Carniceria la favorita
In Search of The Springs
Alfonso Ulloa tending the carne in the Carniceria.
Walking into Carniceria La Favorita is like crashing a good birthday party. From the pastel streams of star-shaped piñatas to rows and rows of bright delights—orange and green mangoes, red chilies, candy, rainbow-hued sodas, savory meats—it seems that happiness can be bought after all, at least long enough to wolf down some chorizo and guzzle a cold tamarind Jarritos.
Buoyed by the fizz of after-school chatter, children and high schoolers flow through the store buying pastries and sugary drinks. Matrons bark requests at the meat counter, pointing to pork chops or eyeballing chicken breasts. A businessman with a paper-wrapped package of meat stops to chat. Conversations in Spanish and English stop and start, run over each other, pause to see who’s coming in through the door. Owner Alfonso Ulloa, a slight man with graying hair, works the cash register.
It’s a family business to say the least. Ulloa employs six members of his family and two butchers. Working alongside their parents, the bilingual Ulloa children bridge the barrier between cultures and generations, often translating for their elders. On this day, the young and cordial Rene Ulloa walks back and forth along the meat counter, describing the store specialties.
“Most of our products come from Mexico or South America,” he says. The Ulloas cook up neighborhood favorites for a mostly Hispanic clientele. Patrons relish their homemade chorizo, a zesty chile and garlic-flavored pork sausage. Or their fresh ceviche, a mixture of pale fish and spices served in a tostada or a tortilla. Also on the menu are steaks and chicken legs marinating in rich flavors, ready just in time for the busy heads of household who swing by for a quick dinner solution.
At the meat counter, cuts run the more commonplace gamut of steaks, pork chops and chicken breasts, to those earthy, more inscrutable delicacies—hearts, livers, kidneys and beef stomachs. Goat. Brazenly unmistakable are whole heads of boar and cow, and lots of chickens’ and cows’ feet.
Tripe, or beef stomach, provides the main ingredient for menudo, a spicy soup known for its curative powers to combat a cold or flu, says Ulloa. It’s also a good hangover remedy.
Not only does the store stock basic ingredients, it also sells cooking tools, including a behemoth 100-gallon aluminum pot for barbacoa and birria. Both popular dishes help revelers savor special occasions—holidays, birthdays, baptisms or weddings.
Traditionally, barbacoa—or Mexican barbecue—is prepared in a pit in the ground. In keeping with America’s culture of convenience, barbacoa is now often cooked in a pot, says Ulloa. The tenderized meat, which can be lamb, goat, pork or cow head, is eaten in a corn tortilla with guacamole, salsa, onion, cilantro and lime. Birria, a hearty stew, is made with chile-marinated goat or lamb and steamed like a pot roast.
Day in and day out, La Favorita provides families with the tastes, smells and flavors of home. As one of Ulloa’s many friends says, “It’s just like a store you would find in Mexico. It has all the things you need for a good life.”
From the Spring 2008 issue of SONOMA