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A Tale of the Taco
The battling sounds of knife chops, echoed by even more knife chops, can be heard from outside. Cars constantly pull in and out of the tiny parking area. Some people even have to sit and wait a couple minutes before a spot opens.
Inside, customers point past glass freezers indicating which meats they want employees to measure and cut. More customers prepare their orders in one line, and another line is led by one register. Spanish music fills the air around this market full of low prices and authentic food
to go, as people in both lines hustle along the glass freezers, shuttling in and out.
This is Chris' Meat Market in downtown Fresno, a solid institution among central San Joaquin Valley taco joints that has maintained a devoted following for more than a decade.
Lots of people say Chris' Meat Market has the best tacos in town. It's also an ethnic food market that has a fierce loyalty among local families and downtown business people.
A few things have changed for the meat market at 1323 Kern Street since it first opened in 1990. Regulars might remember that the place used to have strings of sausages hanging from wall to wall and pieces of beef hanging for jerky. And the sign outside with faded red and yellow
letters still reads "Chris' Meat Market," even though the market's business cards read "April Meat No.2."
The market officially changed its name about seven years ago, butcher Jesus Moreno said, but most customers never caught on. "We don't feel like changing the sign outside, because people know our name already," he said.
Moreno, who cuts meat and often prepares meals for customers, has been working at the market for as long as it has been in business. He said even though the name has changed, the service, business and food have not.
The market serves many kinds of prepared food, from fried pork skin to carne asada burritos, and from full Mexican dinner plates to simple tacos. The carne asada burritos are filled with meat, light-brown beans, corn, Spanish rice and peas, all wrapped in a Mi Rancho flour tortilla and costing $2.25 apiece. Before the 10-inch-in-diameter tortilla is served, it is placed over a large, flat pan to be warmed.
Prices at other Mexican restaurants or taquerias might vary from $3.75 to $6 for a burrito of comparable size.
Carne asada is a Mexican recipe for thin-grilled beef served in tortillas, customer Maria Torres explained in Spanish, through her daughter, Karen Torres, as translator. The Torres family has been coming to the market for about seven years, after hearing about it from family friends.
Maria Torres said that everything about the market brings her back to comfortable foods and smells. "La tienda tiene todos," she said. The store has everything.
The store also sells several Mexican specialty ingredients that can't be found in most supermarkets, along with fresh tortillas, canned goods, beverages, and portions of pork, chicken and beef. Meats for sale vary from thin slices of seasoned beef to pig feet.
Armando Saucedo often comes to the store with his father for groceries-- and the tacos.
"They have good meat and tortillas," Saucedo said. "I come with my dad to buy groceries, and while we are here, I like to buy the tacos."
Saucedo said he has been coming to the market for at least a decade. "It's kind of like a family thing," he said.
Another customer, George Rico, also comes for the tacos. "Yeah, man! They're the best!" Rico proudly said. "The food here is great: the tacos, tortas, asada and bread."
Rico still calls the meat market by its old name, Chris' Meat, because he feels that is how the market all started. He first came to the store with his mother, who had heard about it from her friends. Rico lives not too far, so he and a few friends occasionally meet there for a meal.
The market's tripa tacos -- another big favorite among
customers, in addition to the carne asada tacos and burritos -- include pig intestines, cilantro, onions and chives, wrapped in a corn tortilla. Each taco costs $1.50. Like the carne asada burrito, the tortilla is also placed on a pan to be warmed.
The tacos here, regardless of the meat, are made with two corn tortillas, not just one, to make them extra hearty. After the tortillas are warmed, they're placed one on top of another, and the ingredients are spread on the tortilla to be wrapped and ready to eat. Orders are served with lemon slices and house sauces for extra flavor.
The house sauce is thick and orange-red. It has tomato juices and a spicy taste of black pepper and chili powder.
When the tacos are taken home, customers might find the wrappers covered in a little grease, but that hasn't stopped customer Francisco Alvarez from coming to the market time and time again. The grease makes it what it is, he said: authentic. Many customers ignore the grease and only pay attention to the fulfilling taste of the tacos.
"The grease is even great!" said Alvarez, who has been a customer of April Meat for at least 12 years. He said he usually orders the carnitas tacos and pig ears.
Customer Lee Vang, 26, used to leave his high school campus to eat lunch at the market.
"They used to also have fries and a hamburger for $1.99, and it was a huge portion too," Vang said. She still eats at the market, even though her high school days are over. The food and the cheap prices bring her back, she said.
"They're bomb!" Vang said. "Everyone used to talk about Chris' Meat Market."
April Meat No.2, better known to locals as Chris' Meat Market, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.