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Viva El Mercado: Supermercado De Walmart

As recently as a decade ago, grocery shopping in metropolitan Phoenix a la Mexicana was pretty limited. A carniceria here and there, and if you were lucky, your local grocer would stock a few spices and treats from south of the border.

Now that salsa has left ketchup in the dust as America's favorite condiment, the grocery world has expanded to embrace culinary and cultural diversity. Food City and Phoenix Pro Markets (formerly Phoenix Ranch Markets) have been catering to a largely Spanish-speaking clientele for quite some time. But now that the Supermercado De Walmart has opened doors in Phoenix, Latin-centric grocery shopping has definitely hit the mainstream. Here's a guide to what's great, what's good and what's gringo.

Today we bring you Supermercado De Walmart. Tomorrow will be Phoenix Pro Market, and we'll wrap it up Friday with Food City.

Supermercado De Walmart

Walmart's foray into the Mexican grocery market begins in Phoenix and Houston with a new concept, the Supermercado De Walmart. Located near 90th Avenue and Thomas (8921 W. Thomas Road, www.walmartstores.com), this expansive new store opened just last week. Packed into a strip mall -- pressed against a Starbucks and spitting distance from a McDonald's -- this one gives you what you're probably expecting.

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Instead of feeling like a specialty store, this mega-chain merges suburban price-conscious shopping with a heavy mix of Latin American brands and products. For folks in Topeka, this might be a cultural shopping experience, but for savvy Phoenicians, it's almost a typical day in the neighborhood.

Authenticity and Price - This is definitely a corporate chain with a Mexican accent. The jamaica agua fresca tasted like Kool-Aid, but the real shocker was the fact that there was no carne asada to be found in the deli. Nor was there a tortilleria ("tortilla factory") or an on-site grill for fresh meats and chiles. At $4.74, the Supermercado had the least expensive to-go chicken, but they're not grilled in sight, as others are. Fresh American-style donuts were up against pan Nuevo. The limes were the most expensive of the three markets reviewed, at 20 for $1 (take that, Fry's!), and $2.50 for 80 taco-sized corn tortillas, but they were even with the rest with a gallon of milk ($1.98). Taco meat ($1.68) seemed like a good deal, but no signs could be found to say what kind of meat that might be, exactly. Fans of tamarind candy will be thrilled, since there's an entire section devoted to it. Signs were printed in English and Spanish, but that seemed almost unnecessary as there was a whole lot of English goin' on around every part of the store.

Atmosphere - Supermercado wins in the music department with a charming, live mariachi band (the day we visited, anyway). And, thankfully, Marc Anthony was piped thru the sound system, which is muy better than the ranchero music found elsewhere. Missing were the festive piñatas present at other stores. In their place were loads of signs pronouncing the virtues of saving money. Liberal use of primary colors are a welcome change to the typical beige faux-Tuscan grocer décor found in the 'burbs. This is definitely a part of a big corporate chain, but overall, it was bright, cheerful, and a nice place to grocery shop.

General Grocery Store-ness - Great modern displays, and a budget kitchen accessories department were impressive. Fans of backyard grilling will be delighted with the easy access charcoal, grills, and summertime favorites. This would be a no-brainer for a regular shopping outing, and there's little doubt your typical suburban shopper would find all their grocery regulars like Diet Coke, mega packs of toilet paper, and Swiffers galore, punched up with some new spicy options.

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