Festive Mexican tunes heavy on the brass and melodic male baritones float through the bright aisles of Akron's La Loma Supermarket. Piñatas hover overhead. But what catches your eye is the meat counter where Francisco Trujillo greets customers six days a week.
"My English is not that good," he says bashfully. Actually, it is. The butcher, a stocky, spark plug of a guy, lived in California for 11 years before the offer of cheaper rent and a better life led him to a Mexican grocery in Columbus 10 years ago. When family members from that grocery store opened La Loma last year in Akron, Trujillo followed.
He now spends most days behind a gleaming meat case packed with beef tongue and offal for menudo (a traditional Mexican soup) at one end and seafood at the other. Trujillo, 44, presides over the case. He cuts, seasons and grinds beef on demand and makes his signature chorizo — secret recipe, of course.
"It's my home recipe," he explains, a remnant of his childhood in Jalisco, Mexico. He learned how to make this 100-percent-pork chorizo (regular and spicy) 25 years ago from his mother. Long, thick ropes of it lie under the glass, beside pre-mixed fajita meats, short ribs and blood sausage.
Trujillo points to the arrachera (flank steak), a Mexican favorite. "When the customer comes in, I prepare it for the grill: lemon, orange juice, my own recipe," he says. "I'm always [saying], 'I can prepare!' " Word is getting out, too. Families flock here to stockpile ingredients for the weekend. Trujillo fills up an extra case on the side with cooked barbacoa and carnitas (beef and pork) — about 100 pounds every Saturday and again on Sunday.
Trujillo even comes out from behind his meat counter to show customers his favorite brand of tortillas — almost exactly authentic, he says. The meat mastermind simply can't stop himself from helping, explaining, coaching. Next time, he says, just call. " 'Pancho, I need 10 pounds, 20 pounds,' and come in and pick it up. Very easy."
Travel the globe without leaving town. Check out these other ethnic markets while you're in the neighborhood.
You want exotic? Check out the freezer case stocked with both frozen samosas and lamb brains. There's plenty of fresh stuff, too. An employee whipped up a batch of hummus for us on the spot. 57 Midway Plaza, Tallmadge, 330-633-3830
Hana Asian Market
Proprietor Joy Asamoto makes sushi and stocks her coolers with homemade kimchee. Out back, she's planted an organic garden with Asian veggies and herbs, which she sells in the store. 1390 N. Portage Path, Akron, 330-836-2700
Row upon row of hot sauce anchors the shelves at this Latin grocery, where the manager helpfully explained to us the best ways to cook a bag of dried chilies. 787 N. Main St., Akron, 330-535-4004