While digging up info on Mariana’s, I stumbled upon an odd best of review in local Vegas media that compared it to Trader Joe’s. That seemed off the mark in print and even more so in person. Other than being busy and well-curated by design, it’s more like a Pathmark or Stop & Shop . It’s a large (by NYC standards) Mexican grocery store, nothing, trendy, gourmet or healthy about it. It's even a chain–there are three locations in the area.
Mariana’s is impressive because we just don’t have mega marts like this in New York. Despite the Puerto Rican/ Dominican dominance there aren’t Latino equivalents to these supermarkets with food stands, which feel more Asian to me. Bakery counter, butcher, deli, take out, all under one roof. I’ve always wondered why there are no Latin American Hong Kong Supermarkets (or Ranch 99 to you west coasters). “Ethnic” food needn’t be hole-in-the-wall bodega-style. I love suburban sprawl.
Mariana’s makes me wish I was more Mexican. I glom onto Southeast Asian food culture because I love it, but I do have roots as root-less as I often feel. I didn’t even know the names for half the things I encountered and sometimes I hate the sensation of being a tourist in my own country. I should know this stuff but my dad did such a good job of assimilating that I know more about kueh than pan dulce.
If I had access to refrigeration and a kitchen, I would’ve spent more time exploring the groceries. But I had to limit myself to dried goods and snacks like chile garbanzos. My sister had asked me to send her dried chipotles, which are truly foreign in Western England where she lives. I went a little overboard snatching up at least five varieties of chiles to mail her way.
James commented on something foreign to him, Squirt. There’s nothing Mexican about Squirt (when I could afford private Spanish lessons, there was an issue with the verb squirt. My Columbian tutor had never heard the word and I had a hard time trying to describe it without referring to ketchup bottles). I’m not a soda drinker so it had never occurred to me that you never see that brand on the east coast. It made me happy to be reminded of it even if I had no desire to imbibe.
The real gem was the take out counter with seating in the front of the store. It was late in the afternoon so I think many of the weekend specials like pozole and menudo were running low. I tried the menudo anyway, just because it’s not something I frequently see here (I'd do well to find a local source pronto, as it's a reputed hangover cure and it seems that I'll be working New Year's Day). It didn’t come with sides like lime slices, cilantro and chopped onion but the warm, freshly made corn tortillas were absolutely amazing. It’s hard to understand what’s so great about a simple tortilla if you’re used to buying them in packages that have sat around for who knows how long. I felt guilty about throwing more than half of my stack out, but we had Joel Robuchon in our future and I didn’t want to completely spoil my appetite, tiny portions or not.
I had two tacos, a carnitas and an al pastor. Double pork. Despite what west coast transplants say, there is good Mexican food in NYC. I suspect they just haven’t properly mined pockets of Queens and Brooklyn. I’ve had wonderful tacos here, but these slap-dash grocery store versions were a notch above. The words moist and juicy immediately came to mind. Oh, and they were only a buck apiece.
There’s also a stand with agua frescas in giant glass jars nearby. Like I said, I’m not crazy about sweet beverages but the horchata and vivid watermelon, hibiscus and tamarind juices were enticing.
Las Vegas has so much more to offer in the way of food culture than people might realize. If I’d had more than a weekend to spend, I would’ve tried tapping into the Filipino scene that appeared to be floating just under the radar.
Mariana's Supermarket * 3631 W. Sahara Ave., Las Vegas, NV