If you walk into Carniceria Sanchez, generally considered the best Mexican meat market on the west side, you will probably not see any white, upper-middle class moms pushing strollers down the aisle and ordering three wheels of chorizo and a block of queso fresco. But you should. Here's the thing: when a large group of parents from, say, Canyon Elementary, get together for a neighborhood "fajita" party, the natural decision is to send someone over to Trader Joe's, have them buy a ton of rib-eyes, New York strips and boneless skinless chicken breasts, toss on some seasoning and grill them to go along with tortillas, rice and beans, and a lot of margaritas. This, when thought about properly, appears foolish, when for far less money you can go to a good carniceria and wind up with much better food and a lot less work. So why don't many people do this? The answer, it appears, is because it hasn't occurred to them.
Carniceria Sanchez is a quaint and occasionally cramped space, and while the majority of the market won't seem particularly impressive, everything you really want is right behind the counter. Yes, there are Mexican staples that many, sadly, won't be interested in (tripe, honeycomb, foot), but they also offer fiery homemade salsas, blocks of cotija, containers of crema, and most importantly, both carne asada ($5.99/lb) and pollo asada ($3.99/lb) seasoned to order. Wide thin strips of flap meat and chicken breast are covered with spices, white and green onions, then wrapped up and handed over, ready to hit the grill.
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So what happens when a big group of moms, dads and kids who've never even said the word "carniceria" have their meats, cheeses and salsas swapped out for the stuff from Sanchez? "It was insanely good," said Santa Monica Canyon mom Danielle Stokdyk. "I couldn't stop eating it." Fellow mom Catherine Brackey added "I think my favorite part of the Sanchez parties is when all the moms feel like we've made ourselves one too many plates of fajitas. At that point, we all somehow converge at the platters of grilled meat and chicken, dispense with the pretext of the tortillas and start picking at pieces with our fingers, dipping them in the salsas and popping them directly into our mouths. We usually try to appear deep in conversation about some new development in child rearing to distract anyone from what we're really up to." Oh, and make sure to order more steak than chicken. Moms always claim to prefer chicken, but those allegiances tend to fade when they're standing next to a big platter of juicy red meat.
Carniceria Sanchez, 4525 Inglewood Blvd., Culver City, (310) 391-3640.