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Crows Landing in Modesto: A Taste of Mexico Without Being in Mexico

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I don’t mean to gloat, but it’s 88 degrees here in Modesto where Joe’s family lives. The breeze skims off your skin. The sky is blue through and through. Meanwhile, Joe is back home in San Francisco tending to Tacolicious—back home where it’s 61 degrees and he had to use his windshield wipers to move the fog out of the way this morning.

Ok, I’m gloating.

So while we do we have a strong Mexican community in San Francisco, Modesto feels like Mexico to me. Especially if you head over to a part of town called Crows Landing. Along this road, there are car detailing shops mixed with taco trucks and mercados. It has a sparseness to it that’s familiar. It’s lively and has blaring music. It has a place called Pink Panther Espresso (which is apparently also called the Bottoms Up Espresso Bar) and, as you can see, it has nothing in common with the likes of Four Barrel.

This part of town is where we go to shop for all of our Mexican needs. I’ve already plugged the excellent and friendly supermarket Mi Pueblo. It’s our usual destination for everything from chilies to nopales to tortillas fresh off the press. But today, my friend and I past Mi Pueblo and kept driving past the orchards and the John Deere dealer, past the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center and yes, the espresso bar. We drove till we arrived at Rancho Fresco Mexican Grill.

Though it’s very neat and clean, Rancho Fresco turns out to be the other half of a gas station. Inside, it looks like a normal taqueria—that is, if a taqueria made not only corn tortillas to order but flour tortillas too. As in one woman takes your order, then plucks up a ball of dough and uses a rolling pin to roll out a huge flour tortilla and throws it on a rotating, lazy susan of a comal, aka a griddle. Either that, or she presses your corn tortilla and does the same. She assembles your tacos while she’s at it. It’s a lot of work. She has nice, muscular forearms. Check out a little video here.

The tacos came and they were mighty tasty. We ate them outside at a picnic table overlooking a field, shooing away the flies (this also felt very Mexico).

A trio of tacos with made-to-order corn tortillas at Rancho Fresco.

A trio of tacos with made-to-order corn tortillas at Rancho Fresco.

After fueling up, we drove back down Crows Landing to the El Rematito Flea Market where there’s a sprawling group of vendors selling everything from tennis shoes and couches to cheap jewelry and churros. The produce area was the best though, full of high-quality fruits (I scored four massive Kent mangoes—the king of mangoes—for $1.25 a piece, three times less than Whole Foods) and nuts and candies and dried chilies and gorgeous little purpley-green tomatillos and just about everything you can think of. There’s also a bevy of exotic birds for sale and rabbits too. These are meant to be pets. I think.

Watermelons for sale at the flea market.

Watermelons for sale at the flea market.

Candy!

Candy!

Tomatillos. So tiny.

Tomatillos. So tiny.

Dried beans, peas, and in the forefront, dried hibiscus (what we use to make our Flor de Jamaica cocktail at Tacolicious).

Dried beans, peas, and in the forefront, dried hibiscus (what we use to make our Flor de Jamaica cocktail at Tacolicious).