Los Jarritos comes to 2509 Broadway

Mexican food comes to a block already something of a melting pot, with New Canton on one side and Weinerschnitzel fast food on the other.

Morgan Ong
Morgan Ong  

The Broadway Setting of Los Jarritos

 

Los Jarritos Mexican Restaurant (2509 Broadway) occupies a lot that from the 1920s to the 1950s had a house on it.  From the 1960s through the 1980s, the property sported a motorcycle shop, a use that was right at home in 2500 block, where automobile-related functions have been popular over the years.  A gas station, tire store, driving school, muffler shop, and used car dealers have come and gone.  Sellers of radios and appliances, rubber goods, ceramic tile, pumps, power tools, and fire extinguishers complete a picture of businesses specializing in semi-industrial goods.  Food and drink have had only an intermittent presence, including shops selling groceries, meat, and fruit in the 1930s at #2531, and a tavern at #2513 starting in the 1960s and lasting for 30 years.  In the 1980s a Wienerschnitzel restaurant and the New Canton Restaurant appeared, and 18 years ago, Los Jarritos.

            The family of Jorge Placencia owns and operates Los Jarritos. The name means little jugs, a type of small ceramic pitcher popular in Mexico for keeping lemonade cold and hot chocolate hot, especially for children. Placencia followed in the footsteps of  his father Salvador, an entrepreneur who came to the U.S. from San Julian in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Salvador worked as a baker at La Fiesta Tortilla Factory at 9th and X Streets (just off Broadway). He went on his own with his sons, including Jorge, to open the popular La Esperanza Bakery at 5044 Franklin Boulevard in the heart of Hispanic commerce in Sacramento. The bakery transports customers to old Mexico for pink cookies, little pastries called porquitos, tres leches cake and special cakes for weddings and lifecycle events.

Later, and just a few doors away, the Placencia family opened La Esperanza II [officially titled: La Esperanza Mexican Food Products]. It’s a Mexicatessen with carnitas and chicharones to go. A specialty is dozens of varieties of dried red chiles. The store also sells Mexican spices, utensils, copper vats for braising carnitas at home, cheese, beverages, an array of types of beans, and masa made fresh behind the store every day. La Esperanza II is essentially a factory. La Esperanza corn tortillas and masa for tamales are sold throughout the Sacramento area. These products also end up at Los Jarritos restaurant. Because the Placencia family makes its own tortillas and masa dough, Los Jarritos has an advantage over most Mexican restaurant in that it keeps costs low because there’s no middleman.

The presence of Los Jarritos in the company of New Canton and Wienerschnitzel, and more generally, a mix of fast-food chains and independent ethnic eateries on Broadway, is consistent with the insights of food historian Donna R. Gabaccia, author of We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans (Harvard University Press, 1998).  After delving into the foodways of five American cities located in different regions of the country, she concluded:

 

    Two characteristics distinguish American eating habits from those of other countries: our tastes for standardized mass-produced processed dishes and for a diverse variety of multi-ethnic specialties. The former [mainstreamed food] gives a familiar and predictable homogeneity to supermarket shelves and roadside fast-food landscapes across the country.  This is what first-time visitors from abroad, along with recently arrived immigrants, initially perceive as American food.  But alongside the factory-baked spongy white bread, quick-frozen vegetables, and endless rows of identical tin cans, one discovers an extraordinary diversity.  There is liver pudding in Carolina meat compartments and scrapple in Philadelphia; turnip greens in Charleston but lemongrass in San Francisco.  A traveler who is willing to forgo a Taco Bell or Burger King can lunch instead at a small mom-and-pop diner in the Ozarks, or try the lunchtime buffet at a MidwesternMandarinPalace.  And in the evening, a tourist or native almost anywhere in the United States can choose between chain-restaurant turf-and-surf and fusion cuisine prepared by a new immigrant chef from Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, or Central Europe.  Eating homogeneous, processed, mass-produced foods is no more, or less, American than enjoying the multi-ethnic mixtures of particular regions.  (p. 228)

 

Los Jarritos and other ethnic restaurants mix it up

In the same way that Andy Nguyen’s is a Vietnamese restaurant located outside Sacramento’s “Little Saigon” on Stockton Boulevard, Los Jarritos is located outside “Barrio Franklin.”  This is not unusual for ethnic restaurants, which are a type of ethnic business frequently found outside of ethnic enclaves and business districts. While Franklin is the banner street for Mexican restaurants, they are found widely scattered throughout the Sacramento area. This reflects the fact that residents of Mexican ancestry are both numerous (nearly 300,000 in the four-county region of roughly 2 million people) and spatially dispersed. Of course, it is also the case that Mexican food is widely consumed by people of other backgrounds, and that Mexican ingredients – taco shells, chiles, jalapenos, guacamole – are popular in all manner of full-service restaurants. 

            In a study first published in 1987, cultural geographer Wilbur Zelinsky identified 26,500 ethnic restaurants in 271 metropolitan areas in the U.S., representing over 10% percent of the restaurants in those places.  Surely that percentage has gone up.  By far the largest numbers of ethnic restaurants identified were Chinese (29%), Italian (22%), and Mexican (20%), with the next largest type being French at only 5%.  In the western United States as a group, Mexican remains the dominant ethnic cuisine.  Twenty additional years of significant Mexican immigration increased the numbers of Mexican restaurants and their share of the ethnic restaurant pie. While Italian cuisine does not appear to require a major stream of Italian migrants to support it, it does not have the expansionary dynamic that new migrants bring (about a third of those with Mexican ancestry in the Sacramento region were born in Mexico). And speaking of Italian restaurants, apparently Broadway has never had one.

I like to think of ethnic restaurants as ambassadors to neighborhoods and streets of the city where other groups live and eat.  As geographers Barbara G. Shortridge and James R. Shortridge state in the introduction to A Taste of American Place (1998, Rowman & Littlefield), “Food is inexpensive and a nearly perfect vehicle for experimentation.  Food also is one of the world’s most time-honored ways of sharing.  Borrowing one another’s foodstuffs is neither assimilation nor pluralism, but a measure of the acceptance of diversity.”

-- Robin Datel