by Amie Rodgers
In my humble opinion, if Arizona had an official sandwich, it would be the taco. There is no shortage of what we know as Mexican food here and many of us (myself very much included) are addicted to it. There is nothing like the mouth watering aroma of roasted chili or the deep satisfaction of a warm tortilla clutched in your hand. When you love this fare as much as I do, you are on a constant quest to get it in it’s most authentic form. You want the real thing, the good stuff.
At the inevitable risk of having to stand in long lines and fight someone over the last of the carne asada, I am going to share with you a little bit of magic owner Frances Valdez likes to call Emalee’s Carniceria. Located on Main Street in Snowflake, this little carniceria (Mexican meat shop) is home to not only a butcher counter with fresh cheeses and meats, but also a market of imported specialties and the best little taco truck this side of the Rim.
Opened May 20th of this year, Emalee’s is a fairly new addition to our local food scene, but is very quickly gaining popularity with foodies searching for quality ingredients and taco lovers alike. “The idea of the meat shop started about a year ago when we came to Snowflake to be near my mom. We wanted to make some carne asada and couldn’t find any,” says Frances during our recent interview over you guessed it… tacos, “Our plan was to open a meat shop, but for our grand opening, we decided to cook for everyone. People liked our food and came back looking for more. Even though our plan was to just sell raw meats and pollo asado (grilled chicken), our customers didn’t accept that. So, we started making our home cooked recipes. We make what we eat at home and cook it like we do at home. We don’t measure anything and serve everything fresh and home style.”
Emalee’s is very much a family business in both form and function. “Emalee’s Carniceria was named after my daughter Emalee. She is eleven and she is my life. I have two other daughters who are also my life, but she is still my baby. She is such a good kid and a great cashier,” says Frances with a playful grin in her daughter’s direction, “We are a very family based business. My mom Maria Molina helps me out. We are a hard working family. We don’t stop and always find a way to make things work.”
The flavor at Emalee’s is a result of family hailing from three Mexican states: Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Sonora. “We make very traditional hispanic street food. My mom is from Chihuahua, Mexico so I was raised with her traditions. My husband’s family’s traditions are from Sinaloa and I have quite a bit of family that cooks in the Sonoran way. We use ingredients like beef tongue and milk intestine like you would find at a taco cart on the border. For instance, we don’t use pinto beans for our refried beans, we use Peruvian beans. The reason I’m familiar with these beans is because my husband grew up in Mexico on a farm and they grew Peruvian beans and corn. They are delicious.”
The inspiration for opening the carniceria, Emalee’s sells a lot of carne asada or skirt steak. “The American population knows it as carne asada, but the real definition of carne asada is grilled meat. We marinate it and sell it raw and ready to grill. We don’t charge anything for the marinade, but we don’t sell it separate because it is our secret,” smiles Frances, “We also sell pork with an Adobada rub and chicken with a fajita rub.”
Grilled outdoors on Mesquite and served on handmade tortillas at just $2 a piece, the carne asada tacos at Emalee’s are a trip to a little pueblo in Mexico called Happiness without ever leaving the White Mountains. “I do lunch specials Monday through Thursday from 11 am to 2 pm. Monday is steak picado (steak sauteed in onions, tomato, cilantro and spices). It is served with rice and beans. Tuesday is the popular Taco Tuesday. Wednesday is Red Chile Day and Thursday is Carne Asada Day. My lunch special is always $6.95, no matter what I’m selling,” says Frances, “The full menu is available on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 am to 5 pm. We offer three tacos served with rice and beans and combination plates for $7.99. On those days we also serve specialties like beef tongue, natural waters made with watermelon and pineapple, and corn on a stick, which is corn on the cob with mayonnaise, cheese and chili. It is very, very good and we use local corn from the Hatch Farm. We like to support the local community.”
In addition to their outdoor ramada, Emalee’s has recently added a taco truck which is parked outside, but will also be coming to an event near you. “We grill rain or shine. We are a bit rustic. This is not a sit down restaurant. We are very much street food. We have talked about buying a bigger building, but my goal is to stay outdoors. I want you to be able to enjoy the breeze while you’re eating. I feel it is an experience we are losing and we need it. When the weather gets colder, we will add more of an enclosed area with warmers so we can play loteria (similar to bingo) and drink Mexican hot chocolate,” smiles Frances.
Speaking of fun and games, you can send Emalee’s Carniceria a friend request on Facebook and you’ll get live updates of what is on the grill and the chance to win a free meal if you chime in with a quick answer to questions posted by Frances. You can bet I’m her friend and you better be faster on the draw than me.
Emalee’s Carniceria is located at 985 S. Main Street in Snowflake. For more information, please call (928) 536-3627.