Appetizers
December 15, 2008
On a Sunday afternoon ...

Here's a little heads-up: I've got the cover story in Wednesday's Food & Wine section about local butchers, some tips on working with one and a list of some notable meat purveyors around the 916 area code. My story was pretty much wrapped up on Friday, but wanted to pop into a couple more spots over the weekend. So I braved the cold and rain, and headed to South Sacramento on Sunday afternoon. First was a drive down Stockton Blvd., past Luigi's Pizza and Cafe au Creme (a.k.a. the home of "Barbecue Bobby" and the best ribs in Sac.), and then over to Vinh Phat Supermarket. What an epic Asian market and the clientele was fairly multi-culti on this day, waiting in line for service at the meat counter or checking out the tanks of live lobsters.

But this outing was more of an excuse to visit Carniceria Lopez Market #2. This is a great lil' Mexican meat market and the place to pick up carne asada for grilling during the outdoor cooking season. There's also a taqueria located in the market, and figured I'd grab some take-out tacos for lunch. So I headed to Franklin Blvd. and made my stop. Even though mi Espanol is pretty ragged, the butchers and counter folk here are always acommodating. Man, the marinated flank steaks were looking good. Made me want to curse the clouds and fire up the grill.

Then I went to the taqueria to place an order for tacos to go, plus a bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola. Quick side point ... As far as I'm concerned, Mexican Coke is truly "the real thing." The Mexican version uses cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup used by its gringo counterpart. That's why Mexican Coke tastes more balanced and far less cloying than what we've become used to in the U.S. of A. But back to the food, I also ordered three tamales at $1.25 each and my bill for everything (taco combination plate, three tamales, Coke en Espanol) was about $11. Not bad ... then I hurried home to scarf it all down.

The tacos de carne asada were very good, slightly crispy on the meat's edges and a little tangy with a squirt of lime. I also liked the little bits of corn mixed in with the accompanying rice. Wash it down with Mexican Coke and all was good in this 'hood. The tamales, however, were just OK. These guys didn't rank very well in the Bee's recent tamale tasting, but showed a little better on Sunday. The masa held up well - the problem was there was too much of it. There either needed more meat or less masa to get that equilibrium that comes with the best tamales. And yes, I'll say once again that I'm a tamale snob, but I still ate two of them on Sunday. In fact, I've still got one left in the 'fridge and I doubt that'll last more than a few hours. All I need is another bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola ...

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