Pro’s Ranch Market
Vaya con Dios, Taco Bell
With America’s Hispanic population poised to eclipse the white population any day now, it’s pretty cool to see a full-service Hispanic-focused supermarket chain. Pro’s Ranch Market started as a family store determined to meet the needs of an ever-evolving Latin community and has grown into a chain with locations in California, Arizona, Texas and now New Mexico.
Though I usually avoid chains at all costs, I couldn’t help but get excited about Pro’s. While Albuquerque has several grocery stores catering specifically to the Hispanic community, none match Pro’s in size and variety. This place is so awesome, it’s easy to forget that I stand firmly behind mom-and-pop shops. But even I’m attracted to big shiny things on occasion.
Inside Pro’s, just past the overwhelming bakery and right next to the nearly surreal produce section, is a cafeteria called La Cocina. Preparing dishes from ingredients found in the store, La Cocina is something else. Diners sit elbow to elbow at long wooden tables, which makes eating anything but cozy. Paired with a noise level similar to a death metal concert and brightly colored flags and streamers hanging from the ceiling, the dining area has a state fair feel. On one visit I was even treated to Mexican karaoke.
Crispy fried pieces mingled with tender shreds, resulting in the best of both pork worlds.
Ordering is straightforward: Choose a meat and how you want it served. There are tacos, gorditas, huaraches and combo plates. As for meats, I don’t have the space to list them all. Just assume they have anything you could want. After ordering, diners wait for their number to be called and pick their food up at the counter. There’s a good chance you won’t hear your number over the cacophony in the store, so it’s best to stay near the counter.
The carnitas were to die for. You can’t go wrong with pork boiled in lard. Crispy fried pieces mingled with tender shreds, resulting in the best of both pork worlds. Cradled inside soft corn tortillas—made fresh—and topped with cilantro, onion and lime from the salsa bar, they made damn fine tacos. Carne asada tacos were equally delish smothered in guacamole and sprinkled with pico de gallo.
Finding decent barbacoa this side of the border can be tricky. Pro’s makes a nice effort. My only issue with the hunks of smoky cheek meat was the sauce—there was just too much. I couldn’t actually taste the meat against the heavy dousing. Another saucy dish, beef stewed in a poblano chile puree, struck the perfect balance. Spice and heat in equal amounts dressed slow-cooked carne as a sort of Mexican pot roast. Absolutely beautiful.
I used a plateful of carne al pastor to experiment with the various salsas from the bar. The sassy marinated pork was a little too competitive for most of the salsas, so I just smeared those gorgeous corn tortillas with a spoonful of each. A tomato-based salsa was zippy and fresh tasting, as was a green tomatillo blend. There was one concoction that didn’t sit well. It was a thick, pasty salsa with whole roasted jalapeños that at first came across as strangely cooling but then quickly dashed up the Scoville scale, settling somewhere in atomic territory. No amount of sweet watermelon agua fresca brought relief.
Pro’s is an experience unlike any other. It’s a fine grocery store with a lively pulse. Best of all, La Cocina offers great meals that will have diners heading into the aisles, filling carts with everything needed to re-create the dishes in their own cocinas.
The Alibi recommends:
• Carne asada tacos
• Carne al pastor
• Drinking watermelon agua fresca while allowing yourself to be hypnotized by the tortilla machine
Pro’s Ranch Market, 4201 Central NW, 833-1775. Hours: 7 a.m.-11 p.m. every day. Price range: $1.29 (asada, tripa or lingua taco) to $13.99 (12-taco platter). Ambience: Indoor state fair. Credit cards, large parties.