I came in here for a notebook. I end up eating the house out.
I’m in the Northgate González Market, which everybody calls Mercado González.
It’s the new supermarket in Barrio Logan. Took the community 30 years to make it happen. But now it’s up and running, and guess what? It’s great for pretty much anything and cheaper than any other place I know. Everything’s labeled in Spanish first, of course, and Latino items get pride of place. But they have all the regular groceries, plus items like school notebooks. Which is why I’m here. ’Cause here they go for 99 cents to $1.99. Try finding that price in North Park.
1950 Main Street, Barrio Logan
But, uh-oh: when you come in, you more-or-less have to pass by the in-store eatery, La Fonda de Doña Tina (“Doña Tina’s Inn”). Outside, the neon sign reads “Cocina [kitchen] de Doña Tina.” Whatever. It’s a combo of deli-type south-of-the-border foods such as stews, pork skins, menudo, goat meat, tortillas (flour, corn, and nopal, which they make here), big bags of rice (for 99 cents), and a restaurant with seating inside and outside on an umbrella-strewn patio.
I was here a year ago, soon after the place opened. Ordered a $1.99 pork taco al pastor. Delish, especially with the mix of brown, red, and green salsas they had.
“Would you like something, sir?”
It’s this restaurant guy. Label on his waistcoat reads “Rene.” There’s an urgency in his voice that gets me checking my watch. Oh, man. I’ve done it again. Come in late. Almost nine o’clock here.
“You’re closing, right?”
“We’re going to have to start cleaning up pretty soon,” he says. “But you’ve still got time to order.”
Problem is, there is so much to pick from. Starting at the vertical spit for adobada pork, past a rack of chafing dishes loaded with shrimp soup, pork chops, chicken soup, frijoles, octopus, goat, spuds’n cheese, menudo, on and on. Prices are by the pound, mostly. Like, the goat goes for $6.99.
Just to get things rolling, I ask for an adobada taco. Same as I had last time. And — hey hey! It’s still $1.99.
Rene starts slicing the meat off the stacked slices, and slaps a couple of corn tortillas on the hot plate. Then he puts the meat in a small frying pan. Guess the vertical kebab heaters are already off.
He sees I’m still searching the menu. “We have the special combo deal, too,” he says. Oh, yeah. Two meats or veggies from the chafing dishes steaming away here, plus frijoles or rice, for $5.99.
But, uh, need for speed. I almost go hog-wild and order pork chop and mushrooms and chicken soup. But I end up choosing a combo of barbecued goat meat, potatoes with grilled cheese and peppers, and frijoles (you get four hot corn tortillas to go with that).
Then I can’t resist ordering a 16-ounce pot of caldo de camarón (shrimp soup) as well. Looks so luscious with peppers, shrimp, celery, and other stuff simmering in an angry-looking liquid you know is going to blow you away. So that’s $1.99 for the taco, $5.99 for the combo, $4.99 for the pot of shrimp soup, and a horchata, the rice drink ($1.99). Lord. With tax, that comes to $16. Feel bad, but not that bad, because I know Carla and I can have a leftover feast later.
So, pretty soon I’ve got this way-heavy tray, loaded and steaming. Before I sit down, gotta check out the salsa bar that fills up one end of the counter space. Ooh. Beautifully evil-looking pools of green, brown, and burnt-orange salsas. I try two.
I find a table in the seating area, near a couple of other Spanish-speaking families and teens and a couple of Caltrans guys talking about the dangers of doing work on freeways. Rene and his buddies are already hauling out the chafing dishes, covering them with foil, and scrubbing down hotplates. So I get into my main food. The adobada’s as good as I remember it, though, yes, meat’s been cookin’ a few hours. The spuds and cheese are comforting and familiar. But it’s the goat that’s interesting. Has that gamey goat taste I’ve come to love. Richer than beef, sorta like bison, but darker, richer. It’s like drinking Arrogant Bastard. You have to get used to the taste kick it gives you. Only then you start to appreciate the almost-molasses intensity of the taste.
But today, have to say, the prize goes to the shrimp soup. Hoo-wee! Zingy, but tasty. And this little pot of fire is a meal in itself. Five bucks worth of protein, TNT-strength heat with help from some chilies, and a generous amount of camarones.
Just to help Rene and the others out, and also not to pig out too much, I pack half of it all to go. Can’t wait to get back and fix us a late-nite combo snack of epic proportions.
I head out into the dark and down toward the trolley. It’s an odd, but good feeling. I feel like I’m coming back from another country. I mean, the barrio has tons of totally Mexican restaurants, but there’s something different about having a modern, 35,000-square-foot supermarket where everything is Spanish and English is the second language. How great that must feel for Loganites, to have shelves stocked with goods for them, to reverse the order of things, even if it’s just for an hour’s shopping.
Or an hour’s eating, natch.
The Place: Cocina de Doña Tina, in Northgate González Market, 1950 Main Street (at César Chávez), Barrio Logan, 619-237-8022
Prices: Adobada taco, $1.99; combo deal: two meats or veggies plus frijoles or rice, $5.99; barbecued goat meat, $6.99/lb; pork chop and mushrooms, $6.99/lb; 16-ounce pot of caldo de camarón (shrimp soup), $4.99; horchata (rice drink), $1.99
Hours: 6:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. daily
Buses: 11, 901, 929
Nearest Bus Stops: 11, Logan Avenue at César Chávez Parkway; 901, César Chávez Parkway and National; 929, Main Street at César Chávez Parkway
Trolley: Blue Line
Nearest trolley stop: Barrio Logan, at Harbor Drive and César Chávez Parkway