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Las Palmas Carniceria in Brookline transports taste buds south of the border

Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - At Las Palmas in Brookline, Jose Silvestre serves up a taco lunch outside, Friday, March 15th, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Keith Hodan  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>At Las Palmas in Brookline, Jose Silvestre serves up a taco lunch outside, Friday, March 15th, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - At Las Palmas in Brookline, Jose Silvestre (left,) and Enrique Berumen prepare a taco lunch outside, Friday, March 15th, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Keith Hodan  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>At Las Palmas in Brookline, Jose Silvestre (left,) and Enrique Berumen prepare a taco lunch outside, Friday, March 15th, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - At Las Palmas in Brookline, a diner adds guacamole to their tamale lunch outside, Friday, March 15th, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Keith Hodan  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>At Las Palmas in Brookline, a diner adds guacamole  to their tamale lunch outside, Friday, March 15th, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - At Las Palmas in Brookline, a diner adds onions to their taco lunch outside, Friday, March 15th, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Keith Hodan  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>At Las Palmas in Brookline, a diner adds onions to their taco lunch outside, Friday, March 15th, 2013.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 8:39 p.m.
 

One of the pleasures of international travel is discovering new foods.

The downside is discovering that they're not available in your hometown.

Fortunately, area residents with fond food memories of Mexico will find Las Palmas Carniceria fills that need.

Las Palmas opened its first store in Brookline in 2009. It has now expanded, with additional locations in Oakland and Washington County.

We visited the stores in Oakland and Brookline and found them to be similarly stocked and staffed.

Both were literally packed to the ceiling with items that range from a Barbie piñata near the front to tiny packages of epazote on the herb-and-spice rack in the back.

Cooks will appreciate the selection of hard-to-find items such as dried corn husks for tamales, fresh cactus leaves and dried ancho chiles.

As the Carniceria in its name indicates, Las Palmas also serves as a butcher shop. Its well-stocked meat case includes freshly made chorizo — spicy Mexican sausage.

But it's the copious abundance of snack food that make Las Palmas a wonderland for expatriates and returned travelers.

Chief among the delights is the taco stand just outside the store's entrance that operates during store hours. On a recent cold and rainy weekday, a steady stream of shoppers and local office workers made a pilgrimage to pick up one or more of the soft-shell tacos.

Customers begin by choosing from the four available fillings — mildly spicy ground beef, thin strips of beef and onions, diced pork and spicy chorizo sausage. The meat is wrapped inside a double-layer of 8-inch tortillas that have been warmed and softened on the grill.

From there, it's up to the buyer to customize their taco with any or all of the combination of 12 toppings laid out on a separate cart. The selection of sauces ranges from mild and creamy avocado to a fiery-red chile. Diners also can garnish with pico de gallo — a mixture of tiny bits of onion, tomato and peppers — as well as onions, cilantro, jalapeno peppers or tomatoes.

The tacos are placed into oblong Styrofoam containers, which are convenient if you're getting them to go. The containers also corral whatever toppings may drop off while you're garnishing or eating.

The tacos are tiny enough that some may consider them a snack instead of a meal. But, at $2 apiece, you can afford to indulge your appetite for seconds.

Those who think it's not a taco unless there's some heat and tingle to it should opt for the chorizo sausage. But the overall winner was the moist and succulent beef-and-onion combo.

If you're looking for add-ons to round out your meal, they're waiting for you inside the shop.

Las Palmas carries an amazing assortment of snack foods both salty and sweet such as: plantain chips ($2.19 for 5-ounce bag), thin, starchy, banana-like slices masquerading as potato chips; Chicaharron De Harina Tubo ($1.39 for 20ounce bag), crunchy tubes of corn and wheat flour sold with a packet of spicy sauce; Rico Coco Galettas ($4.19 for a 26-ounce box), coconut cookies.

There's also a refrigerator case of soft drinks such as Goya Agua de Coco ($1.29) of Jarritos-brand sodas ($1.29) in fruity flavors such as lime, guava or mandarin orange.

The selection is wide enough that you have a good chance of re-connecting with that snack you've been yearning for since your south-of-the-border trip.

Three additional things to know before you go:

• Items inside the store can be purchased with debit or credit cards but tacos are sold on a cash-only basis.

• There's no seating area available. An awning across the shop front does provide minimal shelter from rain.

• Once you visit you'll be eager to return.

Las Palmas Carniceria, 700 Brookline Blvd., Brookline. Hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Details: 412-344-1131.

Las Palmas Carniceria #2, 326 Atwood St., Oakland. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Details: 412-682-1115

Las Palmas Carniceria #3, 675 Chestnut St., Washington, Pa. Hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Details: 724-225-9046

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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