South Bay has the Funk!
Cabeza, Tripa, Bunche, Suadero, Sesos, and Lengua, these tacos exist on the “other side” of the menu. The ones you have not tried or may not even know about. I have been a regular at Tacos El Gordo for years, and I have to admit I always head straight for the adobada taco meat on the spinning trompo. I am addicted to the flavors and those crunchy little charred pieces.
The Adobada line is always the longest at El Gordo, but there is a shorter one, the line that forms under the sign that reads Cabeza. These are the tacos made from lesser-known cuts of meat such as beef head, intestines, pig stomach, cow brains, or tongue.
What kind of a chef am I if I turn my nose up at a whole menu section? El Gordo is a temple of good eats. Why would they have these things on the menu if they weren’t good? Am I right? I have made it my mission to try one of these tacos and do some research each time I visit. Here is what I found.
Lengua (beef tongue) was my first choice from this exotic menu, and it didn’t disappoint; the texture was pleasant, not what I expected. The toppings were the same that I get on my Adobada tacos, so all in all, it was just fine. No crazy flavor notes that stood out, good or bad, just tender beef and toppings.
Cabeza (head), next on my list, can be a mixture of all types of meat found on a cow’s head, which could include eyeballs and brain. I was pleased to see these bits were not included. Instead, their version of cabeza is made up of the various muscles all around the head of the cow. The meat is braised until tender. Cabeza in this form is a gateway taco for sure; moist and tender with a hearty beef flavor.
Tripas (beef guts) – this was a stretch for me. I am sorry to say the texture alone was a non-starter for me. There are not a lot of chewy things in my culinary line up and this was chewy. The texture and the fact that I was eating “guts” got inside my head and I had trouble finishing this taco. I know people that swear by them.
Suadero (a thin cut of meat between the belly and the leg of the cow or pig) – this one was an easy win as there is nothing challenging about where this comes from and no visual I can attach to it. The meat is either fried or confited (cooked in its own fat). Both versions are tasty, they just result in different textures.
Buche (pig stomach) was one I was worried about as tripas wasn’t my favorite texture. I was pleasantly surprised to find this wasn’t the case. Buche was far less chewy. This meat is typically stewed and I enjoyed the flavor quite a bit.
The last thing on the Cabeza menu at El Gordo is actually not available and that is Sesos (cow brain). I have to admit I wasn’t disappointed that this was not available as it was going to be a stretch for me mentally. I hear it is delicious, rich in flavor and tender, a real favorite for those in the know. For years Sesos disappeared from menus due to mad cow disease. But the beef industry is powerful and slowly but surely Sesos is popping up on menus where hard core fans can once again enjoy this delicacy. I have promised myself I will try brains if I see it on another menu down the line. These offal meats can also be enjoyed as a mulas vampiros, sopes or a quesadillas.
Pro tip: If you really want to experience the flavor of these meats, get your tacos dry with no toppings or get the sauces and fixings on the side. Once the taco is fully loaded it takes on the flavor of these toppings and the mild nature of these meats don’t stand up to them. Not so with carne asada where you can taste the charcoal or adobada where the spice and char cut through the sauces and toppings.
If you want to see these meats in their raw form, a trip to the meat counter at Northgate Market or The Butcher Block Carniceria Meat Market in Barrio Logan are fun places to explore. Unless you are a hard core food nerd I would suggest trying cuts of meat out rather than attempting to cook offal at home.
The Broadway location of Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista is the place to try these exotic tacos. While you are in the South Bay there are two fun bars close by – the Manhattan and The Elwood. Both managed by Cece, a legendary publican. I have written about Cece and Malört, the World’s Worst Liquor before in San Diego Magazine. You can catch her and her amazing hospitality behind the bar at the Elwood on Friday afternoons. If you love a quality dive bar you won’t be disappointed.
Dig deep, try something new, head 15 minutes south to get some offal tacos and some awful liquor (Malört). South Bay has the funk! You will either end up adding something to your “like list” or checking it off the list of things you have tried and don’t care for. Either way you are broadening your horizons and having a real experience, not just a meal and a drink. A good New Year’s resolution, challenge your taste buds. Tell Cece I said hello!