People often say that bloggers, critics, and the like get the most pleasure from writing a scathing note. While I can’t speak for the rest of them, I’ll tell you that this guy gets the most joy out of recapping an impromptu meal that was anything but expected. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does … you’ll find me smiling wider than the Cheshire Cat.
That smile hit me during a little excursion to Norcross. Thanks to the predictably unpredictable Atlanta traffic, I found myself twiddling my thumbs while my dinner buddy battled the bumper to bumper. Idle hands, being what they are, led me to go for a stroll in the Merchants Square Shopping Center that housed our destination.
Seeing as the strip was peppered with a mix of eateries, and I was armed with a Titanic sized appetite, it was time to be productive. I decided a snack was in order. The stroll actually took me the length of the walkway; it seemed nearly every place that
peaked piqued [THANKS DG!] my interest was either closed for dinner or closed for good. Still, I kept walking, and whether it was a consequence of fate or the dumb luck of free will, I ended up circling around the back of the center only to find a Mexican supermarket. Celia’s, with a demonstrative sign and quirky sombrero incorporated into the logo, was it.
A walk inside Celia’s might elicit any number of reactions depending on the person at hand. If you are only comfortable at a slick backed Buckhead grocery store, you might feel out of place. If you are the adventurous newbie, your eyes might get all googly. Meanwhile, if you are a frequenter of the plethora of “ethnic” groceries in the area, you’ll feel right at home. While the main attraction for me ended up being the forthcoming meals (yes – that’s right … there were two of them), I was particularly drawn to the carnicería, aka butcher’s shop, in the back and the visually intricate stash of baked goods, all of which were prepared on site.
The menu is an extensive but not overwhelming selection of traditional Mexican items. In addition to the seemingly necessary tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and nachos, there were selections of gorditas, sopes, tortas, and a some platillos. I was also intrigued by the weekend specials and something called a sincronizada (more on that in a bit). Unfortunately, time was of the essence so I made a beeline for two items that wouldn’t fill me up: an asada taco and an al pastor taco.
During my wait, the server, who was more than capable with her English, showed up with a multi-bowled tray that housed guacamole, two types of salsa, and some pico. All of them were vibrantly fresh. The pico and one of the salsas had a noticeable kick that displayed the skilled use of a number of peppers. The acids wrapped around the diced tomatoes to provide your tongue with a spicy coolness that was much appreciated.
As I waited, I decided to play with my camera. Mind you, I’m taking pictures of my hand, the napkin holder, and my foot. At this point, some employee, whose was fluent in English, snapped at me for taking pictures. It bares noting that if you run into him again and get some bad service, I wouldn’t be surprised. Still, after telling him I had no intention of stopping … he groveled to himself and went back to chatting with his compadres sitting next to him. I just don’t get some people …
Not a minute or two later, I was presented with an enticing plate holding two fresh tortillas, my toppings of choice, a stack of grilled onions, and a warmed pepper just daring me to eat it (boy it was good!). First up was the asada. Along with the accompanying diced onions and cilantro, it really popped. The slivers of steak were well seasoned and spongy to the bite. That is, the juice came out. I mixed and match each bite with a sampling from the tray, and really found the acids here a welcomed addition.
Next I dove into the al pastor, which I had ordered after seeing it on the spit that was next to the grill. The marinade was very tasty and the use of adobo was distinct and appropriate. In what was surely a move of critical cynicism, I noticed that the pastor was just slightly overcooked … and I do mean slightly. Considering that was my biggest complaint … that’s not bad. In addition, the raw onions were intense and were the predominant flavor of the aftertaste. Certainly not ideal, but not a true detriment either.
The most impressive aspect of the meal was the tortillas. These soft white maize tortillas were probably the best I’ve found to date in this area. Relative to many nearby taquerias, I found these texturally superior and dotted with just the right amount of lime.
In what was surely no more than 60-seconds … the tacos were history. I was presented with my check, at which point my eyes popped: A bottle of water (with a store label nonetheless), and the two tacos ran me roughly $3.50. Holy molly batman!
With my taste buds satiated, I stepped out into the bright sun of the early evening and strolled back to my car. My dinner buddy showed up some half an hour later, and here’s where it gets interesting. The destination of choice was in the process of closing early, so we were stumped on what to do. After explaining what I did with my time, it seemed only to easy to walk back over to Celia’s … so that’s what we did.
Without the burden of ordering light, we got serious. Order up of 2 chorizo tacos, 2 barbacoa gorditas, and 1 small sincronizada (humorously identified as sall on the wall menu – typos abound). Par for the course – the chorizo taco was very very good. Though the onions made their return and the tortillas were top notch, I really appreciated this version of chorizo. It’s a meat with a lot of history and a number of variations in preparation. Here the meat seemed to act almost like shredded hamburger meat. The little chunks mixed with thin slivers to create a very interesting texture. It was not unlike the experience I had with a taco truck in San Diego some years ago – and that’s a good thing.
Meanwhile, the barbacoa gordita was nothing but deliciously fried goodness topped with shredded queso, fresh lettuce, and beautiful chunks of “out of the rind” avocado. The meat had been slow cooked ever so carefully and the crunch of the fried tortilla and the freshness of the rest made this sucker go down oh so smooth.
Last, but not least, was the sincronizada. This little gem was not only new to me, but also to my companion. Sincronizadas, as it turns out, are kinda like quesadillas turned sandwich. However, they don’t rely on flour tortillas are made from wheat flour and the meat is sandwiched in between. Ours came with barbacoa in the interior and the fixings on the top. The included crema and fresh avocados really brought this one home. If you venture up to Norcross to visit Celia’s, get one of these.
As before, the food was mowed down with professional precision. However, we took our time chatting after the meal and then requested our check. As before, it was mind boggling inexpensive. The five food items and two bottles of Jarritos came to a stupifying $14.66! Holy taco batman!
There is actually a lot more to say about this place, but I’ll let ya’ll get on with your day. The onsite baked goods seem destination worthy as my companion ogled them for several minutes. A baking expert, she took the time to explain all the different examples she saw. Definitely worth a gamble … even for those of us who dig our salt.
I also think it’s particularly cool that when the kitchen is in short supply, the cook will disappear into the store and return with the necessary ingredients.
Meanwhile, these meals easily bested anything I’ve ever had at foodie favorites like Taqueria El Rey Del Taco, or Taqueria Los Hermanos. I actually have been advised as to a handful of Taquerias in and around the city. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to find a better taco in Atlanta, and this didn’t quite capture my heart like some of the taco stands in Mexico or some of my stops in SoCal, Celia’s definitely impressed. Even if I find those places I have to visit superior in quality, I get the feeling that if someone told me that these were their favorite tacos in the city, I don’t think I’d be able to fault them.
While it stopped short of culinary perfection, it ranks right up there in coolness factor and great food. Don’t confuse authentic with good, but in this case, they are synonymous. If this wasn’t the very definition of a great find, I don’t know what is.
Celia’s Carniceria y Supermercado Restaurant Address & Information
4664 Jimmy Carter Blvd, Norcross, GA // 770.806.0108