The Makings of a TMY Food Booth: Little Mexico & Día de los Muertos

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Pat Palomarez’s grandson, Matthew
Pat Palomarez’s grandson, Matthew,
joined the family at the TMY booth.

Behind the informal spontaneity of Festival food booths, there is a careful and conscious choreography of tradition that goes beyond “good grub.” Many TMY food booths are elaborately decorated in cultural ornaments that symbolically reflect the traditional foods and the ethnic backgrounds of the cultural purveyors.

So it is for the Palomarez family, who has been invited to Tucson Meet Yourself for more than five years, to serve foods and beverages traditional to their Mexican culture. (Little Mexico was first opened in 1977 by Rosario and Yolanda Palomarez on South 6th Avenue. In 1993, their son, George, and his wife, Pat, reopened the business on West Irvington Road, and the Little Mexico Steakhouse was opened on West Valencia in 2004. The restaurants use family recipes of the Palomarez and Estrada (Pat’s parents) families.)

This story of Little Mexico’s 2014 TMY food booth, which supports the Santa Cruz Catholic Church and School, is told by Patricia Palomarez:

“I was born and raised in Tucson, southside. I grew up with my family culture, and I try to keep our family culture alive through my restaurant and my children. We have participated in TMY since 2010 – that’s five years. And every year the booth is supporting Santa Cruz Catholic School.

“Santa Cruz Church is an historic church. My parents were married there. My grandmother lived a few blocks from the church. I also was married there. Now my grandkids go to school at Santa Cruz. It is a poor church with not a lot of financial support, and the education given is excellent. The school is a small community, and all the kids are like family. I was raised a Catholic with all the Mexican traditions, and I carry these traditions to my children and grandchildren. I hope it is continued. My grandkids love that I support their school.

“I see that the people who attend TMY try a little of every culture. They’re not just eating — they’re trying all types of food. Family is the main part of culture but food is what keeps it all together. This year, I saw that TMY was more oriented to the culture and foods, as not just any type of vendor, food or non food, was allowed into the TMY festival.

“A real joy of the TMY experience is working the booth, together with Family and Friends. It is hard work — We start early Thursday, still keeping on top of running our restaurants. But my kids always ask, ‘Mom are we doing it again this year?’ It’s this – plus the families who work with the booth — that has made us closer.

“Our best seller in the food booth is our grilled carne asada tacos, burros, quesadillas. We grilled our meat at the steakhouse on mequite grill. Also popular was our horchata and our homemade cinnamon tea.

This year, to decorate — I wanted to do Dia de los Muertos theme. It is because of our culture, but also because it reminds me of both my parents who have passed, and that without their teaching I would not carry on to my children.

“We started work on the booth Thursday afternoon before the Festival and worked until 10pm. The sign frame was made early Friday morning. I had the help of another family member from Santa Cruz School who actually went to the school to put the sign frame together: We could not have done it without him! I think the most popular decorative item on our booth was the skeleton guitar players. Unfortunately, in tearing down the booth, our skeleton guitar player cut his hand (and had to rush him to Saint Marys for stitches!)

“About our restaurants: Our location on Irvington has been there 21 years. Both my parents were alive and, with my husband’s parents, we started that location. All our food is made from recipes of my mother and mother-in-law, and every item is made in the restaurant except for tortillas. We make our own homemade tamales weekly.

“Our location on Valencia has been there 10 years. It is managed by, and belongs to my son, Carlos, who wanted to continue our traditions. We did the menu slightly different then Irvington. The Valencia restaurant has a mesquite pit and we wanted to make steaks just like we Mexicans do at home in our back yards. Valencia also has the Mexican food selection our Irvington location does. Most of our customers are local customers who grew up with the same traditions. We also have a lot of customers who just like good homemade Mexican food. When I was redecorating and painting our Irvington location, our family wanted to do something for Jim (Griffith), who comes in to eat quite often, especially for menudo on weekends. So we decorated a wall in one of our rooms to represent Jim’s book, the Saints of the Southwest…we also put pictures my Great Grandmother had in her home up on the wall, along with saints given to me by my previous boss wife Lori Amado. We all call it ‘Jim’s room,’ and I even display his books for customers to purchase. Now Jim and I call it his office!”


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© 2014

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