This is the latest post in our Latin Tongue series, which explores Latin eateries in the Twin Cities area. Check out the first article for the ground rules and a running list of restaurants we've covered.
Antojito is the perfect word. Street food. We were out walking around Lake St looking for a Latin eatery on a cold, cold day. We had hoped to venture into the tiny Taqueria El Primo, but their doors on 4th Avenue were closed and so we knew just a bit of wandering would cure our need for a plan B. There was a fairly new place on Lake called Taqueria El Monarco and just a few steps away, Gorditas El Gordo. Add to this Taqueria La Hacienda and El Primo (assuming they are open now and then) and it's quite the concentration of Mexican food in a two block stretch of Lake St. (Funny that Taco Bell is also wedged in there and even funnier that people choose it over these much more engaging options.)
For no reason whatsoever, Gorditas El Gordo won over this time. Ok, there was a reason, the name is somehow curious and amusing to me. My brain translates this into something like fat little fatties. What they sell themselves on is the idea of the antojito and by all accounts, the gordita is the chubby little king of the antojitos. Grab something and go would be the proper way to enjoy this food, but on this cold day, the warmth, smells, and lively atmosphere meant we would be staying put.
The place was really busy for a Monday at lunch, a great sign but awkward for us. We always have to study a menu and take it all in. It was challenging, to say the least, as folks kept streaming in the door and everyone, without fail, seemed to know what they wanted immediately. We politely took our seat and discussed our options further. We knew that we were going to order tacos and wanted to get a good sampling of the available meats. It sounds easy, but in most good taquerias there are at least a dozen options and Gorditas El Gordo is no different. Most tempting was the longaniza, a Mexican sausage, untried by we Latin afficianados...until today.
Also tugging at us was the pozole. There were a couple of signs pasted here and there talking it up and with the wind blowing outside, we needed something that would warm us through. We also knew that if a place has a food in its title (gordita), best to give it a shot. We threw in a sope for good measure and were ready to order.
The place was small, but nice and clean. We waited around trying to listen hard for our number, veintiuno, and were pleased to sit and watch all of the other orders go by. Not too many burritos were on the plates, but plenty of gorditas, tlacoyas, huaraches, and other masa corn delights were ordered to be sure. By the time ours came, we were almost too hungry to bother with photos.
While the soup cooled, we picked at the tacos, taking in the extreme variety in offerings: lengua, longaniza, pastor and suadero. I always go for the al pastor first as it is interesting almost without exception. Everyone has their own variation and unlike a more simple carnitas or carne asada, the different takes on al pastor seem to be never ending. As with most taquerias north of the border, and without a vertical rotisserie or the legal go ahead for an open fire, this pastor was a chopped, marinated, grilled pork with plenty of sauce. It had the expected great tang from pineapple and possibly lime. It also had a nice spice to it. It was really good, but I would have preferred a bit more char. The more I eat al pastor, the more I love it when it has a nice smokiness to balance the tang. The lengua was fine, but mild and definitely not a highlight on a plate with longaniza, pastor, and suadero. However, with some of their outstanding salsa verde, it was quite a nice treat.
Suadero is a meat that we see now and then, but have never gotten a good idea of what it is. One place called it brisket and indeed, that is a nice attempt at translation, but completely inaccurate as brisket usually refers to the breast area of a cow. What I can find from Mexican butchers puts the suadero more in the flank/shank area, as shown in this fascinating diagram. To add to my difficulties, it appears that suadero can also refer to the same type of meat whether it is cut from a cow or pig. Gorditas El Gordo translates their suadero as pork shoulder, which in all reality is probably a closer shot at where the meat comes from than brisket. No matter what we were eating, it was really outstanding. It was very similar to carnitas, but more buttery and salty. It was mild and for that reason, I would recommend ordering it on a dish where it is not hidden, for example, as a platillo, guisado, or perhaps even on a torta. Try some and let us know what you think.
Finally, we come to the previously mentioned longaniza. A mystery to us for sure and a first on this Latin Tongue series of eating adventures. We ordered it knowing that our only other Mexican sausage eating consisted of the more predictable Chorizo and the often unfortunate confusion when ordering salchichas (hot dogs). We were certainly hoping for something to take us out of our sausage funk and were not let down by this delectable number. One bite and we were in heaven. Although it looks like chorizo, it comes at you with more BBQ power, made especially amazing by the good folks at el Gordo due to a good amount of char and mesquite. It also has enough paprika, sweetness, and aromatic spice to make it completely irresistible. We loved it and want to try it in a number of other mediums.
The gordita was simple and great. It was like a greasy, hot sandwich and a great alternative to a torta if you want less bread and less commitment in terms of sheer size, as many tortas are huge. The masa corn cake was definitely freshly made, crispy, and stuffed with sour cream, cheese, lettuce, salsa, and your choice of meat. We chose chales (pork skin, also known as chicharrones). Despite having also had this same dish at Marissa's Deli, I still am not completely aware of the difference between chicharrones and chales. I think chales might almost be the skin coming from a specific area of the pig. If I ever find out, I will let you know. Either way, the chales was different from many other types of chicharron in that it was a bit dryer almost like it was cured…like bacon or ham. It was excellent and pushed the wow/grease/yum factor of the gordita over the edge. After all, the gordita is supposed to be greasy by design, so if you are the type to complain about it on Yelp or some other site, don't be such a fool. Order a torta or a taco. Save the grease for those of us who love it! The sopes were also quite well made, perhaps bigger than most. If you order one here, get it with the longaniza or the chicharron con salsa verde for plenty of flavor.
Finally, we come to the pozole. This soup was all about the broth. With the exception of the hominy, the rest of the ingredients were merely additions, including the pork and all of the garnishes. Just like any great broth based soup, the base has to be outstanding or the soup flops. Although it was subtle, it was obvious that this broth had been house made, probably over a long period of time and with plenty of bones. It simply had that depth that good, slow cooked broth has. It could have had more pepper influence, but we didn't mind. It was absolutely delicious and satisfying. It had us feeling warm and renewed.
So, Gorditas el Gordo is yet another stop on your list of quick local spots to grab a bit to eat. And what would we recommend? Grab yourself a gordita for sure, with one of our favorite meats: longaniza, chales, chicharron, pastor, or suadero. I will also be going back to try out one of the many antojitos that we missed, including the corn quesadilla, the tlacoya, and the huarache. Grab any one of these and a pile of napkins, and we promise that you will be pleased with the results.
Here are the Details:
Gorditas El Gordo
211 E Lake St
Hours: 9:30-9 Sun-Thurs, 9:30-10 Fri/Sat
Corn quesadilla $5
Surprises: It was quite busy, open at 9:30 a.m.?, longaniza, and the fact that I might be close to solving the suadero mystery.
Language: Fine, easy to order and the staff were helpful with our questions. Might help to know your numbers.
Lawrence Black is a writer and editor at Simple, Good and Tasty. He can be reached at email@example.com. Beware of his crazy eyes as they search for the next great Latin eatery as well as his almost constant onion breath. Peee-ew. Our last Latin Tongue review was: Aurelia's.