Hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Location: 1500 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville
Phone number: 770-532-6162
When you walk into the Carniceria Tapatia off Browns Bridge Road, you can hear the music from a local Hispanic radio station play, setting in a relaxed mood.
Customers then pick up a basket and start shopping for food. But Carniceria Tapatia is more than a Hispanic grocery store and butcher shop.
Carved out in the back of the store behind the produce and meat sections lies a little Mexican restaurant. Open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Carniceria Tapatia is a restaurant with offerings ranging from soups, salads and stews to tacos, quesadillas and tamales.
Customers can tell when they have entered the eatery, as the restaurant’s walls are lined with Mexican artwork showing off the Hispanic culture. Plus, a large copper etching of the national symbol of Mexico is on the back wall — an eagle standing on top of a cactus grasping a snake with its talons.
Standing at the register ready to take your order is Alejandra Franco Duran. She welcomes customers with a smile, making them feel comfortable to the unique dining experience. And this kind of service coupled with the food has customers coming back for more.
The food “is fresh, very fresh and clean (and) always delicious,” regular customer Leo Barton said.
Menu items start with simple tacos, ranging from al pastor to classic tacos de asada. All are topped with cilantro and onions but can be customized to a person’s tastes.
The tacos are perfect for customers in a hurry, allowing for a quick bite at one of the tables or getting them to go.
But John Russo, another regular, prefers a different menu item.
“I love the quesadillas,” he said, adding he loves the people at the restaurant.
Carniceria Tapatia, however, is known for its fresh tamales. Any bystander can see them being sold in the morning fresh and hot outside in front of the store.
A traditional dish from Mexico, a tamale is ground corn transformed into masa (used to make tortillas) and spread on a corn husk. Then meat and salsa is placed in the middle and wrapped up. It is then cooked for two hours.
About 1,500 tamales are made weekly with chicken and salsa verde, pork with salsa rojo, regular corn and rajas made from chilli poblanos and cheese.
The restaurant uses the meat from the store. One of the head cooks, Luis Olivares, cuts and seasons the different cuts of meat for all the dishes.
And Carniceria Tapatia doesn’t stick to simple dishes such as tacos, tamales and quesadillas. It serves more elaborate dishes, including a breast of chicken seasoned with spices and left on the grill to sear to a nice tender finish.
While the chicken cooks, onions, green peppers and red peppers are put on the comal, or a steel stove top, to cook until they become a little charred but still soft.
Next, they are placed on a hot iron skillet encased in wood. And the chicken breast is put on top to absorb the flavor of the onions and peppers, giving it an extra umph of taste.
The chicken is accompanied with handmade refried pinto beans, Mexican yellow rice and a vegetable mix including corn, carrots and green peas. Plus, a little bit of salad with lettuce and tomatoes is added.
Finally, all of the ingredients are wrapped in tortillas for a flavorful meal.
After tasting all of the food, customers can quench their thirst with a range of beverages. Instead of reaching for a Coca-Cola, grab the aguas frescas. They include tamarindo, horchata, piña, limon and Jamaica. All are all prepared fresh in the store.
The horchata is made with white rice, condensed milk, evaporated milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. It happens to be my favorite because of its amazing flavor.
Or try my other favorite, which is Jamaica. It is made from dried out hibiscus petals, boiled in water and sweetened with sugar.
Running Carniceria Tapatia is Jesus Covarrubias and his two sons, Noe and Diego Covarrubias. Originally from Chicago, the trio — who moved here 15 years ago — learned about the restaurant and grocery story from a family who already had established businesses in Hall County.
When they had the operations down pat, they opened Carniceria Tapatia. But the small restaurant in the back had an easy menu of only tacos, tortas and burritos.
“It started real simple,” Diego Covarrubias said. “But people would ask for other stuff and we’d make it.”
The requests resulted in the Covarrubias family expanding the menu. And the expansion has not stopped.
Diego and Noe plan to add handmade tortillas and double the seating area.
“We get so full that people leave,” Diego said.
So stop by one day to check off items from your grocery list and bite into a taco or a breast of grilled chicken with the whole nine yards of sides.