Monday, June 2, 2008

Los Arcos Mexican Store (and Restaurant)

Los Arcos Mexican Store
Corner of Washington St. and South Main Street
Waterbury, CT 06706

Los Arcos is actually what inspired Scott and I to make a blog about Waterbury food finds. It was a typical Sunday, Scott and I were shoving tacos into our mouths to make room on the table for the menudo that was about to be served, and Scott said, "It is unbelievable that more people in Waterbury don't know about these tacos."

So here you are, Waterburians. We are telling you about these tacos.

Let me give you a bit of history. I had the good fortune to spend 9 months of my life in Oaxaca, Mexico, a place I consider to be the culinary heart of the country (and possibly the world, sorry my fellow Waterbury Italianos). Upon my return, I became ravenous for good tacos, and searched everywhere. Let me assure you, if you are looking for an authentic Mexican dish of any kind, Señor Panchos, Tequilas, Agave, or their equivalents, are NOT the places to go. Not to say they aren't fun places, certainly their margaritas pack a punch and nothing screams hilarity quite like Thursday night karaoke. But for good Mexican food, you've got to do a little dig a little deeper than inflatable corona bottles and $10 "combination plates."

Out of desperation, I started making my own Oaxacan/Mexican foods. One day I happened upon Los Arcos Mexican Store while on a quest for guajillo chiles. And, lucky me, not only did I find a decent supply of dried chiles and other imported goods, but also learned that the owner of Los Arcos was from Oaxaca, knew how to cook my beloved red mole, and sold to-go food, including tacos!

So here is the low down on Los Arcos. First of all, it looks like it is just a small grocery store. You have to ask Paula, my dear friend and the owner's wife, if they have food that day, which they almost always do. Tacos are a sure deal, they have those all the time, but you may be surprised by other menu items de jour (see below).

Second, it may be difficult for you to ask Paula about the food if your Spanish is a little rusty. One of the things I love the most about Los Arcos is that it reminds me of the little Mexican corner stores in Oaxaca, right down to the owner's children climbing on your lap while you eat. Which trust me, will happen. Part of that endearing authenticity is that everyone speaks Spanish. So if you are willing to challenge yourself a little, dust off your old high school Spanish book and head down to South Main Street for some real Mexican food.
*Update: While I was away, Scott ate at Los Arcos and said that Paula DOES speak English! You still may want to be familiar with the menu before you go, though, so read on!

Okay, so you probably want the actual review. I am including some helpful information for those of you eager foodies who are ready for the challenge but might have accidentally taken French in high school.

As previously mentioned, you may as well be walking into a corner grocer in Mexico. Likely Paula will be behind the corner, her children running around the store, maybe they will even talk to you. If her older children are there, you are in luck, because they speak English. Use them, they like helping! To your left you will see a tank (literally) of warm chicharrón, which I suppose everyone should try, but I don't care for. You might see the owner behind the wall, cooking, especially on the weekends, when they have a larger selection of food. There are customers rushing in and out of the door picking up odds and ends. If you are going to take your food home with you, ask for comida para llevar or food to-go. If you're up to it though, tell Paula that you're going to comer aqui (eat here) and have a seat at one of the tables. This is certainly not going to be a fancy dining experience, and you might have a 3 year old running around your table and trying to climb on you, but for those of us who have spent any time living in Mexico, it feels just right. :)
Oh, and I should add, if it's Sunday and you see a blond haired, blue eyed couple sitting at a table, chatting with Paula and the kids and eating what looks like a meal for 6, that's Renee and Scott. Come say hi to us!

Mmmmm I love Oaxacan food. I'm telling you, once you eat here, you will forget that Señor Panchos ever existed. Blanket statement: all of the food is delicious. I recommend everything. With the possible exception of the chicharrón and the menudo, not because it isn't well prepared, it's just that despite forcing myself to eat it so many times, fried pig skin and intestine soup still doesn't float my boat.

Our most common order at Los Arcos is tacos. I recommend 4 per person, which will definitely fill you up. Once Scott ate 6, and he had to lay on the couch for a few hours afterwards. There are quite a few different varieties to choose from. So far I have had:

Tacos Al Pastor
: Pork marinated in a sweet and spicy sauce and roasted

Tacos con carne enchilada: Beef that was coated in a chile rub before cooking (The favorite of both Renee and Scott)

Tacos con chorizo: Tacos with spicy Mexican sausage

Tacos con res de barbacoa: This is their barbecued meat, which is finely shredded, almost like pulled pork but more fine. This doesn't have a strong spice flavor, it tastes like pure beef.

Tacos con carnitas: The infamous Mexican pork dish, served taco style

And no, I don't think they have chicken. The tacos are served with chopped onion, cilantro, lime, salsa verde (green salsa) and red salsa. Yum!!

Other things that may be offered:
Barbacoa de res: Barbecued meat, which falls of the bone and is so flavorful. Scott asks for it every time.
Tamales: We've had the tamales de pollo (chicken) and de puerco (pork) and we liked the pork better, but both are excellent.
Menudo: Oh, you brave soul. The menudo is heavy on the tripe, low on the spice, so all of the delicious stomach-y flavors come through. You may want to ask for extra lime.
Mole: I won't get into a diatribe about mole in this post, since I could write all day. Suffice it to say that mole is phenomenal, and the owner's specialty, mole rojo, is one of my favorites. I just gave Paula a gift of a Oaxacan cookbook that featured all 7 "moles of Oaxaca," so Los Arcos may see some other flavors coming soon!
Arroz y frijoles: If you're in the mood for rice and beans.
Agua de jamaica: Sweetened water of the hibiscus flower. Note that it's pronounced "ha-my-ka"
Pollo asado: Delicious roasted chicken, but why would you?

I know we've had other things, but I just can't think of them right now. I'll probably add more photos of the food later in the summer.

Get over it, you aren't at a restaurant. Someone from the family will bring out your food, possibly one of the kids, but everyone is very attentive if you need anything at all!

Well, we ate there tonight. And we will probably eat there Sunday. And we eat there basically every week, so odds are, yes.

1. I love the whole family that owns the store!
2. The food is so authentic, and brings back memories of Oaxaca.
3. We can afford to eat good food all the time! Plus it feels like home!

1. Authentic flavors.
2. Attention to detail with garnishes, flavor on meat, etc.
3. Watching the local Mexican community look befuddled when they hear Renee speaking Spanish
4. Mexican Coca-cola tastes different and better. It is not a myth! (Okay, Scott gets 4 things. He also really likes taking his friends here, they are always very impressed)

You won't get more info from any website, and you theoretically could call, but they have to unplug their phone line every time they use the credit card machine, so your best bet is to just go there! Tell them Renee sent you. But if you have any questions at all, I can probably answer them for you, since I am there all the time.

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