Viva El Mercado: Phoenix Pro's Market

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This week we are bringing you reviews of three Valley Mexican grocery store chains, in honor of the opening of Walmart's Supermercado. Wednesday, we brought you Walmart. Today, Phoenix Pro's Market. Check back tomorrow for Food City.

Phoenix Pro's Market (5802 W. Thomas Road, check www.prosranch.com for other Valley locations) is an early entry into the Phoenix Mexican grocery market that always feels like a trip around the world - or parts of it, anyway. Bright colors, loud music, and a full-on frontal assault of smells, flavors throughout the store make shopping an adventure. It would be easy to stay for an entire day to take it all in, but any prolonged visit seems a bit like sensory overload.

Now seven stores strong, Pro's shows no signs of letting up on their plans for expansion. We visited their second store, near Thomas and 58th Avenue, which was packed with shoppers as well as a wide variety of baked goods, fresh food, and tortillas wrapped up hot off the press.

Authenticity and Price - Loud ranchero music filled the air, punctuated by staccato announcements rattled off the loudspeaker too quickly to be understood. (By us, anyway.) Jamaica aqua fresca was just like it should be, a sweet, syrupy concoction that's ruby red and simply delicious. Limes were 2 pounds for 99 cents, bolillo bread for tortas was 5 for a dollar, pan nuevo were 3 for a dollar. The fresh tortillas were a steal at $1.99 for 60. There was nothing labeled 'taco meat', but for less than 3 bucks a pound, you'd score a bag of sirloin cut fajita style. The free marinade, preparado, is a great upgrade.

Don't expect every sign to be translated into English, but there's usually a friendly staffer to help with that. Great soups, loads of carne asada. And freshly grilled whole chicken, 2 for 10 bucks; you'll get a bag of limes, salsa, and corn tortillas to go along with it. Tamarind candies dot nearly every section of the store. Packed with multi-generational families shopping together, we do think we were the only white folks this day, as it has been on most other visits.

Atmosphere - It's a party. From the bright piñatas to the loud ranchero music to the long tables for sharing family meals near the deli counters, this is a place meant for lingering. Colorful streamers twirl from ceiling fans. Loads of free samples of regional specialties will expand your culinary horizon, and the welcoming staff will answer every painstaking, newbie question. There's a reason local residents take out of town visitors to Pro's Market - it's a trip.

General Grocery Store-ness - Sure, you'll find Tide detergent and Kraft ranch dressing, but such Americanized brands take second fiddle to their Hispanic counterparts, with respect to brand and flavor. If you're an average family, you'd probably find 85% of your grocery and household favorites here. You'll never want for a selection of tortilla chips, but if Duncan Hines cakes are your thing, you'll be limited in your selection. However, you just might be tempted by some quick flan mixes and give up that instant devil's food cake addiction.

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