Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On the Road: Tacos El Gordo, National City, CA

I've been meaning to start an "On the Road" series on this blog for awhile now.  My travels have led me to some great cities and even better spots to grab a bite to eat.  Just yesterday, I made the drive from LA to San Diego and met up with my friend, Ann, who I know from my days at UMass.  Fortunately for me, Ann knows some great spots in San Diego to satiate oneself and, like me, she enjoys offal.

After a not-so-great couple of small plates at a Japanese tapas-style joint called Tajima, we headed to Tacos El Gordo to fill our bellies properly.  Ann had told me about Tacos El Gordo on my last visit to San Diego but I was busy with appointements and couldn't make it there for lunch.  She had said that they have the best tacos and that they have various offal tacos like lengua (tongue), tripa (tripe), and cabeza (cow's head).  I was pumped.

The menu and counter where the magic happens @ Tacos El Gordo

Those of you looking for ambiance need not visit Tacos El Gordo.  The restaurant's design is simple - red tables and chairs, white walls, an order counter, fountain drink counter, fixins counter, and payment counter.  Oh, and there are a couple of stuffed cow heads mounted on two corners of the front wall, on of which was donning a sombrero that read "MEXICO" on it on this particular night.  Awesome.  There are three spots to order from, depending on what you want.  One guy makes "normal" tacos like pork adobada, where the meat is shaved like it is for a gyro, and carne asada.  Another station is where fresh quesadillas are prepared and the final station is where the offal tacos are prepared.  

Clockwise from bottom left: grilled onions/peppers, taco de tripa, tostada adobada, 3 tacos de adobada, taco de cabeza, taco de tripa (spicy)

We went with the spread shown above consisting of tacos de tripa, tacos de cabeza, and tacos de adobada along with some grilled green onions and peppers.  The tortillas for each taco were as fresh as can be.  The tacos de adobada consisted of shaved pork topped with chopped onion, tomato, and a cilantro crema.  These are Ann's favorite and I thought they were very good.  The tacos de tripa were my favorite, with the rich flavor of the tripe pairing well with the flavor of the fresh tortilla and the kick of the spicy sauce while the crunch of diced onion added a nice texture.  The taco de cabeza was a close runner up.  The meat was very tender and the cook's suggestion to squeeze a little lime over it was a good one.  I washed it all down with a "Horchata Ole!" from the fountain station that was surprisingly refreshing.

After we noshed, I approached the counter and asked how the meat for the tacos de cabeza is cooked.  The cook admitted his English wasn't too great and I admitted my Spanish was equally meager but we both knew enough of each language for me to figure it out.  Apparently they take all the offal (which today consisted of tongue, brains (cesos), beef shoulder (suadero), pork belly (buche), cow's eyes (ojos!!!), cow's head, and tripe) and boil it for 3 hours.  After that, they place it on a steaming tray where it sits until it's ordered.  At that point, it gets roughly chopped with a cleaver and thrown on the grill for a few minutes before being tossed into a tortilla and topped with diced veggies and sauces.

We left full and satisfied and all for about $10 each which included a couple of bucks in tips for the cooks.  It was a great experience, made even more amusing by the fact that we were the only gringos in the joint.  I can't imagine many are fired up to eat tacos made from cow's head meat but that's fine.  They're missing out.  These people are taking parts that are usually tossed in the garbage and making some great tasting food at very affordable prices, all of which is made fresh daily.  If you're in the San Diego area and in the mooooooooood for an adventurously good taco, head about 10 minutes South to National City and check out Tacos El Gordo.
"Who's in the mooooooood for tacos?"


Frodnesor said...

Sounds like my kind of place. Some places they just keep everything in a big cauldron that it's been cooked in, and fish pieces out to order.

Anonymous said...

El Gordo leaves the Tripe and Lengua in the cauldron (and I think the Buche), but the head apparently steams. And, I can't beleive we didn't try the EYE BALL!!!

SteveBM said...

Frod - the steam table is your cauldron here. All the parts sit there under foil and are fished out, chopped, and then grilled to order.

Ann - I really have no desire to try cow's eyeball. I just can't imagine that having any taste at all, nor can I imagine it being good. I guess I gotta draw the line somewhere haha.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this place, I agree that this is probably some of the best tacos in SD if not the entire southland. I only wish there was a place as good where I live, in OC. There are some good places (in Santa Ana and Orange) but I have yet to find the equal of this place. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.