Owners Sergio and Mayra De Leon are capitalizing on the successful stores the De Leon family has established in the Portland area that offer guisos and guisados (stews and fillings for tacos, ranging from pork to cactus), homemade tortillas, salsas and northern Mexican-style tamales with light, well-seasoned masa and rich, spicy beans. When De Leon's deli opens soon, those tasty family dishes will be available, as well as tamales, chile rellenos, tacos and burritos.
The afternoon I stopped by, De Leon's rapid-fire tortilla machine was quiet, and the deli wasn't yet open. But the produce section was overflowing with a profusion of exotic fruits and veggies -- chilies (from Anaheim to Serrano); paper-husked, green tomatillos; bulbous jicama with their sweet, crunchy flesh; large, sienna-colored tamarindo pods; and purple and green tuna cactus pears. Store manager Mario De Leon cut open a cactus pear for me to taste. It's surprisingly refreshing and sweet, reminiscent of kiwi without the bite. Shopper Naomi Constantine tells me she cuts the cactus and freezes them for treats.
Constantine points out piloncillo (non-processed brown sugar) used to sweeten traditional rice cereal and nopales (cactus leaves) for salad, as well as banana leaves for wrapping tamales. "When I come in here, I feel like I'm back in Mexico," Constantine says.
De Leon also offers dried cornhusks to wrap tamales, as well as maiz moquedo and ozolero for making masa. The bakery area features cakes, pastries and cookies, while the meat department has specialty items like tongue, menudo with tripe (stomach), seasoned and marinated meats.
Paletas (creamy popsicles), Bimbo pan dulce (pastries), tortilla makers, mortars, bulk spices, Corona and Tecate beer, Mexican sodas and Jumex juices are a few of the items in the grocery section. Pottery from Guadalajara, hats and pi & ntilde;atas are also available.
"It's not your regular grocery store," says Sergio. "There's a need for a place like this in the Latino community." -- Susan Hamilton
De Leon Foods, 102 E. Francis Ave., is open daily 7 am-10 pm. Call 483-3033.
Pasta and Present DINING & r & It's the cry heard from Italian grandmothers everywhere: "Mangia, mangia!" -- "Eat, eat!" Now the Spokane Valley Mall has its own source of gustatory exclamation in MANGIA, a new restaurant tucked into the southwest quadrant of the mall, facing I-90.
The quasi-industrial d & eacute;cor -- brick walls, exposed ductwork, garage doors, salvaged lighting fixtures -- belies the home-style nature of the menu. Large parties will appreciate the several oversized booths and tables, but for all its spaciousness, Mangia gives diners a sense of privacy as well. And the video arcade across the hall is the only giveaway to the mall location once you're settled inside.
Mangia has a daily lunch special of endless 6-inch two-topping pizzas, with soup, salad and breadsticks ($8), plus a menu full of pizzas ($10-$14), panini sandwiches ($8), pasta dishes and classic Italian entrees ($10-$17) like Bolognese lasagna, artichoke heart and mushroom cannelloni and chicken piccata. The full-size 14-inch pizzas feature a house-made crust and a variety of traditional and not-so-traditional toppings.
"Nearly everything we make is from scratch," says the youthful owner, Tim Mitchell. "Our fresh pastas are flown in daily from Seattle, and we make our meatballs and meat sauce here. Every dish is made to order."
Sides include salad, fries (topped with parmesan) and a light minestrone soup with a flavorful broth and fresh garden vegetables. The thick-cut garlic bread, which accompanies several menu choices, is especially nice -- toothsome and chewy inside, crusty and crunchy outside, with a savory infusion of garlic butter on top.
The 21-year-old Mitchell gained his restaurant experience at Tito Macaroni's in Coeur d'Alene, where he worked his way up from pizza cook to kitchen supervisor. After a brief stint away from the restaurant biz, he decided to plunge back in. "Food has always been my passion," he says.
Mitchell checked out Italian restaurants in Spokane, Seattle and Dallas before settling on the menu, so it's not your standard chain fare. Now open a month, the Mangia crew will be expanding into the adjacent bar space just as soon as they receive their liquor license. With its location next door to the Regal Cinemas, Mangia makes the one-stop dinner-and-a-movie experience available in Spokane Valley. -- Ann M. Colford
Mangia, in the Spokane Valley Mall at 14700 E. Indiana Ave., is open Mon-Thu 11:30 am-9 pm, Fri-Sat 11 am-10 pm, and Sun noon-8 pm. Call 924-5316.