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While Lansing has many great Mexican restaurants, its markets are where a lot of under-appreciated ingredients and dishes can be purchased. Here are just a few you should definitely check out.
DON PANCHO MARKET, SOUTHSIDE
8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
7 days a week
2120 S. Cedar St., Lansing
Attached to the Mexicone Sweets and Treats ice cream shop, Don Panchos Market has been serving the south side of Lansing since 2014.
Inside, colorful piñatas dangle above aisles waiting for their lucky chance to be stuffed with candy and smashed to smithereens. The shelves are lined with dried peppers, spices and snacks.
All roads lead to the butcher counter.
“Our fresh meat is what we are known for,” said Denise Cervantes, the owner’s daughter and employee. “My dad was a butcher in Mexico, so he knows a lot of the cuts used with Mexican food. A lot of them you can’t find in other grocery stores with pre-packaged meat.”
Included with the usual butcher offerings of cuts are big rings of Chorizo Mexican sausage, fried barbacoa, chicharrones and menudo meat.
Don Pancho’s offers the usual authentic Mexican cuisine of tacos, burritos and tortas, but has a few off the well known path worth checking out.
Foremost is the esquites, a corn dish served in a cup with cotija cheese, chili pepper and mayonnaise. It also offers chicharrones preparados, a dish with a fried wheat base, pickled pork skin on top and the usual accoutrements of lime, cilantro, sour cream, avocado and tomato.
“We are a place for the Hispanic community," Cervantes said. "This is what my parents have done their whole life. We’ve always been supported by the community.”
HANDY’S FOOD MARKET, OLD TOWN
Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
424 W. Willow St., Lansing
This Old Town building is over 100 years old and Handy’s has seen 50 years of service with it. Housing Mexican sodas, the vintage pearly-white Tyler refrigeration unit in the back proudly proclaiming “Please Serve Yourself” looks like the day it was likely installed in the 1950s.
Owner Daniel Pesina took over the longtime ownership of Handy’s Food Market in 2017 after working there since 2005.
“It is the little knick-knacks that keep us special and different from everybody else,” Pesina said. “Our product goes all over. People come from Holt, Dimondale, Grand Ledge, Haslett and all around to get certain items. They’ll spend $5 in gas to buy something here for $4.”
Aside from freshly made meats for tacos, burritos, tortas and menudo, Handy’s also imports handmade tamales from Evie’s Tamales in Detroit’s Mexican Town neighborhood.
Lansing’s Mexican food scene has changed for the better over the years, Pesina said.
“What I’ve seen change is the passion for Mexican food. In the past, people didn’t have the passion, and were just running a store or restaurant throwing things together and calling it a meal.”
Handy’s also has a deli with homemade salsas, chips and other on-the-go goods.
“What makes us popular is we take the time to actually care what we are feeding people. If they are going to love to eat it, we want to make sure we do too.”
SUPERMERCADO LA ESTRELLITA, NORTHSIDE
8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
7 days a week
Sunday 2604 N. East St., Lansing
Fresh baked sweet breads of all shapes and sizes line the counter of Supermercado La Estrellita, the only Mexican bakery in Lansing. However, the sweet aroma turns savory after a stroll to the back of the market where meats like chorizo, carnitas and barbacoa sizzle for patrons during lunch hour.
Taking family recipes from a fellow family store in Holland, Michigan, Supermercado La Estrellita has been a Lansing mainstay for 10 years.
The bakery runs special breads depending on Mexican holidays, cashier and owner’s son Jonathan Sarmiento said.
“We bake very traditional breads. This past January, we have special breads like tres reyes,” Sarmiento said. “It’s an oval bread you put babies in and if you happen to get a baby, you are supposed to have a tamale party for those who were there. Though people don’t tend to do that here, it is still a tradition we uphold.”
Pan de muerto, or Day of the Dead bread, is also baked special during the October holiday season, he added.
“You leave food and offerings for relatives who have passed away. You take that and visit you and they’d take that to eat.”
Regularly, the bakery stocks sweet conchas and empanadas.
The biggest challenge of running the market is its size, he said. “We are starting to reach our capacity and are trying to see other options as far as expanding.”
For those outside of the Hispanic and Latin community looking to grab something more authentically Mexican, Sarmiento has one piece of advice — eat it first and ask what it was made of later.
“If people hear what it is made of like cow tongue or intestines, they might get a little hesitant to eat it.”
The menudo made with intestines and la lengua cow tongue are just as staple meat options as carnitas or barbacoa traditionally, he added.
There are sufficient authentic Mexican food options in Lansing, and fusion and Tex-Mex restaurants don’t make much of a difference, Sarmiento said.
“If people enjoy it, they enjoy it. It will all start to blend together anyway. I think people will enjoy something different than what they regularly eat every day.”