Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tacos El Gordo, National City (1940 Highland Avenue)

As I got off the freeway and turned onto Highland Avenue, it was hard not to think of the days (or nights) when lowriders cruised the strip. I flipped the radio hoping to find Zapp & Roger or maybe some doo-wop on the oldies station, finally settling on "Wooly Bully" - but by then I had already arrived at Tacos El Gordo.

The National City El Gordo is one of several locations in San Diego county, but the chain is based in  Tijuana. Appropriately, it is more of a TJ-style taco stand than is is a typical SD taqueria. You place your order directly to one (or several) cooks working at specific stands, each preparing just one or two dishes. A limited number of specialties is available rather than an overwhelming smorgasbord. Sorry San Franciscans, but you won't be able to fill up on rice and black beans here - burritos aren't even on the menu. And if you're a vegetarian, I hope you like nopales! Even chicken seems to be a recent afterthought addition.

Tacos El Gordo serves a variety of mini-sized tacos made-to-order, as well as mulitas and sopes. Many of the meats are "exotic" to some, but San Diegans have become accustomed to seeing cow brains and pig esophagus on the menu, and in fact, the fifth quarter is hardly what has earned El Gordo its reputation. In my opinion, the standout options here are of a less intimidating variety.

Tacos de adobada are surely El Gordo's most popular specialty. The achiote-rubbed pork is constantly being carved off the spit to meet the ceaseless demand. The meat is thinly sliced, with ribbons of fat to remind you you're chewing on hog. I am not a fan of the creamy green sauce that El Gordo serves with adobada, and always request that they stick with the red. Suadero (rich, tender stewed beef) is also appealing here, and isn't something you find at most taco shops.

El Gordo's carne asada is among the best I've had at a taqueria - it's cooked through (as is the style) but tender, not tough like the stuff that fills too many drive-thru burritos. It's also fire-roasted, which imparts a much richer flavor. At my last visit, I had it on a sope, because one taco just wouldn't be enough. The freshly fried disc of thick masa dough was crisp around the edges and moist inside, topped with melted cheese, guacamole, fresh salsa, and a fried tortilla to make it a "sandwich".

A lot of trends have hit the local taco scene over the last ten or fifteen years, from the initial fish taco boom to the spread of pollo asado, the ascendance of carnitas and, more recently, the dawn of the Korean barbecue taco truckSan Diego has room for all these kinds of taco shops, and more. While El Gordo may or may not have spearheaded the "Tijuana taco" phenomenon on this side of the SD/TJ metropolitan area, with locations not only in Chula Vista but also Mission beach and even Temecula, the fat man has certainly earned himself a piece of the action. 

Tacos El Gordo El Tijuana Bc on Urbanspoon


  1. Drive on over to the corner of 47th & Logan Avenue. There's Tacos El Paisa on one corner, and Taqueria Habanero on the other. Have fun!

  2. Thanks, both of those are on my list, but I'm trying to cover taquerias in various parts of the county. I'll definitely be going back to Logan soon, though!