Joel Jacinto of Seattle Sweetcorn works over an open pit while charring corn to make elotes and esquites at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Joel Jacinto of Seattle Sweetcorn works over an open pit while charring corn to make elotes and esquites at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Eating our way through Tulalip’s Hidden Gems weekend market

Don’t miss the pupusas, pit-roasted lamb tacos, elotes and even produce for your next meal.

TULALIP — With this much lime, it can’t be bad.

That’s my first thought when Fernando Lopez hands me a 32-ounce Tejuino, a fermented non-alcoholic corn drink, that cost $12 at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market behind the Tulalip Resort Casino.

Since early April, a thousand visitors have flocked each weekend for Tejuinos and other delicious treats. The drink, by the way, surpassed expectations. It’s tangy, sweet and salty all at the same time.

First created by Les Parks as a swap meet in 2011, his daughter, Kenzi, took over a few years ago. She renamed the market, marketed it more aggressively and put some rules to have a diversity of foods.

The market, on a 15-acre gravel lot behind the casino, runs rain or shine from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. This year, the market opened earlier than ever. Its spring season will go until June 2 or June 9. Then, the market will reopen for the summer July 13 and continue through September. (The market shares the lot with the Boom City fireworks market.)

Don’t forget to bring cash, many vendors are cash only.

A young girl takes her elote from Seattle Sweecorn at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A young girl takes her elote from Seattle Sweecorn at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

On an overcast Sunday morning last month, Daily Herald photographer Ryan Berry and I ate our way through the market.

Because stomachs (and newspaper budgets) have limits, it’s best to survey the market before choosing the first bite. We started with the Tejuino.

Before eating any more, we spot a produce tent from California, where we’re quickly handed a slice of mango.

I instantly regret getting groceries the day before in the sterile aisles of a supermarket.

Our first meal of the day will be the pit-roasted lamb tacos, from Barbacoa Judith’s out of Olympia.

The lamb roasts under your hungry eyes. In a single motion, Pablo Garduno chops the lamb before slinging it into the awaiting tortillas, the whole process takes seconds.

Pablo Garduno and the team at Barbacoa Judith’s churn out pit-roasted lamb tacos by the dozen at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Pablo Garduno and the team at Barbacoa Judith’s churn out pit-roasted lamb tacos by the dozen at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

It’s easy to see why Barbacoa Judith sold out at noon the week before.

The tacos priced at $4 are incredible. Lamb is my favorite meat and the tortillas are handmade.

However, what surprises the most is the consomé priced at $4.

The stock made from the lamb, with a bit of rice and chickpeas, is comforting.

A pit-roasted lamb taco from Barbacoa Judith’s at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A pit-roasted lamb taco from Barbacoa Judith’s at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Next, we have Bryan Ramirez’s pupusas, thick corn tortillas filled with various stuffings popular in El Salvador served with a cabbage salad called curtido.

For $10, we pick three different pupusas, each filled with chicharrón and loroco, an edible flower that tastes like squash and cheese.

A team of workers make Salvadoran pupusas at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A team of workers make Salvadoran pupusas at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

As we sit down, I strike up a conversation with my chair neighbor, Amelia Mejía, of Mount Vernon.

She is a cook and has her own foodtruck called Tacos Los Cachanillas, named after a plant from her home city of Mexicali in Mexico.

But today, she won’t be doing any cooking. Her favorites are the lamb tacos and the pupusas.

Bingo! You always want to eat where the pros are eating.

The exterior of the pupusas are fried with a slight char. The interior is pillowy and soft.

Ten dollars gets visitors three fresh pupusas at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Ten dollars gets visitors three fresh pupusas at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Mejía also has fruit salad in her cup. While I am a big fan of fruit and salad, together and separate, a more exciting elote eyes me from a distance.

On the corn, Joel Jacinto sprinkles salt, squishes a lime and smothers the charred corn with mayonnaise, cheese and hot Cheetos.

I’m afraid it will be a confusing mix of flavors fighting each other to be the main character.

I’m happy to be wrong about this sweet, juicy, tangy, salty and crunchy delight.

As the budget is running dry and we’re more than full, we head to the exit.

But I hesitate for a long time in front of the carnitas tacos.

Gustavo Castañeda, the owner of Carnitas Ayotla, makes an offer I can’t refuse: a free sample.

OK fine. I sit down.

He tells me their motto: “Love can wait, carnitas can’t, they get cold.”

At $6 a taco, the price is steeper than many other vendors. But Catañeda fills his tacos twice as much. The math checks out.

And as I bite into the overflowing tacos, I make note that love and carnitas activate the same part of the brain.

‘I don’t even question what she does anymore’

Kenzi Parks, 27, took a different approach to the family business after taking over from her dad in 2019. She wanted to focus the market more on craft vendors and offering a variety of food. She banned certain items: everyday store items like toiletries and makeup, fair-like merchandise and wholesale vendors, among others.

Only food vendors have to register before they arrive.

On good weekends, the market attracts 2,000 to 3,000 visitors.

Les Parks, 67, is impressed.

“I don’t even question what she does anymore,” he says of his youngest daughter. “I used to say: ‘That’s not right. You can’t do that.’ And she just does it. And she’s got a brilliant business mind compared to my laidback mind I guess.”

Now, he’s the carpenter and janitor.

Kenzi Parks is encouraging her dad to set up a food stand for the summer season when the salmon starts running.

Between 2006 and 2010, Les Parks ran a food business called “Longhouse Salmon.” He would set up his portable smoker during concerts and sell barbecue salmon, salmon clam chowder and Indian frybread.

His daughter took orders.

It’s the “world’s best salmon,” Les Parks said.

Well, I guess I’ll have to go back for research.

Aina de Lapparent Alvarez: 425-339-3449; aina.alvarez@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @Ainadla.

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Pablo Garduno and the team at Barbacoa Judith’s churn out pit-roasted lamb tacos by the dozen at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Eating our way through Tulalip’s Hidden Gems weekend market

Don’t miss the pupusas, pit-roasted lamb tacos, elotes and even produce for your next meal.

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