LOS GORDITOS RESTAURANT, the new brick and mortar operation from a long-time taco truck favorite, holds true to the taquería tradition with a fantastically affordable menu and a slight lowbrow patina. But that's pretty much where similarities to other taquerías end.
There is the matter of wall space being used for local art, with additional space in a back room, the Da Nada micro gallery. Also, food arrives at your table on actual plates rather than paper-lined plastic baskets. Finally, Los Gorditos offers not one, but two affordable menus: one for vegans and one for omnivores.
The dual menus have been a standard at Los Gorditos for a very long time, making their truck (located a mere two miles east on Division at SE 50th) a beacon for the taco-loving, flora-exclusive crowd and carne asada-craving flesh eaters alike.
Notably both menus have always been solid, and neither has suffered lack of attention. Los Gorditos is the rarest of beasts: a place where the vegan and the meat eater can dine together and be satisfied. Now, they can dine together in a bright, if sometimes too noisy, dining room.
If the upshot of a brick and mortar operation means only that the food has found permanent shelter, Los Gorditos would still be worth the recommendation. After all, the best of their standards are still here, from the burning garlic love of the red-sauce-flooded Stacy burrito, to the righteous lengua taco, to an equally delicious soy taco. But a bigger kitchen means an expanded menu and extended hours.
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Los Gorditos manages to please throughout the day despite some missteps. Those missteps begin with the huevos rancheros. The dish simply isn't dialed in. The whole thing is a bland mess when compared to the bombastic nature of the rest of the menu.
The missteps occur later in the day as well with a dinner-focused bistec à la Mexicana. Featuring a flattened cut of beef topped with onions, pepper, and tomato, the meat is well seasoned, but over-salted and tough around the edges. The salt is tempered when the meat is added to an accompanying corn tortilla with a touch of sour cream—but nothing can help the stringy, chewy texture.
Happily, the rest of the menu fares much, much better. Rice and refried beans, both several notches above your average Mexican restaurant sides, accompany all the plates. The vegan refried beans are so surprisingly luscious and flavorful you might think they contain lard. Likewise, the orange rice pilaf is of a long-grain variety with big aromatic basmati tones.
Of the plates, the chicharon is outstanding. Chunks of pork float in a velvety green sauce featuring enough chili spice to surround your head in a halo of pleasant heat. Off the fork, textures alternate between fatty globules and soft meat. Delicious.
The chicharon plate is rivaled only by the enchiladas. Granted, experiences will differ according to the filling. Whatever you chose, the dish is consistently well executed. The slightly smoky sauce and melt of cheese is just enough and doesn't drown the soft corn tortillas, stuffed with, say... some amazingly rich tongue.
Other fillings would work just as well, and are fine in pretty much any application. Fantastic vegan Soy Curls have a distinct meaty texture, and Los Gorditos flavors the blank soy slate very well, keeping them worlds away from the bland. (After years of practice, though, that's expected.) In a taco, they were even able to satisfy this longtime meat eater.
The Soyrizo applied to a vegan mulita is also quite good, though it may be a tad sweet for some. No matter. When topping crisp corn tortillas stuffed with vegan cheese, the crunch melding with the soft savor of filling is lovely and pleasing.
It's a similar experience to sopes—with lettuce, avocado, cilantro, sour cream, tomato, and your choice of meat (or not-meat) floating atop a thick corn masa base. This is perfect warm-weather fare. Even with a topping of shredded beef, the combination of veggies, avocado, and sour cream make the sopes a very light, almost refreshing meal.
The gorditas—small rounds of stuffed flatbread—are just the opposite. They are soft, juicy, and sure to hit the top of your comfort-food cravings list.
There is so much good at Los Gorditos, it's nearly overwhelming. There are seemingly endless ways to deliver their varied selection of meats and vegan goodies into your spice-hungry system. Clearly, it might be time to step away from the taco and burrito and see what the rest of this unconventional little taquería has to offer.