Meet the New Sarasota Farmers Market Superstar: Azteca Rojo

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Pictured: Azteca Rojo serves handmade tamales at the Sarasota Farmers Market every Saturday. Photo by Kevin Allen.

One bite. Just one forkful was all it took to recognize greatness this weekend when my family and I tried the tamales from the Azteca Rojo stand at the Sarasota Farmers Market.

For years, Azteca Rojo owner and chef Roci Mendez has been delighting farmers market faithful in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Wesley Chapel with her tamales. After spending time on the waitlist for Sarasota’s, she has unleashed her talent on a local audience, and she tells SRQ Magazine she plans to stay for the foreseeable future.

Every tamale Mendez serves is handmade, and she stays up late Friday night — sometimes nearly the entire night — steaming her tamales for the morning. The recipes she uses have been passed down from her grandmother, and her style is heavily influenced by her cuisine native to her hometown of San Luis Potosí, Mexico.

I had already devoured half of my daughter’s avocado toast when my wife, Janet, walked up with a brown box. “There’s a new tamale place,” she said. My eyes grew. My pulse quickened. I waited patiently for Janet to offer me a bite, and she had to wrestle it back from me. These tamales are LEGIT.

The tamal itself retains all the sweetness of the corn from the light and airy masa, but the real star of the show for the version we ordered was the chicken. Mendez slow cooks the shredded chicken breast in a sauce that boasts the roasty, earthy-yet-spicy flavor of the guajillo chili. In addition to the chicken, she offers a traditional cochinita pibil (Yucatan-style barbecued pork), plus a veg option.

The combo version is served with a side of fresh pico de gallo, made from ingredients purchased from the very farmers markets where Mendez sells her wares. There’s also a carrot salad that is sweet with a citrus tang and a spicy kick at the end. It also comes with a side of refried black beans, which are so rich and creamy — while lacking the heaviness of the pinto bean version — that they alone are worth the price of the entire meal.

For now, Mendez’ crew sets up in front of Dimmitt Automotive Group on State Street. (You know — that luxury car dealership where you walk up to the window and drool while you point out the car you could never afford.)

Look, I know that logically, it’s simply not feasible for me to eat Azteca Rojo tamales every Saturday for the rest of my life, but hey … a boy can dream, right?

Azteca Rojo, Sarasota Farmers Market, Saturdays, 7 a.m. - 1 p.m., State Street, facebook.com/AuthenticAztecaRojo/

Pictured: Azteca Rojo serves handmade tamales at the Sarasota Farmers Market every Saturday. Photo by Kevin Allen.

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