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Supermercado La Mexicana is one-stop grocery for everything Latin

Posted on 26 October 2017 by calvin

La Mexicana is decorated by a painting and mosaic by Greta McLain, part of the Somilla Project.

Article and all photos by STEPHANIE FOX
Just a few blocks west of the Longfellow and Nokomis neighborhoods, in an area where ethnic grocery stores attract customers from around the city, is the Supermercado La Mexicana. Located on the corner of Lake and Bloomington Ave., it was one of the first Latin American grocery stores in the area. If you are coming from the east, you can’t miss the place. There is a stunning mosaic covering the entire side of the building. If you are looking for an authentic culinary experience by preparing your own Mexican or South American food, this is where to come to find the ingredients.

Josie and Robert Dehoyos, recent immigrants from Texas, were having trouble finding what they needed to make the kind of meals they’d enjoyed back home. Then they discovered Supermercado La Mexicana. “Most places are smaller, and they don’t have as much to choose from,” said Robert. “They have a variety of Mexican foods here that we can’t find elsewhere.” On this shopping expedition, they brought along their daughter Harley Canto and her boyfriend Cory Sumner, visiting the city from Texas, a must see place, the parents had said. Canto said they’d be moving up to Minnesota, soon. “When we move here, we’ll shop here,” she said.

Photo right: Chicken breasts, wings, and legs, ready to package up for customers.

The store, and another one like it in St. Paul, is owned by Maria Lala, who opened it 18 years ago. Her husband, Mauro Madrigal, manages the Lake St. store. He was born in Mexico, he said, but grew up in Chicago. “I worked in IT for years,” he said. “Then I met my wife, married her and moved up here.”

Madrigal says that having a large variety of products is what makes the store a cut above others in the area. They specialize in Mexican, Honduran, and Salvadorian products with a small selection of South American choices, and it’s a full-fledged market, so you don’t have to be looking for south-of-the-border foods to want to shop here. They are busy enough to employ 14 workers, including full-time butchers, bakers, and a deli chef.

If you are looking for spicy condiments or cooking sauces, there is a whole aisle of choices. In the produce section (photo left), you can find standard grocery selections in addition to more unusual fruits, vegetables, and herbs. They carry two kinds of cactus, yucca, and starchy plantains. You can also find fresh bunches of an aromatic herb called hierba de olar, used in preparing southern Mexican tamales or in a traditional chicken recipe, tapixte de pollo, served at special occasions such as weddings or birthdays.

The store’s on-site bakery makes sweets and breads, displayed along a 25 ft. long specialty aisle where customers can choose their own, including breakfast pastries and large chocolate chip and M&M cookies.

In the carniceria—the meat department—Madrigal employs full-time butchers who start with whole pigs and large sections of beef and cuts them into thin slices or cubes and the specialty cuts like ribs and shanks. Butcher Edier Cruz (photo right) has worked behind the meat counter for two years. He used to drive a truck, he says, but he was offered a chance to learn meat cutting on the job.

In the frozen food section, you can find Latin American foods, ready to cook and eat. Or, find the lulo pulp and make yourself some lulada, a cold summer drink from Colombia. (Or use lulo to make a traditional Ecuadorian breakfast, the Ecuadorian Colada by simmering together for about 10 minutes: 2 cups of frozen lulo pulp, three-quarter cup of instant uncooked oatmeal—first soaked in one and a half cups of water—a half-pound of brown sugar, three sticks of cinnamon and four and a half cups of water.)

Photo left: Beef and homemade pork chorizos at the La Mexicana meat counter.

If you don’t feel like cooking yourself, check out the popular six-table sit-down deli run by Osvaldo Ocampo. “I learned to cook from my mama and grandma,” he said in Spanish. The secret is the seasoning, he said. The pork chorizos are freshly made, as are the tacos, tortas, and the Mexican and Oxaquenos tamales (wrapped in hierba de olar instead of corn husks.) “The best part of my job is being independent,” he said. “I get to work on my own.” His foods are available for take-out as well.

The place also makes and sells their own Mexican style homemade yogurt in strawberry, peach, coconut, and apple. “It’s a very good seller,” Madrigal says.

Photo right: Angie Rosas helps check out a regular La Mexicana customer.

While Madrigal still uses his IT training at the store, it’s the customers who bring him out from behind the computer screen. “I like working with people,” he says. I see new faces daily. We get all sorts of people, Black, Polish, American Indian, people from India. We’re starting to see a lot of Somalis. I like to welcome everyone.”

While finding parking in the area can be a challenge, the store has a parking lot in the back, free to customers.

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