Things had not gone according to plan. With winter bearing down on us, I’d decided to focus my attention on the scalding, chile seco- and herb-infused beef and goat broths known as birria from an assortment of spots across town. Could the gringo-fied beef version really measure up to the traditional variety I’d come to love from time spent down south over the years? But I was thwarted by an all-too-common experience here in Burque. I ventured out bright and early to find my rather humble vehicle gone, nothing but an oil spot left behind. Oh, well. We’re still number one in the nation for car theft, and at least it was my first rodeo. All things considered, I’d had a good run these last few decades. I ended up hitting the street on foot.
Back-up plan: There was a spot not too far off that I’d been meaning to revisit, so I walked south down Broadway toward El Super Taco. To my dismay, the once cobalt blue walls proudly proclaiming “Carnitas, Chicharrones, Buche,” and even the iconic horse and jockey mural, had been completely sprayed over in chrome, and the insides were gutted. A grim reminder of the toll that this virus is taking not just on the food scene but on families’ livelihoods. El Super Taco was owned by a Guatemalan couple, and was the only spot I’d ever found in town with guatemalteco-style tamales. The caldo de res, while simple, was also killer. With a heavy heart, I continued my quest. The next hole-in-the-wall spot that I’d been meaning to review was closed and no hours were posted.
Heading back north along Broadway to Gibson, where the official border between the San Jose and South Broadway neighborhoods is drawn, I saw the bright red signage for El Dorado #1 and knew that there was still hope. While I’d never managed to make it in before 2pm when they stop serving their burritos and menudo, I’d heard good things. When I opened the doors with my near-frozen hands, I was greeted by caramel-tinged warm air, a true relief after being outside for close to an hour in freezing temperatures. I was also glad to see that they had posted COVID restrictions, which were being followed by the staff and customers.
The interior of El Dorado #1 boasts no less than 14 framed photos of famed outlaw and revolutionary Pancho Villa. One included Zapata. Clearly the family was from the north of Mexico. A Club Deportivo Guadelajara S.A. de C.V.—more commonly known as Jalisco’s Chivas (goats)—flag covered in autographs was also proudly displayed. This triggered some much-needed comic relief as my original (failed) plan for the day had been to taste multiple versions of goat-based birria, and most experts agree that Jalisco is the actual cuna of the dish.
As it was almost my turn to order, I jotted down some prices: Bolillos (rolls) are just 60 cents each, with pan dulce at 80 cents each and a dozen fresh flour tortillas for five dollars. At the front of the line I was greeted in both Spanish and English, and I settled on the steak and potato almuerzo burrito ($5.50). During the few-minute wait, I caved and filled up a tray with a selection of pan dulce. And I spotted something I’d somehow overlooked on my few previous visits: Just behind the neatly ordered display of classic Mexican pastry offerings was a stunning horno tradicional de lladrilla (traditional brick oven) that took up some 15 feet of the bakery. Yet another good sign for my upcoming lonche.
I stepped back out into the cold and tore into the burrito. First off, crucially, the tortilla was exceptional. This was no Mission brand garbage. Spots of char gave a comforting flavor, and the chewiness provided a perfect platform for the stew-like fillings. The refritos had real character too, rich with lard, yet not greasy, and still retaining some texture of the pinto beans that they had started out as. The braised beef and potatoes shared the space harmoniously at a roughly one-to-one ratio, and the entirety was set off with a peppery kick of roasted green.
About halfway through that burrito, I was surprised by a vivid—and cherished—memory of gluttony. On my last trip down to Juarez, back in 2012, I’d walked across the border bridge from a punk festival in El Paso for some cheap dental work. Wandering around afterward, near the plaza, I saw a long line—locals from all walks of society—waiting outside a hole in the wall, and I queued up for my first taste of Chihuahua-style burritos. Compared to most U.S. versions, the burritos were rather slender, heavier on beans or papas than meat, and coupled with an intensely spicy roasted chile salsa. Once back in Albuquerque, I did some research and discovered that this style was likely the original iteration of the flour tortilla-wrapped burrito now loved the whole world over. El Dorado’s stellar, and significantly weightier, version of this Juarez-style staple gave me a moment of respite from the myriad frustrations that were weighing me down.
After brewing a cup of coffee, which I accompanied with two whole conchas from my pan dulce selections, things were looking up. While I was still in a crap headspace, my mood had been elevated by a rather cheap and delicious meal. The conchas, large clamshell-shaped sweet breads (not the kind with organ meats), were rich with egg yolk and wonderfully fresh and fluffy inside while still delivering a crunchy sugar upper shell. I don’t often indulge in sweets midday—but these, along with my home-brewed Arab coffee, left me ready to deal with the aftermath of my stolen car.
I urge you all to redouble your efforts to support local, neighborhood gems like El Dorado #1. And all the better if they are owned and run by immigrant families who are working long hours through these challenging times to provide authentic quality foods; for it is such places and such families that make this city, and many realms within this nation, great. While the Broadway location is the original (hence #1), the family has expanded to two others: 3041 Isleta Blvd. in the SW and more recently out on 1370 Bosque Farms Blvd. If I ever manage to over-imbibe on a Saturday night again, I will be back to sample the curative powers of their menudo. [ ]
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