Chicharrones at Super Carniceria El Ranchito

It’s a Sunday morning in Tucson, and the family is in the car. You’re driving to your local carniceria to pick up fresh menudo and carne asada that will be grilled over a coal or mesquite fire in an otherwise anonymous parking lot. Maybe you’re lucky, and when you go inside you’re greeted by a dimly lit menu of burros and tacos. You don’t want to spoil the weekend’s cookout, but you make a mental note to come back and try the firetruck-red al pastor tomorrow at your lunch break.

Carnicerias are tucked away in every neighborhood in Tucson. The first time I walked into a meat market that cooked its products, I was blown away by the elegant simplicity of the concept: cut out the middleman. Many, though not all, carnicerias have lunch counters and prepared foods, or grills outside to cook your carne on weekends.

Each market has its own specialties and marinade recipes. Regulars have their favorite places for carne asada, chorizo or tamales. Super Carniceria El Ranchito even has ice cream (although it’s next to their prepared food case, and you might be more tempted by their whole-tilapia pescado frito).

Al pastor tacos are the star of the menu at La Vakita Meat Market.

While I have loved Tortillas Don Juan doubly, for both its fresh meat and tortillas de harina, La Vakita in Green Valley was the carniceria that inspired this roundup. It’s tucked into a former gas station right off the highway at Esperanza Boulevard, next to a golf cart store more typical for the iconic retirement community.

Their al pastor gets charred on the flattop grill in the back of the store, cooked by a gracious man who will ask you questions with patience: “Do you want pico de gallo and cheese on this?” If you want, but it doesn’t elevate the dish more than the marinade already has. If you order tacos, he’ll recommend corn tortillas. I’ve had both and prefer the flour.

La Vakita takes advantage of its proximity to Old Nogales Highway, offering empanadas and other pan dulce and tortillas from El Triunfo, a reader favorite from our tortilla roundup.

In my research for this article, though, I scoured reviews online and targeted a few carnicerias to check out in person. Here’s what I found:

Carniceria Aguajito sources their coveted tamales from a local artisan.

Carniceria El Aguajito

Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends

If you live in midtown, you should start coming to Carniceria El Aguajito instead of your local chain grocer. The produce selection is fresh and impeccably organized. The interior is warmly-lit and feels homey. The woman at the cash register will let you know that their specialty — green corn tamales — are usually found at the register.

When they’re running low on stock, ask the attendants behind the meat counter and they’ll share what they have left, if any. You can also get La Noria’s delightfully tender, cult classic corn tortillas in a red icebox by the checkout, to wrap anything you might pick up from the butcher.

Pro tip: I picked up the last 6-pack of green corn tamales at 10:50 a.m. on a Wednesday. If you want to secure one of these perfectly sweet-savory treasures, get there close to opening.

Linda’s Meat Market

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

There’s some witchcraft amiss at Linda’s Meat Market. The smell of the prepared foods in the back of the store is magical. I tried to ascertain what dish was at the source by ordering the red chile combo plate and a chile relleno. They’re both delicious, but perhaps the smell is more than the sum of its parts.

Super Pescaderia y Carniceria El Ranchito, on South Sixth Avenue, fries whole tilapia in addition to their raw meat and fish, chicharrones and ice cream.

Super Carniceria y Pescaderia El Ranchito

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

El Ranchito is almost purposefully concealed by Tucson’s idiosyncratic layout: it’s on the part of Sixth Avenue passed where the street turns into Old Nogales Highway. It makes more sense, if you’re coming from the north, to take Irvington to Drexel, and go west until you hit a road that looks like the tributary to Sixth Avenue’s river. At the intersection of Sixth and Bilby, you’ll find a treasure trove at Super Carniceria y Pescaderia El Ranchito.

While the ice cream counter feels like a novel throwback to a soda fountain, the real treats are the prepared fried foods immediately adjacent. While the hearty chicharrones de puerco might seem more accessible, I found the chicharrones de res to be melt-in-your-mouth decadent. The pescado frito is the most tender tilapia you’ll find in Tucson, practically leaping onto your fork with the slightest disturbance.

The people working here are so kind. “Where are you from?” the counter attendant asked, noticing my camera. “We used to get people from out of town, Phoenix and stuff, taking pictures.” I’m not sure why they stopped, but it’s our gain.

Beef Master Meat Market

Location: 527 W. 29th St.

Hours: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday

Visit their website for more information.

Carniceria El Guero Canelo

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 12-9 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

Visit their website for more information.

Carniceria El Novillo

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Visit their Facebook page for more information.

Carniceria El Rodeo

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily

Pro tip: They will grill your meat outside on Saturday, Sunday and holidays from noon to 7 p.m.

Visit their Yelp page for more information.

Carniceria La Noria

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily

Visit their Yelp page for more information.

Carniceria Los Vaqueros

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Visit their Facebook page for more information.

Carniceria y Comisaria Camacho

Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

Visit their Facebook page for more information.

El Herradero Carniceria y Panaderia

Hours: 22nd Street, 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily | Ajo Way, 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday-Monday, 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday | St. Mary's, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Pro tip: They'll cook your meats (such as carne asada) at their grill only on the weekends.

Visit their Facebook page for more information.

Super Carniceria y Pescaderia El Ranchito is located at 6070 S. Sixth Ave.

Islas Meat Market

Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

Pro tip: Google reviews unanimously declare this the best chorizo in town, in Arizona, in the world, in the universe. I haven’t gotten the chance to check it out yet, but I’m dying to try!

Visit their Yelp page for more information.

La Vakita Meat Market

Locations: Green Valley, 61 W. Esperanza Blvd. | West Tucson, 5975 W. Western Way Cir.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

Visit their website for more information.

Los Amigos Meat Market

Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

Visit their Facebook page for more information.

Mercado y Carniceria Los Primos

Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

Visit their Yelp page for more information.

Mercado y Carniceria Mexicana

Hours: Sixth Avenue, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily | 22nd Street, 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

Visit their Yelp page for more information.

México Lindo Food Market, Frutería

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

For more information, check out their Facebook page.

Super Carniceria El Ranchito has beautiful murals on its storefront.

Mr. Toro Carniceria

Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Visit their Facebook page for more information.

Rancheros Carniceria

Hours: Speedway, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday | Oracle, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Check out their Facebook page for more information.

Super Carniceria del Valle

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Visit their Facebook page for more information.

Super Carniceria "Mi Ranchito"

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Visit their Facebook page for more information.

Tortillas Don Juan

Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Visit their Facebook page for more information.


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