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Yo quiero gorditas

Doing better than the “best Mexican restaurant”

Chile relleno with refried beans in a pocket of corn tortillas
Chile relleno with refried beans in a pocket of corn tortillas

If you watched a lot of Taco Bell commercials in the late 90s, you might have been left with the impression that gorditas are large tacos made with pitas instead of tortillas. However, like a recent Harris Poll declaring Taco Bell “The best Mexican restaurant” in the U.S., that’s at best a re-branding of the truth. In short, the Harris Poll has about as much credibility as a talking chihuahua.

Place

Gorditas Don Andres

1903 Highland Ave, National City

To enjoy the delicious morsels more accurately described as gorditas, I head over to National City, to a restaurant that makes them a specialty: Gorditas Don Andres. The small, counter service restaurant stands out on Highland Avenue with a standalone storefront topped by green ceramic tiles and the word “gorditas” in giant orange letters.

Gorditas Don Andres has a well equipped salsa bar and colorful tablecloths.

Gorditas do resemble tacos, but have only a conceptual connection to pitas: they basically apply the idea of pocket bread to corn tortillas. With gorditas, the pressed masa forms a pocket to be filled with whatever stewed, braised, or grilled meats and vegetables may be available.

Picadillo gordita – like a spicy sloppy joe

At Gorditas Don Andres, quite a number of options are available, over a dozen, including a choice of usual taco shop suspect such as carne asada, al pastor, or refried beans, plus nopales, chorizo and potatoes, and tripe served on weekends. Here the pockets are made by fusing together two tortilla discs. One is thicker than a standard corn tortilla, verging on a quarter inch, forming a base. The second, similar in size but thinner, is sealed around the edges of the first, creating a hollow cavity between them, left open on one side for easy stuffing.

Easy to spot on Highland Avenue

Flavorwise, the resulting dish differs little from a taco, with a bit of upside. There’s generally more meat or veggie filling the sleeve than you’d get on a street taco, for example, and more masa too. It’s a true pleasure to sink your teeth into the nutty savor of that thick bottom tortilla and chew. Given these range from $2.75 to $2.95 apiece, they make a good bargain.

If there’s any downside to eating a gordita over a taco, it’s that they are tougher to handle, making them messier, at least in my hands. To be fair, much of this has to do with my embrace of Don Andres’s excellent salsa bar, which also includes cabbage, cilantro, onions, pickled red onions and jalapeños, and squeeze bottles of both avocado salsa and crema. Once I dressed an already very saucy chicken mole gordita with salsa and fixings, there was little chance the mix of spicy and sweet liquids were going to contain themselves. The seal between tortillas didn’t always hold when I bit down, opening a hole in the pocket and spilling some of its contents onto my tray.

I offer this mostly as a warning to the well-dressed. Any who ascribe to the notion, as I do, that messy tacos often make the best tacos, will find it a palatable risk. And some fillings prove messier than others. My chile relleno gordita, which included a thick smear of beans, held together well.

My personal favorite is the picadillo gordita, featuring a stew of ground beef, red chili, and potatoes. It eats like a spicy sloppy joe. Or, as Taco Bell would call it, a Bell Beefer.

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Chile relleno with refried beans in a pocket of corn tortillas
Chile relleno with refried beans in a pocket of corn tortillas

If you watched a lot of Taco Bell commercials in the late 90s, you might have been left with the impression that gorditas are large tacos made with pitas instead of tortillas. However, like a recent Harris Poll declaring Taco Bell “The best Mexican restaurant” in the U.S., that’s at best a re-branding of the truth. In short, the Harris Poll has about as much credibility as a talking chihuahua.

Place

Gorditas Don Andres

1903 Highland Ave, National City

To enjoy the delicious morsels more accurately described as gorditas, I head over to National City, to a restaurant that makes them a specialty: Gorditas Don Andres. The small, counter service restaurant stands out on Highland Avenue with a standalone storefront topped by green ceramic tiles and the word “gorditas” in giant orange letters.

Gorditas Don Andres has a well equipped salsa bar and colorful tablecloths.

Gorditas do resemble tacos, but have only a conceptual connection to pitas: they basically apply the idea of pocket bread to corn tortillas. With gorditas, the pressed masa forms a pocket to be filled with whatever stewed, braised, or grilled meats and vegetables may be available.

Picadillo gordita – like a spicy sloppy joe

At Gorditas Don Andres, quite a number of options are available, over a dozen, including a choice of usual taco shop suspect such as carne asada, al pastor, or refried beans, plus nopales, chorizo and potatoes, and tripe served on weekends. Here the pockets are made by fusing together two tortilla discs. One is thicker than a standard corn tortilla, verging on a quarter inch, forming a base. The second, similar in size but thinner, is sealed around the edges of the first, creating a hollow cavity between them, left open on one side for easy stuffing.

Easy to spot on Highland Avenue

Flavorwise, the resulting dish differs little from a taco, with a bit of upside. There’s generally more meat or veggie filling the sleeve than you’d get on a street taco, for example, and more masa too. It’s a true pleasure to sink your teeth into the nutty savor of that thick bottom tortilla and chew. Given these range from $2.75 to $2.95 apiece, they make a good bargain.

If there’s any downside to eating a gordita over a taco, it’s that they are tougher to handle, making them messier, at least in my hands. To be fair, much of this has to do with my embrace of Don Andres’s excellent salsa bar, which also includes cabbage, cilantro, onions, pickled red onions and jalapeños, and squeeze bottles of both avocado salsa and crema. Once I dressed an already very saucy chicken mole gordita with salsa and fixings, there was little chance the mix of spicy and sweet liquids were going to contain themselves. The seal between tortillas didn’t always hold when I bit down, opening a hole in the pocket and spilling some of its contents onto my tray.

I offer this mostly as a warning to the well-dressed. Any who ascribe to the notion, as I do, that messy tacos often make the best tacos, will find it a palatable risk. And some fillings prove messier than others. My chile relleno gordita, which included a thick smear of beans, held together well.

My personal favorite is the picadillo gordita, featuring a stew of ground beef, red chili, and potatoes. It eats like a spicy sloppy joe. Or, as Taco Bell would call it, a Bell Beefer.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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