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Why Cardenas Market Is the Best Pit Stop When Road Tripping Through the Inland Empire

2:00 PM PDT on April 1, 2021

Welcome to Local Gems, our new monthly restaurant column presented by White Claw, the official hard seltzer of L.A. TACO. Each month we’ll honor institutions that make delicious food and have stood the test of time all over Los Angeles and beyond. Read, order, share, and don’t be afraid to rep your community’s local gem in the comments.

[dropcap size=big]F[/dropcap]rom the family of farmworkers in the mountainous regions of Jalisco, Mexico, to the San Gabriel mountain adorned valley, when you stop at Cardenas Market for your quick food and drink fix, you are making a stop at the fastest-growing Latino supermarket in the Inland Empire.  

Jesus Cardenas and his wife Luz opened the first Cardenas Market over 40 years ago in the City of Ontario. With authenticity and a rich history to reference, Cardenas would become one of the U.S.’ biggest market chains specializing in Mexican and Central American groceries. After a surge in growth, Montclair became the home of the 60th store with the signature Cardenas décor.

Being a market chain that caters to primarily Latino customers means the store sells familiar products for consumers who like to cook Mexican food, but what makes stores like Montclair unique is the full carnicería, pescadería, tortillería, panadería, restaurant and, aguas frescas stand. It’s dangerous territory for shoppers who tend to shop hungry, especially those cruising through on their way to Big Bear or Palm Springs.

“Our stores are at the nexus of culture and community,” said Marisa Kutansky, director of communication for Cardenas Markets, “Our products, the authentic food in our cocinas, and our people are what makes us who we are.”

Inside Cardenas.

Why can’t supermarkets double as Mexican restaurants?  Especially when their menu has tacos, tortas, burritos, and even cooked meat by the pound. If you’re holding out for the last few days of Lent, stock up on fish and get a cup of ceviche on the way out. The Cardenas family understands that holiday gatherings are a staple for a massive food display, and during the winter, the stores are sure to advertise big during tamal season. With authenticity always at the forefront, the tortillas, made with nixtamal, are created and packaged in front of customers as they peruse the aisles.

But selling groceries and food isn’t all the Cardenas markets are known for. The company also started the Cardenas Markets Foundation in 2005, which distributes $2,000 scholarships annually to students going to college. They anticipate 60 students during the 2021-2022 academic year. It’s sponsored by dozens of businesses, from Anheuser Busch to Auto Club Speedway.

Pan dulce inside  Cardenas.

“We understand that educational costs continue to increase, and we are pleased to help defray some of these costs for our future leaders,” said Marco Robles, executive director of the Cardenas Markets Foundation. The scholarship opportunity is open until April 5th.

According to Kutansky, the company is constantly looking for expansion opportunities, but some of those efforts have stagnated with concerns about the pandemic. The eating areas by the cocinas were closed until recent developments loosened restrictions in the state. 

With vaccination eligibility and travel increasing nationwide, Los Angelinos are finally packing their cars and making the trip across the IE, especially for Easter weekend. With all their locations and everything they sell, Cardenas Markets is a serious contender for that one-stop-shop pit stop before partying and enjoying the beauty of Southern California with friends and family.

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