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November 25, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
“Los cuates” in Spanish means “the guys.” Because the manager, butcher and counter clerk are all men, the name is fitting — if you know Spanish (and you’ll get bonus points here if you do). If you’re an English speaker only, just look for the two-story building past the Gerbes on Paris Road. The top floor houses Los Cuates’ restaurant, but the store is downstairs. Park on the side closest to Paris, and you’ll find yourself in Mexico.
For the beginners: It’s hard to go wrong with tostadas. These tortilla chips on steroids are a great substitute for the traditional tortilla. A brand called Charras supplies the store with these flat corn discs, and for those who are feeling a little adventurous, they come in jalapeño and chipotle flavors as an alternative to the typical maize.
Address: 2908 Paris Road
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Additionally, Doña MarÍa’s jars of premade pastes are great for novice cooks who want to start slowly. There’s the traditional mole (pronounced “mo-lay”), which is a complicated sauce made up of about 20 ingredients that usually contains chili and chocolate, which complement each other to bring out a rich depth of flavor.
There are also variants of mole, such as mole verde, which has a green color and is made a variety of ways, and pipian, which has squash seeds as the main ingredient.
For the Julia Childs: Los Cuates sells tamales, but for you experts, why buy what you can make yourself? The tienda (translation: “store”) carries dried corn husks bagged by the pound. Soak them in water, spread your masa paste on them, and wrap them around the tamale filling. Delicioso.
Strangest find: A mysterious concoction labeled “pumpkin flowers” in a jar. Chunks of green blobs float around hovering orange chunks that look a little like shredded carrots. Why the $7 price tag? Pumpkin flowers, which allegedly taste like squash, blossom for only one day.
Useful find: Giant soup pots. Not the kind you find at Target or Macy’s — giant. Think 20 quarts. They range from $38-45, but for cooking huge batches of winter chili recipes or warm soups, these pots will help — especially because such dishes are easily freezable. Cook now, and eat later.
Other info: Los Cuates has an extensive meat counter that’s more like a displaced butcher shop. There are more than 20 cuts of meat listed on notecards taped to the glass windows of the cases, and they’re all in Spanish.
There are the typical T-bones and chorizo, a spicy Spanish sausage, but then things head south of the border. Buyers be warned: Bring your translation app with you, or you might wind up buying the delightful-sounding lengua de res (cow tongue). Stick with the costilla de cerdo (pork ribs), though, and you’ll be safe.