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Los Cabos Guide to Good Eating

by Judy Chaikin

So you've made the great escape to Los Cabos. You've rented a beautiful seaside villa for a week or more, docked your super sleek launch in the harbor of Cabo San Lucas, or are camping in the region and are ready to spend the next few glorious days and nights living La Vida Loca. Maybe after three or four days of eating every meal out, you decide to head out into the world of grocery shopping. Whoa! Let me help you find your way through the maze.


Cabo has really come of age! Here are the latest grocery shopping updates.

Gone are the days when the only markets in Cabo were the ARAMBURRO, and the FRUTAS Y VERDURAS. While those two local standbys still exist, the most exciting local news for shoppers is the opening of the COSTCO and WALMART stores in Los Cabos, plus three other large Supermarkets, MEGA, CCC and SORIANA. These stores bring a much need dimension to grocery and general merchandise shopping in our burgeoning area.

COSTCO -- On the main highway about two miles out of Cabo San Lucas. It's like walking into the Twilight Zone. . . suddenly you are transported back home to your local Costco, with exactly the same layout, the same lighting, the same big baskets and merchandise that you see in the States. It's only after you've wandered the aisles a bit that you notice some other products that you might not find back home -- masa flour, dried hibiscus flowers (for that favorite Mexican tea Jamaica) and large bags of jalapenos and dried pasilla chiles.

Most of the clothing is geared toward the beach type life in Cabo and the book department has both Spanish and English books. On the shelves you'll find a lot of Mexican brands of the same items you find at your home Costco. The Pharmacy has name brands and generics at excellent prices.

WALMART -- On the main highway about 1˝ mile out of San Lucas. The center of a sprawling complex that houses lots of retail shops and an excellent outdoor food court, this WalMart has the wide range of products both American and Mexican that you would expect to find. The size of the store is a bit overwhelming, but isn’t that what you expect at a Walmart?

MEGA, CCC and SORIANA -- These chains are competitors in Mexico and they’ve all opened one or more stores in the Los Cabos area. CCC and SORIANA have gigantic stores on the Highway that leads to Todo Santos just outside of Cabo San Lucas and SORIANA and MEGA have stores in the San Jose area.

The most important thing about these stores is that they have the much needed refrigeration that in the past was lacking in most markets and the deli departments are extensive, especially in CCC. All carry a wide variety of items including, clothing, prescription drugs, household products and magazines. Soriana goes even father, offering tires and hardware items.
There are smaller markets of all sizes and varieties in Los Cabos and you can probably find anything you want if you know where to go. Tourism has brought an increase in specialty shops where you can find "exotic" items like bagels and lox, Italian prosciutto, and imported cheeses and wines. There are also many little stores along the highway where you can pick up necessities like bread, milk and beer.

So how do the locals do their shopping? With the advent of the new supermarkets many locals have taken to grocery shopping for bulk items the same as their Northern counterparts, but in the traditional way much is still done piecemeal, like they do in Europe or Asia or most countries where they don't have one-stop shopping malls.

There are many small markets, known as bodegas or mercados including a chain of small local markets, FRUTAS Y VERDURAS, easily recognized by their bright purple facades and there are many local produce markets, bakeries and meat markets where prices are much more in line with you expect in Mexico.

Once upon a time the only supermarket option was a local chain, ARAMBURO which was overpriced, but geared to Northerners. There is still one Aramburo in the middle of Cabo San Lucas where you can still find some American items that can’t be found anywhere else.

At most markets you can find the brands you're familiar with, like Kellogg's, General Mills and Armour, but you will be paying Northern prices and sometimes more. If you try the local brands you're in for a treat. Many are packaged by the same companies we know and love, but under Mexican brand names and with lower prices. Breakfast cereals such as Frosted Flakes will appear under the name Zucaritas, but you'll still see Tony the Tiger on the box. Same stuff, different name, once you get the hang of it you'll save big bucks. There are other local brands that you might want to try, especially for Mexican specialties like beans, red sauces or canned chilies, which out-do their Northern counterparts.

The cash registers calculate everything in both dollars and pesos, so if you have to pay in dollars, you'll get a fair exchange rate, and they never have a problem calculating your change (although it will be in pesos). Your groceries will be bagged by either a senior citizen or a young boy or girl, probably under the age of 12. You are expected to tip them a few pesos, but DO NOT tip with American change (coins). While American dollars are accepted widely in Mexico, American coins are not and they will probably just toss them on the ground. It's not an insult it's just a fact of life. Yankee dollars Si! Change No!

Unlike years past, all the major markets now have refrigerated fruit and vegetable bins. Still, the produce is usually not up to snuff on the perishable items like lettuce, broccoli, green beans etc. So we still like the COSTCO option for those big bags of spinach and lettuce.

There are also fruit and vegetable stands along the highway and it's worth a stop just to see what they are offering. In certain times of the year you'll see a variety of fruit vendors selling their wares off the back of their trucks. For about $2.50 you'll get a giant sack of juice oranges that will last weeks. Others sell locally grown watermelon, cantaloupe or tangerines. Usually their produce is exceptional, but it is seasonal. The vendors are happy to give you a taste before you buy.

Generally it’s hard to find a bad piece of fruit in Mexico because most of it is grown locally and “ripened on the vine.” Unlike the produce we import in the U.S. or Canada, it hasn’t been picked “green” and then gassed in a warehouse to prevent ripening before it’s shipped out to our local supermarket. In Mexico it may not be as visually perfect, but the taste is exceptional.

The best new option for produce is the ORGANIC MARKET that takes place in San Jose on Saturday. At this market the local farmers who supply the restaurants and hotels bring their goods for sale to the public at very reasonable prices. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon as there are also local artists displaying their work and excellent homemade food items such tamales and handmade ice cream. There is also an Organic Market in Cabo San Lucas on either Saturday or Sunday -- pick up a copy of The Gringo Gazette newspaper for schedule and location.

Mexican beef and pork are very flavorful but may not be as tender as you are used to unless you can find SONORAN BEEF. The cuts are also different and you may not recognize the steaks and roasts you usually buy, just start with what looks familiar. The beef in the major markets is fine, especially at COSTCO but the best steaks we've found are in a small butcher shop behind the MERCADO MUNICIPAL, the old central market in San Jose. Walk out the back door of the market and turn left. There you'll find a great little butcher shop that sells Sonoran beef. Ask specifically for Sonoran and they will cut you whatever kind of steak or roast you desire. They also have both cut and whole chickens and eggs and their prices are good.

The chickens in Mexico are very tasty. They are grain fed and while not as plump looking as those in U.S. markets, they cook up very well. Sometimes all you can find are frozen birds, they're still very good, especially for the barbecue. The parts are sold in the following ways:
Pechuga de Pollo - the breast, (pronounced Pechoogah day Poyo)
Sin Hueso - without bone, (pronounced Wayso)
Con Hueso - with bone
Pierna - Leg and thigh, always sold together (pronounced Peeairnah)
Entero - The whole bird

You’ll also find Turkey in Mexico, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas. All the major markets carry frozen turkeys just like you’d find at home.

Don't be afraid of the milk, it's all pasteurized and you can usually find U.S. brands. You may not always find low-or non-fat, but wait a couple of days and try again. It'll show up. They also sell non-refrigerated milk in sealed cartons, like they do in Europe. It's perfectly good and very tasty.

Eggs are sold loose or in cartons. The big surprise is how brightly yellow the yolks are and how high they stand up in the pan. One of my neighbors was so shocked by this she thought there must be something wrong with the eggs and threw them out. But, in case you've forgotten, that's what real, home grown eggs, without hormones, look like.

A very popular dairy product in Mexico is Crema Eugenia, which is a slightly thinner equivalent of sour cream and comes in small bottles. Be sure to try the Mexican cheeses like Manchego, a good soft grating cheese similar to Jack which is also excellent for cooking; or Ranchera, which is like a thicker and tastier version of hoop cheese, or Cotija which is great for crumbling on salads or tacos. You can also find Swiss, cheddar and most of the other cheeses you're used to at the major markets.

It's everywhere, just look for the signs that say PESCEDERIA (Fish Market.) There are small fish markets all around San Jose and if you go down to the wharf where the fishing boats come in, both in Cabo San Lucas and in San Jose, you can ask the men cleaning the fish if there's any for sale. Sometimes they are paid in fish and will sell you some of theirs. They'll tell you a price and whatever it is, take it. It's always cheap and well worth it. Bring it home and cook it, you'll never get it any fresher. Or take it to one of the many restaurants that will cook your fish for you. Just ask, most of them will do it.

You can buy your tortillas in the market in the small packages or you can go to one of the many tortillerias where they are manufactured and buy a kilo (that's 2.2 pounds) for about $1.25. They're usually found on side streets, so keep your eyes open for the sign that says: TORTILLERIA.

Mexican pastries are not very sweet. They use a more coffee-cake style batter and don't go for heavy creams or icings. They do make one very special cake called Tres Leches (Three Milks) which will definitely satisfy a sweet tooth. You'll see many Mexican bakeries around town and they all have a similar selection of cookies and breads. Look for the signs that say: PANADERIA

The MEGA market in San Jose has an excellent bakery where you can order a cake for any occasion at a very reasonable price. They also bake fresh rolls and breads daily. COSTCO also features a very well stocked bakery with fresh goods baked on the premises.

Try the Mexican bolillo, like a soft French roll with a hint of sweetness. It's great for sandwiches and also comes in a larger form which can be sliced like French bread. They are very inexpensive and at Costco you can buy a bag of 12 bolillos for approximately 75 cents. If you get there at the right time, they’ll be warm from the oven. You'll also find French-style batards, which should be eaten the day they are bought because they go stale very quickly.

If you need a real sugar fix, or a more European type bakery product, try the SWISS BAKERY in Cabo San Lucas or the FRENCH RIVIERA BAKERY in San Jose where you can order a Continental breakfast and watch your croissants baking through a viewing window. (See the Los Cabos Guide to Good Eating for directions.)

In the heart of San Jose del Cabo, is the MERCADO MUNICIPAL. This is the most “traditional” Mexican market you’ll find in Los Cabos. Open stalls offer everything from fresh fish, to produce and meat. They also have a great selection of leather goods, clothing, blankets and other local items. The mercado is located between Mauricio Castro and Coronado streets a couple of blocks below the highway, but since neither of these one-way streets goes through to the highway, it can be a little tricky to find. Even if you don't do any grocery shopping, it's worth stopping by to check out some of the local flavor, or to eat at one of the half-dozen loncherias (lunch counters) where you'll find huge plates of food and fresh squeezed juice served at great prices. Don’t worry if you don't speak much Spanish, you can point to pictures and no matter what you get, it’s all good home-style cooking and you'll enjoy it.

PROSAN is a local warehouse store where most restaurant owners do their shopping. It's open to the public and you can buy in bulk at very good prices, especially good for stocking up on canned and paper goods. It sits off a side road that seems to be constantly under construction on the backside of Cabo San Lucas. Follow the signs that say: "To the Bungalows" (which is a very nice small hotel). You'll eventually see a couple of street signs that say "ProSan" with an arrow. Maybe you'll find it, maybe you won't. It's always an adventure in Los Cabos!

Lox and bagels can be found at TRADER DICKS, in the Corridor area near the Coral Baja condos and at LENNY'S DELI in Cabo San Lucas, where they have a New York style deli counter plus an incredible selection of bottled salsas. EUROPEA, a gourmet Wine and Deli shop has two locations, one in the WALMART shopping center and the other on the highway just outside of San Jose. Here you'll find wines and liquors from around the world as well as specialties like prosciutto and parmesano reggiano.

Well that ought to get you started. Now go back to your villa, yacht or campsite, have a good shot of Tequila or una Chela (a brewski) and see who you can get to fix you that great dinner you just bought.

Buen Provecho

See the rest of the Los Cabos Shopping Guide:
  • Los Cabos Beer, Wine, & Liquor Shopping Guide
  • Nuts & Bolts: Hardware Shopping Guide
  • Gringo's Guide to Chili Peppers and Salsas
  • Los Cabos Gift Shopping Guide

    See Los Cabos Information for activities, nature, links and events.

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