Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated that a painting of a building behind the register was of Efrain’s. It is not.
Here’s the scoop on Efrain’s Food Market on the West Side: The tacos didn’t change my life and — from the look of things — the tortillas come from packages. Still, I loved the place.
Efrain’s is a throwback to a time when families bought their groceries from the mom-and-pop store down the street. Efrain’s has survived. The store is located on Saltillo Street, a side street off the main thoroughfare of Zarzamora. You wouldn’t know it was there unless you took a wrong turn or unless you were from the neighborhood.
I heard of Efrain’s from a student at Memorial High School — where I attempted to impart journalistic wisdom recently; I think I succeeded — who rhapsodized about the barbacoa and tamales.
When I arrived there on a Sunday, around 10 a.m., the tamales were sold out. I was there for the barbacoa, anyway.
Though it’s not much of a grocery store or meat market anymore, Efrain’s, which was founded in 1953, is still popular in the community. There are those old-school grocery store shelves — the ones that are at chest height — that have some produce such as onions, bananas, dried guajillo peppers, and some household cleaning items. There are a few tables for dining in. It’s all very tightly spaced and cozy. Behind the cash register are pictured of loved ones and lots of Jesus signage. A painting of what looks like the Efrain’s building back in the day is the centerpiece of the arrangement.
Where you’re drawn to is the meat counter. A expansive colorful sign informs you of the choices — barbacoa, chicharrones, carnitas and lengua by the pound. Breakfast tacos only on weekdays. Tamales by the dozen.
On the weekends, the place does steady traffic for its barbacoa, pork carnitas and tamales. This isn’t a restaurant. So the food is cooked and put in warmers, and they tell you what your choices are for that day.
On the weekday when I went, I had a papa ranchera, which was spicy from what seemed like serrano. The potatoes were on the mushy side, but still had very good flavor. However, they seemed old a little old, like the papas had been sitting in the warmer a while.
The beans in the bean and cheese on corn were very good — creamy, fatty and rich in flavor. But the corn tortilla was obviously store-bought.
Another taco — I didn’t get the name because I’m a bad reporter — I can only describe as pork and beans. Like salted pork. Good, not great.
The carne guisada was disappointing. Its flavor was OK with a strong chili powder flavor. It also seemed stewed in water and not in any kind of stock.
Which brings us to the barbacoa. They loaded up the corn tortilla, which was nice. And the meat was good — not greasy and with some fat. Clean, but also very just average. I was expecting more flavor. But, honestly, the slight blandness wasn’t anything a little salt and the very good green hot sauce didn’t fix.
The pork carnitas were similar — well cooked, tender and shredded. But definitely in need of seasoning and salsa verde.
Before wrapping this up, I must say that the service was excellent. The family who runs Efrain’s is extremely friendly, which might explain why it’s remained open since the 1950s.
Efrain’s Food Market, 1222 Saltillo St., (210) 435-4004
Worth traveling across town for
Average S.A. taqueria. Some hits, some misses
— Benjamin Olivo
What do you think? Is there a taco I should have ordered, but didn’t? Have any taco news, issues or concerns? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.