Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Sept. 23
What a wacky place Tacos el Gordo is! The Chula Vista branch of a Tijuana taco shop has a pretty rock-solid relationship with faithful clientele and the place seems to be jamming at just about any hour of the day that it's open. It looks like the building used to be a McDonald's or something, although it's more likely it was a non-mainstream fast food joint of some variety. There are vestiges of a defunct drive-through window and an employee stands in the parking lot during busy times to direct parking for customers who line their cars up around the side of the building, visiting the drive-through that's no longer there. Maybe it had its own drive-through window, I didn't think to ask.
Families mill around and little kids get fully underfoot at every step. The atmosphere is anything but serene, so you need to be ready to forgo any thoughts of a dinner in solitude. It's not like people visit taco shops in search of peaceful, candle-lit dinners, but el Gordo at dinner time definitely takes noise and bustle to the extreme.
The way that food is served at Tacos el Gordo reminded me of a high school cafeteria. Everybody lines up in front of the appropriate lunch lady (one cook dispatches carne asada and choriza tacos, another dispenses lengua and cabeza) and you can ask for as many of the petite, street-style tacos as your appetite dictates. For $2 each, the tacos are neither huge nor expensive and it's highly recommended to patiently visit the majority of stations and acquire one of each variety.
The correct answer to "everything on it?" is an emphatic "yes!" Each taco gets the right kind of salsa, as well as chopped onions and cilantro. There is one station that has nothing but miniature quesadillas, as well as the grilled onions and peppers that go so well with el Gordo's miniature tacos. Grab a few radishes from the auxiliary cold table that faces the lunch line and it's go time!
The star of the show, for me anyways, was the tacos al pastor. For those, a cook shaved sections off of a massive spit of spiced, layered, roasted pork. Deftly removing one taco's-worth of meat at a time with a huge, butcher's cimeter, the cook shaped the inverted bell of the adobada by bits and pieces as the juice ran down the side of the roast.
Are these tacos good? That's an emphatic "yes." Tacos el Gordo clearly does massive volume, so the meat didn't have a chance to sit around and dessicate on a flat-top grill. All the preparations were simple, but the individual ingredients were pretty spot on. The lengua was tender and the carne asada was good and smoky. The spicy adobada was exceptionally good. Every taco was mostly meat, a little tortilla, and just the right amount of sauce. To me, that sounds like a recipe for success.
679 H Street
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