I have a major crush on Macon Road. The section between Homer and Wells Station is especially flirty with its taquerias, panaderia, taco stands, grocery stores, and street vendors.
Fuego Maya's, 4308 Macon
Accepts credit cards
Fuego Maya's is very crisp and clean with a living-room feel to it. Murals of Mayan temples cover the bright-green walls, and perfectly color-coordinated plastic plaid tablecloths cover the tables. The menu does not feature the typical numbered specials. Rather, it offers a variety of tacos, tostadas, gorditas, and huaraches. There are also a few unusual items such as bacon-wrapped shrimp and fish tacos. Patrons start the meal with plentiful chips (nice and warm) and fresh but mild salsa. The standard white cheese dip is also available, but it is creamier and, dare I say, cheesier than usual. And no meal would be complete without the fresh and flavorful guacamole. All of the dishes come with generous helpings, particularly the beans and rice. If you have any room left after your meal, try some of the "Mexican Candy" (figs, sliced pineapple, and papaya covered in sugar) available at the counter.
El Ranchito Taqueria,
3916 Macon (452-4655)
El Ranchito is small and easy to miss, but don't! (And don't mistake it for the Ranchito Tax Service next door.) Inside, there are five small tables covered in blue-and-white checked tablecloths and a few stools at a side bar. A large counter opposite the door provides a window into the kitchen where you can see a couple of guys cutting meat from large bones and smoking whole chickens on the grill. Offerings include goat and pork meat sold by the pound and menudo sold on weekends. (No, not the band — the soup made from tripe known to cure hangovers due to its spicy nature.) The standard menu is just one page long and has several items blacked out. (FYI, it isn't uncommon for the items that aren't marked off to be unavailable.) There's no cheese dip or free chips and salsa.
Now for the good news. They aren't going to be out of everything! I especially recommend the burritos, the tortas, and plates. The beans are not standard-issue. They are served in a bowl, soup-like, and feature hot dog chunks and a hunk of bone for flavor. What El Ranchito lacks in salsa and cheese dip, they more than make up for in hot sauce (red and green). The best part about your chip-less meal will be the NOT-so-stuffed feeling you have after eating.
Tamales Monterrey, Best Z Market, 3888 Macon
On Friday and Saturday evenings, keep your eyes open for a rainbow-striped umbrella in the parking lot between Mike's Taqueria Express and Caminos de Michoacan. A man and woman can be found standing underneath it selling Mexican corn and tamales. Mexican corn comes smothered in mayonnaise, rolled in cotija cheese, sprinkled with cayenne pepper, and doused with lime juice. It's made to order, and I really can't think of a better way to spend $3. Adjacent to the corn stand is a pick-up with coolers full of pork and chicken tamales resting on the tailgate. They sell for $7 a dozen.
Mike's (Taqueria) Express,
3874 Macon (273-4988)
Accepts debit cards
Mike's parking lot tends to attract vendors. I've seen pit bulls for sale as well as Latin music CDs. I recommend an afternoon visit for first-timers. Look for the grey building with the chicken painted on the side. When you walk in, bypass the many botanas, grab a drink, and then head to the back of the store where you'll see a counter with five stools, a giant menu hanging from the ceiling, and two terribly sweet women cooking up made-to-order tacos, tortas, burritos, quesadillas, alambres, and carne x libre. (The latter is meat without bones.) There's no cheese dip or sides of rice and beans here, so try a variety of tacos or do halfsies with a friend on a couple of burritos. The platters are big enough for two, and the chicken barbacoa is a must-try.
La Fiesta Market, 3662 Macon (324-7199)
Accepts debit cards
This market is clearly the go-to place for anyone attempting to recreate a meal they had farther down the road. They have an abundance of exotic produce (e.g., tamarind, cactus flowers, etc.) and meat (e.g., chorizo, fajita seasoned beef, and who knows what else). However, at this market you can also score giant $25 pinatas, guava paste, a few pastries, and standard offerings, such as cereal, tortillas, juices, and household cleaners. The personal-care section is a real stand-out with offerings such as Chile con Romero (pepper and rosemary) Shampoo, which is guaranteed to prevent hair loss.
Caminos de Michoacan Panaderia
& Taqueria, 3896 Macon (458-5550)
Accepts credit/debit cards
The more popular panaderías (bakeries) in Puerto Rico are meeting places and community centers where the neighborhood gathers, especially for breakfast and lunch. Caminos de Michoacan certainly seems to fit this bill. Opening at 7 a.m. every day except Wednesday when they are closed, it offers a bright, happy space for up to 70 people.
Bakery cases filled with treats (eclairs, small sugar cookies shaped like hearts and stars, giant sugar cookies with squiggly happy faces or sprinkles, gingerbread pigs, croissants, and chocolate donuts with sprinkles, to name a few) line the wall. A separate cooler once used for flowers houses parfaits and flans. Large pizza pans are stacked on a shelf underneath where customers can serve themselves with a pair of tongs. Caminos de Michoacan also does special-occasion cakes. Laminated cards with theme options can be found at the counter, and there are several sample cakes lining the tops of the bakery cases. (My favorite was a cake surrounded with ice cream cones.)
The taqueria offers gorditas, tortas, tacos, burritos, platillos, quesadillas, mariscos (seafood), and caldos. The caldos, or soups, are their specialty. Try the "Caldo de 7 Mares," a super-special seafood soup with shrimp, octopus, fish, clams, crab, calamari, and more. And don't forget to try the horchata — a spicy, milky treat.