One of the things I always enjoyed about the Phoenix area was the vast array of businesses that cater to the Mexican population. Unlike most places I’ve lived, it’s relatively easy to go out and get some fresh masa, a wide variety of chile peppers, tamales, and the like, with most neighborhoods having either a grocery store that caters to the Mexican market, or at least does a good job of carrying Mexican staples and tortillas from some local bakery.
However, on my last trip through Mesa, Arizona, I noticed that Ranch Market, the long-time Phoenix Mexican-themed supermarket, had now opened a location in Mesa, so I decided to go in and check it out, since I hadn’t been to Ranch Market in a while.
Ranch Market is probably best summed up as a “Mexican Culinary Carnival” that also sells groceries on the side. While half of the business is your basic Mexican grocery store (albeit with very competitive prices), the other half of the store is the Mercado, their food court, with several walkup counters for bakery items, fresh tortillas, a wonderfully stocked butcher counter (complete with a 10 foot long refrigerated case of sausages), a taqueria, and several other food vendors.
But the one that draws me in every time is the big agua fresca stand right inside the door. For those that aren’t familiar with it, the aqua fresca is a blend of fresh fruit juices and water (and often teas, nuts, barley, spices, and other ingredients as well) to make a refreshing iced beverage. All day they are constantly making up giant jars of fresh-squeezed juices on ice, and ladling them out to thirsty customers. My particularly favorites are naranja (orange), jamaica (hibiscus and fruit), and sandia (watermelon, which suprises me, since I usually despise watermelon). This time I got a naranja, which was a nicely done aqua fresca, with perfectly fresh orange juice (I miss the days when much of eastern Mesa was still orange groves…) balanced with just the right amount of water to make it a refereshing beverage.
And, since I stopped here for lunch, I ended up getting a trio of tacos, going for my holy trinity of asada, carnitas, and cabeza. These were good tacos, although a few points shy of what I was getting used to down in Yuma. The asada and carnitas were nicely crisped and smoky, and the cabeza rather flavorful (although a bit soggier than I’m used to). Overall, still a very good taco for $1. The rest of the food is so good that this is one grocery store where you should go when hungry.
However, the thing that still amazes me about Ranch Market is the prices. By local standards, Ranch Market is cheap ($5 for fresh roasted whole chickens, jalapenos for $0.39/lb, tortillas $1 for 15, etc), while maintaining excellent quality (all the peppers there were top grade, as was the rest of the produce). By my New-England-calibrated grocery costs, this places is insanely cheap (I could literally cut my grocery bill in a third if I had this place near me with the same prices…).
So, as far as I am concerned, Ranch Market is a local gem, and I’m glad that Mesa has a location as well.
1118 E Southern Ave
Mesa, AZ (as well as several Phoenix locations)