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Eat This, Riverside: Fresh Tortillas and Chicharron at Arlanza’s La Mazorca

This week, a hot tip from a hair stylist led Seth to this venerable grocery store/taqueria at Tyler and Cypress, where chicharron and fresh masa in many forms are the highlights of the taco counter.

Arlanza’s La Mazorca is located at 6022 Tyler Street, at the corner of Tyler and Cypress.

Let’s start this week with a shout-out to my barber, dawg - Lewis, at Smoke and Mirrors Ladies and Gentleman’s Parlor in Magnolia Center. Not only does he give a good haircut, he’s also an interesting guy with a rich life story and a lot of fun hobbies. And he provided the tip that led to this week’s review. During a recent trim (tapered on the sides, over the ears) after catching up on the latest developments in his life (a fresh cactus-related hand injury and a new enormous Lord of the Rings Lego set), I mentioned that I’d been writing reviews for the Gazette and solicited suggestions for places to cover.

His response was immediate, as if he’d been waiting for ages for someone to ask: “La Mazorca! Up in Arlanza, at the corner of Cypress and Tyler. It’s a hole-in-the-wall taqueria and grocery store in my neighborhood with awesome food”. I knew from the dreamy look in his eye that this was a winner of a recommendation. I could almost see the parade of tacos marching by in his mind as he considered whether it’d be possible to make it there for lunch between appointments.

So, I wasted no time and went to Arlanza. Good news - La Mazorca is another worthy entry in the catalog of outstanding grocery store taquerias in Riverside.

La Mazorca is the Spanish word for an ear of corn, and it’s an apt mascot for this spot which boasts an onsite tortilleria.They machine-make fresh corn tortillas and other masa products every morning for sale on the tienda shelves and ready-to-eat from the taqueria counter. The tortillas are really excellent - deep brown/yellow in color, tender without being mushy, with masa ground coarse enough to lend texture and intrigue while maintaining a fundamental corniness. The same masa preparada is also available for sale for home-tamale-making and in the pre-made tamales on offer from the taqueria.

The Taco Counter at La Mazorca.

The store is a labyrinth of little rooms and hallways, anchored by a well-stocked full-service butcher counter, with fresh and marinated meats piled high behind glass. Adjacent to the meat counter, the taqueria operates from an oversized steam table wedged into the corner of the room. Signage instructs patrons to ring the bell for service since the cooks and butchers can barely see over the display case to notice when customers walk in.

The menu is extensive, offering antojitos of all shapes featuring a dozen different fillings. Choose between tacos, burritos, sopes, mulitas, or quesadillas, or take any meat as part of a combo platter with beans, rice, and fresh tortillas alongside. As with many grocery store taco counters, the best items are those most suited for long holding in a steam table. Carnitas (pork slow-cooked in its own lard) is unctuous and tasty here, as is cabeza (braised beef cheeks and assorted face parts). A guisado (stew) made from pork ribs in salsa verde with batons of nopal cactus was also excellent, as were the lardy beans it came with.

Carnitas is available in meal-kit form as well, sized to suit any appetite.
The guisado de puerco, pork spare ribs served in green salsa with nopales accompanied by rice, beans, and tortillas.

They do a booming chicharron business: pig skin is a specialty. The cooks behind the counter have a fine hand with chicharron in many configurations. I especially liked the version drowned in salsa roja, planks of collagen-rich crackling, first fried to a puffy crisp and then simmered in salsa until reaching tender submission. The cuerito is another steam table star - pork skin cooked slowly without first being fried - it’s a slick and porky delight, sticky with fat and flavor. If you need still more pork fat, ask for a chunk from the chicharron pile on the right side of the steam table. Although the signage says customers may not pick and choose their morsel, the cooks were very solicitous of my input when selecting a piece with their tongs. Aim for a piece with more fat/skin and less meat - it gets a bit tough under the heat lamps. Or get some traditional puff-only chicharrones from the stainless steel aquarium case to the left of the taco station - it’s a perfect crunchy salty snack.

Tacos here come in two sizes, chico and grande. For me, the smaller option provides the better balance between filling and tortilla, plus it makes it easier to sample more meats. That said, the larger choice does provide the option of a second meat in the same taco. So, consider yourself informed. Along with the customary diced onions, cilantro, and optional salsa, each taco comes with a fiery griddled serrano pepper and a few slabs of onion fried on the plancha - it’s a nice touch.

I like La Mazorca’s tamales, especially the red pork option - fluffy fresh masa stuffed with stewed pork in a red salsa that has an intriguing mix of spices. I think I detected cinnamon and cardamom.

La Mazorca’s tamales filled with sweet corn, pork, and chicken.

Skip the carne asada, chicken and al pastor - during my visits, they’d languished too long and didn’t hold a candle to the other meats. I’m still hoping that a reader will suggest a great source for carne asada tacos where the beef is grilled to order.

La Mazorca is located at 6022 Tyler Street, at the corner of Tyler and Cypress. It has extremely limited seating outside - two small tables on the patio out front. If those are full, consider taking your tacos to eat under a tree in Rutland Park nearby. The store’s parking lot is ample, with spots available in both a main lot and in the next shopping center west on Cypress. The grocery store is open 7 days a week from 7:30am to 6pm.

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