresh chopped onions and cilantro.
Place an order at the counter and then go to one of the twelve tables with attractive green table cloths protected by glass. A generous basket of thin, house-made chips is brought to the table. If lucky, they are fresh from the fryer, hinting of lard. Otherwise, they come from the glass case with a heat lamp.
There is a condiment table with red and green salsa, a container of pickled jalepenos, carrots and onions and a big vat of delicous, fresh guacamole ... help yourself to as much as you like. The salsas were fresh, but mild and not especially memorable. The carrot mixture good but a little too vinegary. A fresh half lime is on the side.
Did I mention this was $!.25 ... for all of the above !!!
This goes into the all-time $1.25 taco hall of fame.
The horchata ($1.25) was perfectly balanced, not too thin or thick with the right about of cinnamon and sugar.
There are all the standards. They have 4 soups daily, seafood, chicken, beef stew and chicken tlapia. On the weekend there is menudo, pozole (I think) and beef birria. Tortas are available including an ahogada (sauced) version. There’s a seafood section with fried fish and seafood cocktails. One guy had a plate with a big pickled pig’s foot. There are three bottled hot sauces, bottles of A1 steak sauce (?) and Del Monte catsup. Next time I’ll give it a try to add to a recent catsup tasting.
Mexican country music plays in the background. One of the songs, translated from English to Spanish was Jambalaya ... me oh my oh Son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou ... but in Spanish.
Next to the register where the overflowing trays of chicharrons and other hot meats are kept, there were bags of tamales. There are 5 kinds, the three I bought, pork and a 4th I can’t recall.
Craft and care went into these tamales. I have never seen more beautiful corn husks and they were artisticly tied.
Tamales purchased ($1.25):
Pineapple: Moist with deep, fresh pineapple flavor and plump raisins. This was the real winner. Highly recommended.
Cheese: It might be requeso cheese with a long piece of fresh green chile.Excellent too, it was mainly filling with just enough masa to hold it together.
Chicken: Generous filling in a red sauce but it didn’t taste like much. Skip. Beautifully wrapped though.
To the right of the deli is a little cheese counter with a decent selection of cheese including two types of Salvadoran cheese ... with or without lorroco.
The meat counter had plastic pints of cajeta, a caramel sauce that looked so delicious.
There were two types of carne seca (Mexican beef jerky) ... lime and chile. The chile wasn’t available on any visits.
The lime was disapointing. There was not enough lime or beef flavor and the meat was too shard-like. There is far superior carne seca at the markets in San Pablo. It is still much better than the chemical-laden over-salty commercial brands of beef jerky in the US, but I’ve had greatness elsewhere. That’s not to say if the chile ever is available, it will be ignored. No one makes chile carne seca in this area.
Nice little fish counter, GREAT meat counter. They make their own fresh chorizo. The dry chorizo and the liquica is made elsewhere.
House-made fresh chorizo: The medium grind, brick red chorizo links were the most fiery of all the chorizos sampled to date. These were chile seeds with attitude and they spilled out of the frying sausage into the golden colored oil with dabs of red ... the heat was not coming from red powdered chile. It was not overly oily, but juicy, porky ... and HOT!
Langoniza: This came in a long coil and was even hotter than the chorizo, but that’s all it had was heat and was not too interesting.
Dry chorizo: Mushy links that are a fine grind with absolutely no character ... no spice, no nothing. They tasted like Jimmy Dean sausages. The only spice seemed to be salt.
Stay with the house-made fresh chorizo
Next to the chorizo was an interesting liverwurst-like roll in a casing. I asked what it was and didn’t understand what was said.
“So how do you eat it”
“Fried with tomatoes and onions”
Sounded good. Looked good. I asked the name again. The nice butcher finally wrote it down ... thankfully in English ... pork blood ... I don’t have a poker (or is that porker) face. What a gringo ...
“Uh, ok, well, I’m not going right home ... maybe next time”.
We both knew there would be no next time for this product.
There is a really nice grocery and produce section that has lots of variety. They have, it seems, almost every spicy potato chip and snack available. That’s where I bought a bag of Lays Jalapeño Kettle Chips.
I actually found a new brand of canned sardine, Forrelli, no longer easy since I’m at about can 52 of my sardine sampling. They also have something I haven’t seen at other Mexican markets, bulk dried chile powder. Some of the varieties like Santa Fe are not common.
The little case of baked goods up front has nice looking pan dulce and an excellent selection of pretty Mexican candy ... the big fresh slabs of caramel and cranberry-colored guabaya and tamarindo that are nice to eat with a glass of milk (so I’m told) ... fresh-looking red, green & white candy, the color of the Mexican flag, sugared fruit, and pretty little dime-sized decorated candies I’ve never seen before. They are in little packages of 12 and have the word leche on the label. They were pretty like teeny petit-fours, but I'm guessing the consistancy of fudge.
This is a popular market, for good reason. It is in a section of Broadway which I’m beginning to consider Vallejo’s Gourmet Ghetto (no really ... emphasis on ‘gourmet’).
A block up is a seafood shop with an amazing selection of Louisiana items where they will fry any of the fresh fish to order.
Almost across the street is one of the best panadrias in the Bay Area that makes it’s own excellent paletas, Mexican ice cream and fantastic aqua frescas ... major tip ... fresh coconut paleta, dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts ... almond joy on a stick.
One recent brief chowhound mention of La Tapatia
The staff in every department, from the registers in the front to the restaurant in the back corner, has been very helpful and cheerful in a good way. I loved the woman at the restaurant. When I asked what meat was best she didn’t hesitate and said carnitas (right on that). Asked about the tamales, her favorite was the chicken (while I didn’t like it as much as the pineapple or cheese, I asked which of the three meat tamales was best, could be). She didn’t give one of those annoying ‘everything is good’ answers.
However, at La Tapatia it is almost all good.
La Tapatia Market & Deli
601 Broadway Ave
Vallejo, CA 94590