I am stepping out on a culinary limb today and pronouncing the end to all things taco.
Well, not really. The taco is a delicious canvass for enjoying various meats and vegetables, and I think it has had a pretty good run, especially in these parts lately. Along with beer and beef jerky, the awe-inspiring taco is something that we particularly enjoy in the City of Ate.
Sure, I love a giant haunch of beef ala Nick and Sam's, and the lacquered duck at Five Sixty makes me lose control. Not a week goes by that I do not visit one pho kitchen or noodle house in Dallas, and dim sum is a required lunch for me three or four times a month. Once, I visited Kirin Court three days in a row, and the waiter made sure to point that out to my lunch mates causing a 30-minute round of verbal Punch and Judy at my expense.
I am sad to say, dear taco, that I have been unfaithful. Over the past few months I have had a secret affair with the loving, and what I consider more delicious, gordita. I have been seeking platefuls of these edible wonders and making note for future visits to taquerias that sport the tiny delicacy.
What makes a great gordita is freshness. That means just-made. Consider the gordita to be a smaller and fatter cousin to the tortilla. The gordita is best made with a fresh wad of masa, pressed and griddled. Once the bread is made, the gordita is often split then filled with the same ingredients as the taco. It can also be lined with a smooth swipe of frijoles for a bit of lubrication, then tenderly stuffed with rajas, carne guisada, or any number meats from the usual lineup of taqueria favorites.
A squirt of crema or guacamole and a dash of cheese (hopefully queso fresco) complete the tiny sandwich.
Sometimes you might find the gordita un-split and simply topped like a tiny pizza. This is acceptable, but I prefer the buttery exterior and slight crunch from grilling both sides of the gordita.
This brings us to today's Toque challenge, the Great Gordita Grapple: La Marketa Cafe vs. Chitos Restaurant.
We encourage the lovely readers at City of Ate to seek the perfect gordita, and we had fun trying to find some good contenders. One really nice gordita we had for breakfast this week was at Taqueria El Fuego, which was recently added to the Observer's Top 100 Dishes list for its ethereal carne asada (as extolled by El Meesey). The grilled potato, egg and chorizo option is sinfully delicious, especially when topped by the restaurant's extremely fresh salsa verde, which is the best I have ever encountered.
We were looking for similar gorditas, and hoped to compare the split and stuffed versions. Thus, we were lead first to the Dallas Farmers Market where we found the unassuming and family run La Marketa Cafe that sells hot dogs, hamburguesas, tacos and, of course, gorditas.
Along with the all-star food line up, La Marketa offers mean cup of coffee and an assortment of authentic Mexican sodas and agua frescas. Little hint here, mixing horchata and pina aguas then adding a bit of rum will take the edge off the Dallas inferno.
After browsing and tasting the fresh fruit samples throughout the market, we settled at the counter in front of La Marketa and ordered the carnita gordita. We were assured that this was the best they had to offer. We didn't specify what additions we wanted to the gordita, so it was loaded down with everything, including lettuce, tomato, fresh crema and shredded yellow cheese. I would have preferred queso fresco, the fresh milk crumbly cheese, but the oozing cheddar makes for a pretty cool picture.
The wait for the gorditas is about six minutes since they make them custom with each order, so we filled our time by tooling around Shed No. 2 at the DFM, which has been more heavily populated this summer by some pretty cool vendors selling candles and hand creams, Texas olive oils, cookies, pizzas, cakes, handmade pastas and much more.
The wait was worth it. Marketa's version of the gordita is perfect -- buttery, with a slight crunch, sliced and filled just right using the refried bean spread I have grown to crave in a good gordita. The carnitas were extremely moist with a slight spiciness and a lush pork flavor that sent velvety shivers through out our palate.
As tasty as these carnitas were, we had to follow up on a hot tip far north into Plano at a tiny place tucked away beside a gas station that has a tremendous following and reputation, Chito's Restaurant. Seems we love our gas station Mexican food.
We found the smallish restaurant empty on our fact-finding afternoon, but it was late and the lunch rush had subsided. Finding a choice seat so that we might observe CNN blasting on the television, we were handed a menu and the requisite basket of chips and salsa. It has been said that the chips and salsa are often a foreshadowing of a restaurant's worth, and these were fresh and flavorful. The salsa was a bit on the salty side but had a kick and was certainly homemade.
Ordering a round of gorditas, we were told that their shredded beef might be the best to order this day, and they did not serve carnitas ever.
Within a few minutes our gorditas arrived, leaving me a bit suspicious. In my experience it generally takes six or seven minutes to crank out a great freshly made gordita. Looking at the dish, it was a bit flat and appeared dry. It certainly had a homemade look to it, but didn't seem at all happy laying flat on the plate without the telling puffiness that screams gordita. After all, gordita roughly means "little fat one".
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Grasping the little sandwich, my companions and I each took a bite and sadly shook our heads in unison. This wasn't as good as promised, and in fact, hardly good at all. The "tortilla" was bland and had a watery taste to it. It lacked the slightly buttery taste and joyous crispy overtones I had been selling to my group all week in hopes of taking down the mighty taco. The filling of the gordita was amazingly perfect, and the extra sauces brought to the table, especially the very fresh jalapeno sauce in the plastic squirt bottle, which was a close cousin to the verde sauce I had earlier at El Fuego.
My hopes of up-selling the taco and rattling the saber of the king of the taqueria's cage might fall short of its goal. But given a perfectly concocted gordita, which normally sells for less than two dollars, I can assure our readers that they too will fall in love with the dish. As for our Toque to Toque challenge today, we award La Marketa the win in the Great Gordita Grapple and praise their crispy thin handmade version that I am sure will rock the world of taco-mania in the summer of 2010.
La Marketa Café 2097 Taylor St. 214-655-6316
Chito's Restaurant 301 Legacy Drive, Plano 972-527-2704