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Fiesta Market & Taqueria

A new taqueria and market just north of downtown Medford provides a welcome place to grab a quick, inexpensive meal.

Fiesta Market & Taqueria has transformed the former JJ North's buffet into a casual restaurant, neighborhood market and event center.

Owner Esteban Gonzalez, a Central Point entrepreneur who also owns G&E Reforestation Co., bought the property in June 2010, remodeling and expanding it to create the new complex that opened in early April.

Although the restaurant is open for dinner, I like to stop in for lunch.

My husband and I visited on a Saturday when there are weekend specials on the menu, which features plenty of familiar favorites and enough variety to keep diners coming back for more.

I ordered enchiladas norteñas ($8.95), which the menu proclaims a house specialty enrobed in either red or green sauce and filled with shredded beef, chicken or cheese. I ordered shredded chicken. While the thick layer of shredded cheese over the top didn't look particularly authentic to me, I have nothing against extra cheese. The sauce was a step away from ordinary with a delicate, almost fruity flavor.

The accompanying rice was good while the refried beans were standard. A dollop of crema, a cultured dairy product that is generally richer, thinner and a little less sour than sour cream, provided a delicious accent to the plate.

Always up for an eating adventure and knowing that I can't keep my fork to myself, my husband ordered a full slate of Fiesta's tacos for $1.25 each. There were eight on the menu, nine on the plates and 10 on the bill. Despite that minor inconsistency, all the tacos were tasty.

"Carnitas," bits of slowly cooked pork with moist centers and caramelized corners, are available only on weekends. The "carne asada" is tender and savory, but beef lovers can find more meaty flavor in tender tongue ("lengua"), cheek ("cabeza") or a little crispy, fried tripe. A mild chorizo made at the market also is fried into crisp, little crumbles of deliciousness. Shredded chicken and slightly sweet chili stew called "adobada" are saucier options.

Tortas are a specialty, garnering two listings on the menu: one for regular tortas and one for house specials. Regular tortas include the meats also available in tacos and burritos, as well as ham or a hamburger, and are priced at $4.95. The house specials feature complex pairings of breaded steak, pork cutlets, cheeses, peppers, pineapple and even eggs. Special tortas cost $7 to $7.50.

All the sandwiches are prepared on a broad, oblong roll baked across town at Panederia del Pueblo. The bread is lightly toasted on a griddle so it is warm, tender and sturdy enough to hold up to savory fillings, a smear of mayonnaise, thin slices of avocado, onion, tomato and pickled jalapeno, along with any sauce you might want to add.

A typical salsa bar — a mostly mild and slightly smoky chili sauce, salsa verde, pico de gallo, a surprisingly spicy avocado dressing and pickled jalapenos — is tucked into a bin of ice under a wall-mounted, flat-screen television. They were all tasty, but the basic salsa brought out with a basket of chips when diners are seated was especially good, rich with roasted garlic, fresh red onion and a hint of cilantro.

If you want to recreate Fiesta meals at home, a butcher counter in the adjacent market sells the marinated meats, chorizo and more. The market also offers milk and other dairy products, a small produce selection with lots of chilies, Mexican and other brands of pantry staples, plus lots of snack foods and sodas from south of the border — a boon to residents of the Liberty Park neighborhood.

Fiesta accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover, but no checks.

The market is working to accept food stamps and WIC vouchers.

The adjacent event center can accommodate up to 600 people and is rented out for conferences, weddings and receptions, quinceañeras and other events. It currently hosts regular Zumba fitness classes and periodic weekend dances featuring regional bands playing traditional and modern Mexican music.

— Anita Burke