Perhaps the best thing about ethnic markets is the access to authentic, exotic, ethnically specialized ingredients. Even in today’s mega-supermarkets, while one can find dried chiles, tortillas, soy sauce, fish sauce, Sriracha sauce and the like, the selection and freshness considerations leave something to be desired. In contrast, with the advent of ethnic supermarket chains such as 99 Ranch Markets it is now possible to go to a superb ethnic market and find superior quality and selection of non-ethnic ingredients and pay far less than you would at the local traditional supermarket chain.
Gonzalez Northgate Market is a superb example of these new ethnic supermarkets. It is a corner Mexican market on steroids. While the ingredients are oriented toward an Hispanic customer base there is no shortage of selection for nearly any cook. The produce is fresh, copious and well presented. Many items one would usually find packaged are available in superior form in bulk. The dried chiles, for example, have an almost sticky interior they are so fresh. You can actually find avocado options other than (a) rocks or (b) over-the-hill. The greens are Whole Foods quality.
The meat and seafood selections are superb. A walk down the meat aisle at nearly any traditional chain supermarket would lead one to believe that cows, pigs and sheep have only tender (and expensive) parts. Gonzalez Northgate shows otherwise, as if it really needed showing. A variety of offal is available, as are more flavorful and less exercised braising cuts. The prices are terrific. Like any Hispanic market, there is a wide variety of marinated meats available (two or three kinds of carne asada and pollo adobado) and excellent seafood selections.
One of the great attractions of Gonzalez Northgate Market is the fact that it has its own, on-site tortilleria. As the tortillas are freshly made in a room behind the big arch, they are bagged and passed through the arch and piled on the shelf in various varieties: traditional corn tortillas, blue corn tortillas and tortillas de nopal (cactus tortillas). I have never once grabbed a bag of these fresh tortillas that was not warm.
Another feature of the market is that it offers a superb ceviche bar, featuring a breathtakingly wide variety of different ceviches using different fish and seafood combinations. Samples are available for tasting. By the time you taste all the varieties on offer it is doubtful you will have room for the stuff you planned to buy. The market also has, predictably, a great selection of hot sauces. Our favorite is Salsa 7 Mares.
Our favorite Gonzalez Northgate market is located on 43rd Street in San Diego, just off of the 43rd street exit off of the 805 South. It is well worth the drive.