There is an inviting intersection where Franklin Boulevard meets Fruitridge Road. Going clockwise from the northeast to the northwest corner there is a Jimboy’s Tacos outlet, Rick’s Hacienda Restaurant, the 58-year-old Caballo Blanco Restaurante, and Carniceria Lopez. That’s a Mexican restaurant on each corner.
Local historian Jose Esparza is native to the area, where he says, “There’s a strong Hispanic community.” Born to a Mexican mother and Argentinean father, Esparaza says there’s also a significant Hmong and Laotian population along the Franklin corridor.
Esparza frequents the family-run Carniceria Lopez, situated in a strip mall behind Los Inmortales Taqueria. When asked why he goes there, he gives the simplest of summaries.
“It’s the food, it’s the people,” Esparza said. “You walk in, and they know who I am. It’s nice because you see a lot of stuff that you don’t see anywhere else.”
His favorite cut of meat is the pork espinazo, or pork spine, just $1.99 a pound. The flavor mimics that of baby back ribs. There is also the ranchera, or skirt steak, for $8.49 a pound, sold plain or deliciously marinated.
Rogelio Lopez Jr., the 31-year-old son of owners Rogelio and Maria Lopez, was recently stationed behind the meat counter. A bubbly man with a full, round beard, he almost looks like a blacksmith with his full-body apron. Maria said the store opened in 1993. When asked about the secret to their longevity, she used the words “persistencia,” and “corte fresco” for the meat, which means freshly cut.
They serve hot food, as well. Tacos range from $1.75 to $2.50, and they include a generous helping of roasted pepper salsa, cilantro and onions. The pleasantly oily corn tortilla vessels are somewhere between hard and soft in texture.
On the other side of the store you can find anything from canned La Costena refried beans to a variety of bulk chile peppers. Lopez Jr. says the chiles japoneses have the most fire.
Known for their battered chiles rellenos, Caballo Blanco has been serving Mexican food across Fruitridge Road since 1961. The rustic interior with comfortable booths and big wooden chairs is a visual representation of persistencia.
The portions are hefty; the chicken or cheese enchiladas suizas are served on a giant oval plate with an edge that curves upward like a bowl to keep its contents intact. The citrusy green tomatillo salsa bathing the enchiladas can be scooped up with Caballo Blanco’s crispy, robust flour tortilla chips, which might be the tastiest in Sacramento.
The carnitas de puerco plate is similarly large. It is chunks of pork marinated with orange juice and spices, just $12.25 and served with celery-dominated soup, rice, rich beans made with lard and tortillas.
Another intersection stronghold is Rick’s Hacienda, founded just four years after Caballo Blanco in 1965. Inside, green-upholstered booths line its perimeter, and similarly green high-backed chairs grace the tables in the middle.
The arrachera Mexicana, $13.50, is made with ranchera meat, and it is served with whole pinto beans and nopales. The steaming beans are perfectly salted and tender, and the thin, crispy corn tortilla chips beg for their spicy red salsa that has a pronounced cilantro note.
For $3.95, any plate can be supplemented with a chimichanga on the side.
During a recent visit, a Spanish-league soccer game graced the lofted televisions, a mariachi version of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 played on the sound system and a neighboring table switched effortlessly between Spanish and English conversation.
And either language is perfectly fine to employ at any of these businesses at the intersection of Franklin and Fruitridge, a testament to Sacramento’s diversity. Why not practice either while savoring a taste of Mexico in Sacramento?