Adventure of the Week: Arcola Hispanic and American Grocery


Hand painted vases from Mexico all aligned in a row. (Adriana Hernande-sSAntana)

Adriana Hernandez-Santana, Editor-in-Chief

For today’s Adventure of the Week, I went to Arcola’s Hispanic and American Grocery.

Now I know what you’re thinking. What’s so great and special about going to a supermarket? 

Humor me for a minute while I explain.

Here’s the thing, I’m Latina. As a Latina that lives in Coles County, it makes it extremely hard to find authentic Hispanic food. Sure, there’s Los Pos and maybe one or two other places in the area that try to cater to the need, but nothing has really hit the spot for me.

What I’m looking for is traditional home cooked food.

So I feel like today’s adventure is quite fitting for the situations I’ve been finding myself in recently.

This is my problem. The Hispanic community in Charleston is not as big as I hoped it would have been when I first moved here. When there is a smaller population size for a certain ethnic group, the need for items to cater to the group dramatically dwindles.

Where I’m from, I can just go to any hispanic market within a five-mile radius and find exactly what I’m looking for..I can no longer find that here.

And honestly, it’s really discouraging. 

I’m used to cooking with very vibrant spices. Things like sofrito, sazon and adobo are really big staples in my cooking, or anything that makes the foo

Aisle filled with Hispanic seasonings and snacks. (Adriana Hernandez-Santana)

d really pop in color. I like things that are spicy. I like things that are sweet. I like things that remind me of home.

Like I mentioned before, I struggle to find that here. And before you say, Walmart has a selection of Hispanic foods, you can’t tell me that a small little section of an aisle is going to cater to every Latino in Coles County. 

That’s not home. 

So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that there was a Hispanic grocery store within 25 minutes from my apartment. Needless to say, I may have driven there in 20 minutes, but we don’t talk about that.

When I pulled up to the store, I saw the building and got very excited but also slightly anxious.What if this didn’t have what I was looking for? I was worried that it felt like I would lose another part of home again, something that I could only get if I drove back 3 hours to my hometown. Once I walked inside, the smell of a traditional Latino grocery store hit me.

Want to know the secrets of finding a real authentic Hispanic store? Look for the pinatas hanging from every corner of the store, watch the soccer balls dangling in the air. Look for the giant pots and pans on the top shelves, heave the mortar and pestles from the bottom units, heck look for the small vases that can only hold a cup of water.

That’s how you know it’s authentic. 

I felt so much joy and excitement as I walked around the store. And it made me realize how many things I missed, that I couldn’t get at just any grocery store. This was special to me. This was personal to me. I finally had access to my culture, something that I’ve been missing for an extremely long time.

Here’s the funny thing. I brought my significant other with me. And to those of you who know, hush your mouth.

For those of you that don’t know. Yes. He is Caucasian. 

Mortar and Pestel covered in marble-like patterns on the bottom shelf. (Adriana Hernandez-Santana)

I’ll leave it at that…


As I walked into the store, I experienced a large amount of joy and a strange bit of serenity. I looked over at my significant other to see him bewildered, amazed and absolutely astonished at everything that was in his sight. 

Needless to say, this was extremely new to him.

We actually did three laps around the store, if I’m being honest. The first lap was to get the excitement out. The second lap was to see what actually was there. And the third lap was to actually start buying things.

Something that this store does that the one by my house or should I say my parents house doesn’t do is host a little restaurant within the supermarket itself. We actually were able to order food while shopping.

Not gonna lie, that one was pretty new and cool for me.

I decided to order two different types of tacos. One was carne, and the other one was lengua. For those of you who don’t know, lengua translates to cow tongue. Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but trust me when I say this truly is a Latino delicacy, one that I didn’t realize I missed so dearly.

And clearly the idea of it did not bother him whatsoever because he downed it within 5 seconds. Safe to say it had his stamp of approval.

Latinos also have our own type of popsicles. They’re called paletas. Something people may not realize about these is that they come in two forms, water based and milk based. Depending on my mood, I can go for either, but today I went for the milk while he went for the water. As we were eating these in the car, he told me that he’d never had such strong flavoring from a simple popsicle.

When we got back, we also did a big food taste test.

Duros con Chile y Lemon in both fried and unfried versions of each other in plastic bags. (Adriana Hernandez-Santana)

While there were some tough contenders, the winners were duros wheel con chile y limon, and Coca-Cola imported from Mexico.

Now I know what you’re thinking. 

It may just seem like a grocery store to some people. It doesn’t seem like anything special or fancy.

Coming from the perspective of someone that has quite literally lost a piece of herself because her culture is not easily accessible in this area, it’s such a welcoming feeling to be able to go somewhere and know that your food is provided in the way that you grew up eating it.

Or that your favorite snacks and delicacies are within arm’s reach when you thought they were lost.

Believe me when I say that this store is unlike any other Walmart or ALDI I’ve ever seen.

As my significant other put it, “there is a very broad variety of food at this one store.”

All he could really say about the whole experience was “wow.” 

Honestly, he was just so amazed by the market because it was so cool and different from what he was used to seeing. Being immersed in a space that’s so unfamiliar to him but has such a cultural significance to others is what makes this place really beautiful.  

Not only that, you were able to see people from other cultures enjoying the amenities of the store, not just latinos. 

In this case, the minority became the majority, and it provided a sense of cultural diffusion.

This is something that is so special and rare, which made his experience so unique from mine. 

Overall, this is something that I’m proud to say I discovered in the area. While it may not seem like anything big or special to other people, coming from someone who misses her latina roots, this was definitely one place I’m going to keep going back to.

Not for just the food, but to be able to find a place that can remind me of home.

Thank you for reading this week’s edition of Adventure of the Week. Check in next week to see where I go next, and what new places I learn about!

Adriana Hernandez-Santana can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]