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Vallarta Supermarkets. Image Courtesy Vallarta.

Vallarta Supermarkets

First of all, there is nothing new or secret about Vallarta Supermarkets. As one of the fastest growing regional supermarket chains in America, people flock to these food meccas by the thousands each day. But there is something special about walking into a Vallarta. I don’t know if it’s the colors, the smells, the fresh tortillas, the Carniceria, or a combination of all of the above….but when I walk in the doors, I get a sort of glazed over look in my eyes and a weird drunken grin comes on my face like a drunk teenage boy stumbling into a strip bar for the first time…

Well, maybe not…but you get the idea. For those who haven’t been in a Vallarta, it’s a food orgy with a decidedly Mexican cuisine flare. The combination butcher shop/fish market is extraordinary, the fresh tortillas are made before your eyes, and the produce is fresh, year round good and as low priced as it gets. Do I shop there for regular American ingredients and staples?…generally not. When I head to Vallarta, it’s for prepared meats, tortillas and produce – period.

My meal of choice prepared courtesy of Vallarta?…Tacos De Pollo…chicken tacos. No need to get complicated here – wait for the sale, run-don’t-walk to Vallarta, buy, cook, eat!

I start with the marinated chicken steak – that’s what they call it. It’s essentially boneless halves of chicken marinated in Vallarta traditional ‘preparada’ marinade. It’s a combination of Chef Morito Carne Asada seasoning, onions, cilantro, citrus juices and whatever else I can’t recognize. Bottom line: it’s perfect! Every time I try to imitate it, it’s never as good as theirs – so why try? When the marinated chicken is on sale, it runs anywhere from $1.39 to $1.99 a pound! I pick up 3 or 4 pounds and I’m set. Next stop, the tortillas – for a 30 pack of the freshest white corn tortillas in town. Stop at the refrigerator for some cheese – Queso Blanco, Cotija or Jack. Then, a white onion, a bunch of cilantro, a tub of their fresh chile verde salsa, and straight to the check out line and home.

On the grill.

On the grill.

Again, keep it simple – grill the chicken on the BBQ. Create an onion/cilantro chopped mixture. Warm the tortillas. Grate the cheese. Into the tortilla goes chopped grilled chicken, onions/cilantro, cheese, salsa – this is a chicken street taco as good as any taco stand in SoCal. And you can make enough tacos for a small army for $20! Go – now! I love Vallarta Supermarkets – you will too!

Triple Threat Pork Sando. Image Courtesy Carnitas Snack Shack.

Carnitas Snack Shack

The “Shack,” as I lovingly refer to it, is one of my go-to North Park eateries. It sports a simple, hipster-sheik decor, with a hole-in-the-wall ordering window, and a quaint patio dining area. The roof of The Shack is resident to a giant pig statue, beckoning its patrons for miles around. Beyond that, the focus is all on the food. The flavors, as suggested by their alluring name, are a delicious blend of fresh, Mexican-inspired spices and good ole fashioned, messy, American BBQ. To date, I’ve eaten at Carnitas Snack Shack at least twice a month, and I don’t plan on stopping.

The menu is small, but full of potent amalgams of shredded pork, melted cheese, and tri-tip. Of course, as is customary in most quality North Park restaurants, the ingredients are all fresh and prepared from scratch. If it’s your first time, go straight for the “Steak Sando.” It’s a mass of sliced ribeye, coated in a chipotle aioli, smashed in between two pieces of freshly baked, cheese-crusted jalapeno bread.

Steak Sando. Image Courtesy Carnitas Snack Shack.

Steak Sando. Image Courtesy Carnitas Snack Shack.

The first time I ate it, I swore to my girlfriend that I felt a divine presence in the empty seat next to us. It wasn’t classy, or couth, but the only response I could muster after the first bite was a resounding “Unh.” It’s creamy, spicy, messy, and an altogether singular experience. I have yet to find a steak sandwich ANYWHERE as creative, or as satisfying as The Shack’s variation. Naturally, I washed it down with a Ballast Point, Sculpin IPA and (somehow) managed to finish a side of their crispy fries and freshly-made ketchup.

My girlfriend, Jessica, had the “Triple-Threat Pork Sando”. If you aren’t in the mood for beef, go for this one. They jam pork loin schnitzel, pulled pork, and BACON into a menage a trois of flavor explosion. If I wasn’t so full from the Steak Sando, I might have stolen more from her plate. After her first bite, Jessica’s reaction was even more dramatic than mine. She paused for a moment, and looked up at me with a certain vulnerability, as if to suggest the flavors had arrested her ability to control her own body. It was a testament to the quality of the Shack’s food. You can do no wrong when selecting from their menu!

Triple Threat Pork Sando. Image Courtesy Carnitas Snack Shack.

Triple Threat Pork Sando. Image Courtesy Carnitas Snack Shack.

Trust me when I say, that if you venture to the greater San Diego area and don’t stop here for lunch, you will be punished in the afterlife. In truth, my first dining experience at the shack was transcendent. I can’t think of a time in recent memory that I was as impressed with a restaurant. So please, do yourself a favor and eat here. Get their early though. The line to order has a tendency of wrapping around the corner.