Hey, readers, get ready. We're putting new meaning into the term "street food." For Chow Bella's latest mission -- "Eating 16th Street" -- we've employed a young woman who's literally eaten her way around the world. Alex Rodriguez has eaten borscht in Moscow, steak in Buenos Aires and a "life-changing panna cotta" in Bra, a small town in the Piemonte region of Italy. Now we've set her palate loose on Central Phoenix's 16th Street. Rodriguez will try it all, from Jefferson Street north to Thomas Road -- and report back, place by place.
The Place: Pro's Ranch Market The Food: Mexican grocery store and hot food counter The Backstory: Chain of large Mexican-style indoor markets owned by an Italian family -- with seven locations in greater Phoenix, one of which is on la calle 16. The Price: Groceries are comparable in price to a traditional store; Breakfast cost up to $3.49, lunch combos up to $5.99, tortas up to $5.99.
Pro's Ranch Market may very well be the sole reason I question why I didn't come to Phoenix sooner. Miami, where I live, has great grocery stores. We have a southeast chain called Publix - and I used to think you could get anything I wanted there. Til I visited Pro's.
Earlier this week, we stopped by Ranch Market to get a feel for the place. Pfft. Wait, who am I kidding? I'm there almost every day. Guilty as charged.
When we visited to take photos the other day, we were stopped by security and told that photography was not allowed inside the market, "We don't want anyone stealing [our] idea," the guard told me. I managed to give him my card, to show him I was legitimate, but still, I was sent to the corporate office to speak to a higher-up. I felt like an outlaw -- I just wanted to take some photos. Barbara Poggi, the Project Administrator of Pro's satellite corporate and regional office, explained that they're strict due to brand theft. "We like to control what's going around about the store," she said.
That makes sense, Ms. Poggi. If I was a brand thief, I'd want to steal Pro's market idea too.
In any case, the market, which takes up almost the entire block on the northeast corner of 16th street and Roosevelt, embodies "awesome."
You'll have to pinch yourself as you walk in. The inside of Pro's looks like a piñata exploded.
Of course, there's a whole lot more to Pro's than piñata candy. Whether you're looking for produce, or meats, or seafood, or dairy products, this huge market has just about all of it in stock. The first Phoenix Pro's Ranch Market, built in 1992 by an Italian family (go figure!), aimed to cater to the growing Hispanic demographic of the city. As years passed, the demand for more of these markets grew, and now there are 7 locations in greater Phoenix.
The hot food counter is usually my first stop. As I've noticed, the meals are changed daily. Usually anything from menudo (tripe stew), to whole cooked pescado (fish), to carne a la Mexicana, to grilled chicken is available, hot and ready. If you want to order enchiladas, go right ahead. The last time I had them for lunch, the man behind the counter made sure it was okay that I could wait a little, because he made them fresh. Is that even a question? Of course I'll wait for fresh enchiladas. And you should too.
Most recently, though, we went with the carne a la Mexicana (strips of steak in a tomato and green bell pepper sauce, $4.99).
It doesn't look great, but trust me, it's awesome. I'm particularly biased to this common Mexican dish, because my mother made it for my sister and me almost every week when we were growing up. Pro's carne a la Mexicana isn't like my mama's, but it was still pretty damn delicious. What's better, though? Every meal comes with a pack of fresh tortillas.
But how do you know they're fresh?
There are several nice ladies right next to the hot food counter making them in front of you.
A great accompaniment to go with your fantastic-tasting (and fantastically priced) meal would be an agua fresca ($2.79 for a large). At the hot food counter, there will usually be two flavors, but if you want more variety, there's an entire agua fresca counter in front of the panederia (bakery).
My favorites are aguas de horchata, melon (cantaloupe), and sandia (watermelon), but rest assured any one of the flavors has the potential of finding a place in your heart's palate. If you're looking for typical grocery store items, like produce, Pro's will probably be your best bet in terms of quality and price. I've shopped a couple times at Safeway and Fry's and their prices have seemed a little higher than what I would pay at Pro's. Three humongous cucumbers, for example, were on sale the other day for a dollar. Imagine the possibilities. If the prices don't wow you, the sheer mass of the place will.
But even better than the prices is the market's Latino products. Where you can find whole tamarindo ($2.99 a pound), dried chiles ($3.99 a pound), Mexican key limes (79 cents a pound), conchas (sweet bread, 5 for $2), and membrillo (quince paste, $1.99 a pound), you can also find molcajetes (think of a Mexican mortar and pestle, $1.39), velitas (candles, $1.79), fresh pastries for 79 cents, and enormous pots to make tamales (size and prices vary). Four pounds of sweet oranges for 99 cents, anyone? Yeah, we know. That's awesome. And if you're throwing a pachanga (big party), this is the place to go.
But maybe you're not into quality, or price, or the ethnic products. Perhaps you're more of a person who prefers to judge a place by its people and the experience. What may very well be the best part about Pro's Ranch Market is that every employee looks like they love their job.
There has not been a single time I've walked in and had a snooty cashier, or a rude person behind the panederia or hot food counter. Everyone down to the security and young men refilling the produce sections are polite, and appear eager to help.
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That's what makes it a great place to shop. The environment is welcoming. The people are warm and friendly. And the product is unbeatable.
That explains the masses.
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