I like tortillas as much as the next guy who doesn’t eat them often. And I’ve most certainly never pressed and cooked any myself. After my recent visit to La Superior in Braggtown, I’ll never have to.
La Superior, located just before the turnoff to Old Oxford Highway, is a Mexico-infused market-carniceria (butcher shop)-taqueria-panaderia (bakery), and last but not least, tortilleria.
There’s a conveyor belt of fresh hot tortillas running non-stop in this Durham destination that’s been in business for more than a dozen years. The tortilleria is the nerve center. Always a line. The people patient and quiet. They wait their turn as if they have nothing else in the world to do.
Employees in white stand at the counter, stacking and wrapping up orders in a way that suggests he or she is shipping the most precious cargo on earth.
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The plastic snaps, the wrapping hands flash faster than you can follow, and the mouths of customers seem to salivate. Some folks bought a couple pounds of tortillas. Many bought ten pounds. The cost on the board: $1.29 a libra (pound).
Just about every product, display or sign in La Superior is in Spanish. It was by far the dominant language spoken, as well.
I heard random English from only one woman, who sat with half a sandwich-like meal in her hand that was so big she simply could not get her mouth around it. She was in the restaurant portion of La Superior, which is more or less surrounded by all the tortillas, breads, cakes, juices, cheeses and pastries.
A few times I said in Spanish that I knew a little Spanish, which impressed no one at La Superior.
It doesn’t matter one darn bit which language you use. The market was the most fun I’ve had shopping since the last time I had fun shopping, which was never.
La Superior is at 3325 N. Roxboro St., a block from Pelican’s SnoBalls, only a mile north of I-85. When you see it the first time you will think it’s not the right place. The building, with its massive window out front, looks as if it were once a car dealership, but I understand it’s mostly been either a furniture rental store or a regular furniture store. Until, that is, the mouth-watering Mexican market moved in.
The exterior of the building is about as drab and cold as the inside is kinetic and colorful. There’s a sign, but it ‘s hard to see. Most important: the giant parking lot was nearly full when I arrived.
Inside, the rows of rhythmic Spanish names were smooth like a song. Choco Listo. Jarritos. Bustelo. Elotes. Then I saw “Gansito,” with the little goose on the box, made by Marinela. Little did I know the Gansito line of snack cakes is legendary in Mexico.
I asked about Gansito. An employee said: “It’s just Gansito,” and walked away smiling and shaking his head. Subsequent research told the story. Gansito has games, adventures, youtube videos, you name it. The goose has been around for fifty years.
The butcher counter was manned by tough-looking men. Their faces said they didn’t want to be bothered with silly questions. They had meat to cut, fish to wrap, juicy cuts of chicken to sort through and select for the rapt customers.
At that point, I decided to order in and sit down to eat, in part to keep myself from purchasing $300 worth of multi-flavored food and drink before I left.
I waited in line and watched the cooks in red shirts do their thing. I ordered a Sope Mexicano with pollo (chicken) and a quesadilla with pollo. Each oozed freshness and authenticity. I proceeded to do some people watching while stuffing myself silly.
I loved my huge cup of aguas de frutas, too. Everyone I saw was drinking fruit water. Just name the fruit.
I sat and relaxed for a good while, digesting and digesting. No one, and I mean no one ever pulled out a cell phone to look at or fool with. I was equal parts shocked and delighted. These folks were eating, shopping and enjoying every second.
There wasn’t much talk between teenagers or between adults. Little kids were remarkably well-behaved while they ate. There was almost a reverence for the food.
From my vantage point, I could also keep an eye on the tortilleria, with its steady, silent line, and crackling packing. Those people never took their eyes off the prize.
As I rose to leave, I was so full I couldn’t imagine eating again (until the next time I go). On the way out, I decided to buy only a gorgeous piece of peach cake and, you guessed it, a box of snack cakes with the famed Gansito the little goose on it.
At checkout with the team in blue shirts, both bag and price were light. My strategy had worked. Other shoppers’ carts overflowed. The conveyor belt didn’t get a nap.
I returned to the car, adventure over, adrenaline dissipating. I ate a Gansito cake in two bites and adored it. You go, little goose.
I’m pleased to say I now know precisely why they call one proud Durham market: La Superior.
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-219-0042.