Bargains, wonder and squid at Supermercado Guanajuato

Three or four years ago, I stumbled upon a restaurant on La Grange Road called El Mariachi and have enjoyed the delicious, authentic Mexican fare off and on ever since. But I never spent much time in the adjoining business, Supermercado Guanajuato.

That was my loss.

But with a recent interest in making fresh hot sauces, I found myself unable to locate all the peppers I needed at prices that made sense — so I gave this Latin market a try, and, boy, am I hooked.

The first time I went in, I bought only a couple dozen habanero peppers and maybe 10 large red jalapeños for a specific sauce I was making. I didn’t even pay much attention to the prices, but when the cashier rang me up and told me I owed $1.67, I took notice. I had previously paid $3.99 for a small bag of maybe eight dried chipotle peppers.

When I returned a week later, I took better care to look at what the store really had to offer, apart from just reasonably priced produce, and it was rather a fun and exotic adventure. As I strolled through the aisles, I saw much of what I expected, from various sauces and spices to dried and canned beans, most imported from Mexico or South America.

A shelf of Latin spices by La Gallito confronted me on one aisle, tailored for specific foods such as mariscos (shellfish) and fajitas. I saw Peruvian-style spaghetti sauce. I found an end cap filled with Mexican treats ranging from dried fruits to nuts to “gummy neon” chews that looked like they would dye your colon. I came across a veritable wall of Mexican prayer candles of all sorts of designs — one even depicted Pope John Paul II.

You like candy? Well, there’s enough imported candy in Supermercado Guanajuato to give you a cavity just from looking at it, including a brand called Pop Peluca, which are wrapped fruit candies. The display is so colorful, that it probably makes young children’s heads explode just to gaze upon it.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I found was in the small section of canned meats, which contained tuna, sardines, and, much to my surprise, squid. Except it wasn’t just squid — it was jumbo, whole squid. And to take it a step farther, it was even “premium,” jumbo, whole squid. Now, I like squid when eaten as sushi or even fried, but from a box? I nearly popped, but chickened out at the last minute.

Moving onto the meat and produce section, I found bin upon bin and bag upon bag of dried peppers, and for far cheaper than I have paid for them in grocery stores and produce stores. I won’t be doing that again (although ValuMarket does have good prices on dried peppers). Suffice to say, chipotle peppers are in no short supply at Supermercado Guanajuato.

Of course, there were plenty of habaneros, jalapeños, serranos, tomatillos and even lesser-known chilaca peppers. Amongst this bounty, I found possibly the most-beautiful bunch of cilantro I’ve ever laid eyes on, which I plucked for just 29 cents.

On the way out, I grabbed a box of frozen taquitos imported from Mexico, just to compare them to the Jose Ole things I’ve had here in the U.S. I also grabbed a jar of adobo seasoning by Rogelio Bueno, which came not as a powder but as a paste meant for using as a reduction with water or chicken broth. My girlfriend Cynthia and I did a taste test of both of the latter and were pretty darn happy.

Anyway, I walked away from the store, which tends to be a pretty active place with friendly employees, with three bags of food for just over $14. The deals to be had there are worthy, and the selection is worth the trip to 9901 La Grange Road, or to any of the other Mexican markets in town, from La Tropicana to La Rosita. There are plenty to check out, and I’ll be making my rounds soon. (Also, Supermercado Guanajuato has an adjoining butcher shop, which I’ll let you see for yourself.)

When I was finished, I dropped off my groceries at the car and walked into the adjoining El Mariacha for a couple of tacos. I was greeted by my smiling server with, “Hello, my friend!” How could I not keep coming back? And the tacos are good, too.