Sito’s Fresh Market is both a carniceria & delicious taqueria

Off the eatin' path

Discovering Sito’s Fresh Market came by total accident.

After attending a midtown pop-up market which, unfortunately, was devoid of any food truck or stand, I found myself immensely famished. As I cruised back home on Speedway Boulevard, I noticed that the old Ali Baba’s is now something else.

Is it a restaurant? Not too sure.

Sito's Fresh Market's facade (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Sito’s Fresh Market’s facade (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

But I did see in bold print on a dry-erase board hanging from a window: Menudo on Saturday and Sunday.

It was indeed a Saturday so I was in luck.

When I walked in, I immediately noticed the large space had been transformed into what seemed to be a pretty traditional carniceria. There were plenty of products on shelves, a requisite display cooler filled with all sorts of meats, and refrigerators offering cold drinks and fresh produce. However, there were tables and chairs in the center of it all.

Carniceria at Sito's Fresh Market (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Sito’s Fresh Market (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

“Say, is this a carniceria or is it a taqueria,” I asked.

A smiling lady standing behind the register had one answer for me.

“It’s both.”

That’s when the nice lady handed me a menu. It was full of taqueria promise — burros, tacos, combination plates, the works. There’s also a fine selection of inventive raspados, some even tinkering with elote. But I was on a mission — a menudo mission. So, I ordered the red variety, spicy, even though the white menudo is quite spectacular.

The menudo is hearty, packed with familiar components, and swimming in flavor. Good spice, too.

Menudo and tacos at Sito's Fresh Market (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Menudo and tacos at Sito’s Fresh Market (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Now, a carniceria is essentially a market that specializes in meats but also sells grocery items such as tortillas, salsas, and household goods. A carniceria is a carniceria. On the other hand, a taqueria is a fast-casual place serving up Mexican fare, burritos, tacos, and all that good stuff. A taqueria is a taqueria.

Funny that the two are rarely fused together. It’s beginning to happen around town here and there, thankfully, and Sito’s Fresh Market is easily one of the biggest and best.

Owners Aaron and Francisca Serrano both come from very different backgrounds as far as running a carniceria and taqueria concept is concerned. Aaron has been a sales rep for El Guapo spices for years and Francisca is a former forensic interviewer for the Children’s Advocacy Center.

Aaron and Francisca Serrano of Sito's Fresh Market (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Aaron and Francisca Serrano of Sito’s Fresh Market (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

It was Aaron’s time with El Guapo that planted the seed to start their own business. As Aaron stocked up Southern Arizona markets with the recognizable plastic packets of herbs and spices, he thought about selling them in his own shop.

That’s when his wife Francisca came aboard and the hunt for a spot to call their own began. There were some near hits and a lot of misses, but when they got the walkthrough in the former Ali Baba’s location, they knew they had found their home.

Thing was, the interior of the place was in dire disrepair. It took Aaron and Francisca almost a full year, starting in early 2021, to get the space up to snuff and code. The grand opening was in December of that same year and the Serranos are now celebrating their first anniversary of owning and operating Sito’s, which is named after their son, Aaron, a common nickname for a son that’s named after their father.

Personally, I am all for a one-stop shop where I can pick up cleaning products, a grip of limes, Mexican fruit juices I have trouble pronouncing, and a barbacoa combination plate.

(Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Both Aaron and Francisca had to learn how to cook traditional family recipes during that time of the build-out as neither one of them have much experience in the kitchen. It all paid off in the end because their food is really really good.

Other than the menudo, I also had the vast pleasure of trying their birria tacos. The dipping sauce is bright, layered with deep flavor, and adds so much to the already tasty tacos.

The burros are hefty and jam-packed with all sorts of goodness you’d expect from a taqueria equipped with its own produce section and fresh meat counter.

Steak at Sito's Fresh Market (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Steak at Sito’s Fresh Market (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Speaking of which, Aaron is going to be firing up his grill and smoker out back soon to cook their steaks so you don’t have to. The cut he brought out was bigger than the plate it sat on and was so flavorful, temped to an easy medium rare, and seasoned with a house blend that is a combo of all of the El Guapo ingredients he’s all too acquainted with.

He and Francisca didn’t divulge what it consisted of but I’m sure they will be selling it soon as well. Their housemade chiltepin salsa is now a personal favorite of mine and a new pantry staple at home. It’s a bit unexpected how amazing it is without being overly spicy, which you might expect from a chiltepin salsa made fresh in a carniceria located in the Sonoran Desert — it’s so good.

Chiltepin salsa at Sito's Fresh Market (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Chiltepin salsa at Sito’s Fresh Market (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Now that the holidays are officially here, Sito’s has a selection of yummy homemade tamales. Of course, they do and of course, they are near perfection.

Not into meat? Get the green corn. They are divine and have that aura of tamales enjoyed around the holidays. Tamales that have been hand-rolled and steamed the previous night by their Abuelita. For a guy that grew up in Los Angeles and who now calls Tucson home, tamales remind me more of the holidays than gingerbread cookies or anything infused with peppermint.

At the end of your visit, be sure to leave with one of their inventive and refreshing raspados.

All made with locally produced fruits, the raspados at Sito’s are not only fun to eat but fun to look at. The one Francisca and Aaron made for me was packed with mango and strawberry and then finished with tempting Mexican candies. A very big ¡si por favor! all around.

Raspados at Sito's Fresh Market (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Raspados at Sito’s Fresh Market (Photo by Mark Whittaker)

Sito’s Fresh Market is still one of my favorite near-miss discoveries, a place that appeared in the corner of my eye like a savory mirage. After you buy some needful items, grab a bite, enjoy an agua fresca, sit and watch the zoom of Speedway brisk by, chat with the Serrano’s, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to meet the plucky little kid the shop is named after.

He’s a good boy even though he wishes his parents named their carniceria/taqueria after somebody else. He mentioned that with an impish grin before grabbing a tasty treat after a long day at school. So, I’m pretty sure he’s cool with it.

The shop is open 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sunday – Thursday and then 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. on Friday – Saturday.

Sito’s Fresh Market is located at 2545 E. Speedway Blvd. #115. For more information, call (520) 849-8727 or visit sitosfreshmarket.com

It was a Sonoran hot dog that made Mark switch from music journalism to food writing when he moved to Tucson from San Francisco in 2006. He hasn’t been the same since.

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