As Luna Market nears it’s tenth anniversary in June 2018, it continues to surprise guests as a hidden gem in Colorado Springs, with a full Mexican grocery store, butchery and eatery. Mike Moon, co-owner of Luna Market, whose family owns the shopping center on Academy Boulevard where the store sits, says it was important to him to salvage the building that was previously Fruteria Guadalajara.
Moon says that they “slowly built up the inventory and diversity of the products” and now feature items from “all over, not only Mexico” to include Central and South America that appeals to their “diverse clientele.”
As we approach the unassuming building there is an industrial-sized grill parked on the patio where Super Pollo Rico, operates as a tenant, selling superbly moist and flavorful grilled chicken.
“They’ve been here since the very beginning and their reputation is fantastic,” says Moon. “A lot of the reviews I have are actually in reference to the chicken outside.”
Inside the market are large boxes of exotic fruit, pallets of dry bulk beans and a variety of peppers and chiles. The shelves are adorned with a sprawling assortment of Mexican candies, cookies and chips with a substantial section along the perimeter of El Guapo spices and Goya products. Festive pinatas and balloons hang from the ceiling and the atmosphere carries us away from suburban Colorado Springs and into a legitimate mercado just south of the border.
At the front of the store an L-shaped section and countertop contains ice cream and an eye-catching fruit bar that Moon says is “commonplace in Mexico and around Los Angeles” in the form of stand-alone carts. Bins of fresh cut produce showcase a rainbow of options available with granola, coconut flakes, condensed milk and their homemade sweet cream.
The kitchen/restaurant area houses a few simple tables and booths and is bustling at lunchtime with a growing line. Multiple chalkboards serve as the menu with traditional offerings: tacos, burritos and quesadillas with a choice of meat that includes more adventurous options with lingua (beef tongue) or buche (pork stomach). The opposing side reads “platos/plates” and has over a dozen conventional Mexican entrees we’d expect to see with fajitas, enchiladas and tamales.
Moon explains how versatile Mexican food really is, varying “from North to South and into touristy cities” and says that Luna’s recipes are indicative of what part of the country his staff hails from.
“Because Mexico is so regional, as far as cuisine is concerned, we went off of what’s classic,” says Moon. “We’re not going to cater to the Tex-Mex style. We have staples and then integrate stuff that the chefs enjoy making and eating themselves.”
Moon brings over what appears to be one of everything, and the round table fills up quickly with a full-on feast. All that we sample tastes simple and delicious, without frills or pretentiousness and it is indicative of the fresh spices and approach used to make it. The experience feels homey, relaxed and as if we are sitting amongst family and friends eating a meal meant to satisfy and comfort us.
“The feedback I get from customers most is that it reminds them of their mom’s cooking,” says Moon.
Moon says his “go-to” picks are the fry tacos and chipotle shrimp and his wife, a Southern California transplant, typically opts for enchiladas with chile verde. Luna’s number one selling item though is of a sweeter variety from their vibrant “fruit cart.” The fresas con crema is our new indulgence and hard to put down, with layers of strawberries, granola, coconut flakes and cream topped with a strawberry drizzle made in-house, served in a tall parfait cup.
Beyond the preparation of solid Mexican dishes, Moon’s two main priorities for Luna are cleanliness and customer service and says he routinely hears from patrons that the market “is very organized and clean.” Those comments resonate deeply since he doesn’t do any marketing for the business but hopes word of mouth will continue to grow their customer base.
The space itself has little room to expand beyond transitioning out onto the patio which Moon tells us he contemplates but more thoroughly considers setting up a second location in Northern Colorado Springs. In the meantime, he strives to “introduce new products” and says “it’s not just focusing on a very particular group but trying to incorporate as much as we can.” We notice some Asian influence in the store which Moon tells us is gaining popularity due to Mexico’s growing population and acceptance towards developmental integration.
“Mexico has gotten used to so many different cultures and then it just becomes their own,” says Moon.
Luna sources from many different vendors to host such a bold assortment but Moon says he’s particular about where their produce and proteins come from. The meat is derived from mainly Colorado and Nebraska ranches while the fruits and vegetables are from California because he won’t compromise “quality, freshness and shelf life” for locality, a growing echo we hear more and more from area business owners.
First and foremost, Moon wants consumers to know that Luna is “just a grocery store that’s open 364 days a year” (closed on Christmas Day) that offers “a lot more variety” and a place to explore different expressions of food.
As Colorado Springs expands and seems to embrace the influx of ethnic cuisine it brings with it, there are more opportunities to see, and taste, beyond what we think we already know. Luna exemplifies that notion as a committed, open-ended option to uncover unique foods that may remind some customers of home, or serve as a catalyst to integrate pieces of Mexican heritage into our own kitchens.