If you’ve ever tried to make homemade authentic Mexican food, you may have discovered that most supermarkets only carry ingredients for Tex-Mex chili or tacos. To truly explore the rich cuisine of our neighbors to the south (Mexico, not Iowa) you might want to drive to the border (Richfield and Bloomington, not the USA and Mexico) to shop at Andale Taqueria & Mercado. Owner Fernando Mellado manages to pack a country’s worth of food into this tiny space.
Shelves of dried beans and rice, bags of brightly colored Mexican candy (try the caramel tasting goat milk lollipops), and jars of instant Nescafe share space with an in-house bakery, a specialty meat market and a deli section with ready-to go meals and desserts.
Mellado is proud of his store, but it almost didn’t happen. Mellado and his business partner Jorge Robles already owned two other stores (Cinco de Mayo grocery stores at 3733 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis and 813 E. 66th Street in Richfield) when they went looking for financing for a new place. The banks, he said, didn’t want to talk with them.
“We were thinking of a taco shop or maybe a grocery store,” Mellado remembered. But, then they spotted a sign on a closed Embers restaurant. A call to the number listed on the sign led to a partnership with developer John D. Gross, and construction of a second building. The original rehabbed Embers ended up housing the restaurant and the new building, with a huge glass wall, became the grocery store. “He hired the architects, we split some of the costs and two years later, we moved in,” Mellado said.
Sunlight shines through the glass walls of the Mercado.
At the bakery, customers pile absolutely fresh breads, sweet pastries and cookies on trays to take up to the cashier in the front. “You can see bakers pulling the bread out of the oven,” said Mellado. Employee Bianey Samora and I worked through a language barrier (my Spanish is limited) to figure out what the sugary treats were. I pointed and she explained one was filled with pineapple, one with vanilla cream. Another pastry was, she said, “butter and sugar.” How can you not want this?
These are actually a crunchy snack. Break off a piece and dip it in hot sauce.
I also found versions of snack chips that were new to me. When I passed a bag of flavored potato chips among friends, no one could guess what “marinated flavor” meant. Another mystery: “super duros gigantes” translated “wheat pellets.”
Mellado is particularly proud of the store’s fresh meat market. After the Monday meat delivery, the store’s butcher slices slabs of meat into specialty cuts. “We have strange, different meats,” said Mellado. “We’ve got beef feet, beef bones, tongue, pork feet and other cuts. The store also carries pig heads, rabbit, chicken feet, fish and house-made chorizo and blood sausages.”
Customers also line up for hot take-out dinners, such as the chicken and potato, tomato and jalapeno hot dish found in the deli section. Or, choose the spicy, rich menudo, the pork something (OK, I’d never heard of it and didn’t catch the name) or pork tamales. Samora showed me pineapple and strawberry tamales, which looked like a perfect choice for the person who wants to explore new foods but doesn’t want to invest in the 11-pound jar of seasoned pork rinds in brine.
You don’t see jars of these in your local American supermarket.
Even cleaning supplies come in Fabuloso scents like lavender and passion fruit.
The store also has a dairy section, fresh vegetables, chips, soft drinks and even cleaning products from back in the old country.
Jell-O salad was never like these ready-to-take-home custards.
Andale Mercado is located at the corner of 77th and Nicollet. A small parking lot serves both the restaurant and the grocery and it’s often packed, which is a good sign. Spanish is the main language spoken here, but the staff is friendly and helpful even if you don’t speak the language, the store is spotless and, with the Tropicales tunes playing in the background, it’s a lot of fun to visit.