the spot: Tacos El Gordo 3049 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109
the eats: Cabeza, Al Pastor, Buche, Suadero
the bucks: $2.40 – $2.60 per taco
the full nelson: celebrated San Diego taco joint serving up Baja California/Tijuana style street tacos in Las Vegas
Vegas baby, Vegas.
One expects to come to Las Vegas and drop some coin. The usual M.O. for Sin City taking your money is of course, gambling, though strip clubs and steakhouses seem to fit well with playing $500 hands of Texas Hold ‘Em. In the last 20 years Las Vegas has become a foodie destination with world class chefs and their Michelin stars dotting the strip. Hell, I went to a Starbucks and dropped $17 on a coffee, a yogurt, a banana and a bottle of water. But just off the strip is a well celebrated taqueria that is slinging some Bang for your Taco Buck . . .
Originally from San Diego’s Chula Vista area which is spitting distance from Tijuana, Tacos El Gordo serves up Tijuana/Baja California street style tacos that very much take me back to my days of living in Los Angeles. Their Al Pastor has its own line and just to clarify, they call it Adobada, like Los Tacos No. 1 in NYC. Another line deals exclusively in Carne Asada(steak) and Chorizo(sausage) and around the corner is a gleaming stainless steel pan with deep edges where all the nasty bits(and I say that lovingly ala Anthony Bourdain) are simmering away in lard. This is where one finds pork stomach(buche), beef breast(suadero) and beef cheek(cabeza). And that is exactly what brought me here . . at 10 in the freaking morning.
From left to right, you are looking at Buche, Suadero and Cabeza. I was fired up for all three but the Cabeza was hands down the best of the bunch.
If I see Saudero on the menu, I get pretty excited. This version was more like a braised beef/birria de res version than the carnitas like beef I have come across. Must admit I was not that impressed with their Suadero. I did catch them about 30 minutes after they open and I wonder if the Suadero would improve with a longer simmer in the lard. The Suadero taco, like all the tacos here are dressed to the 9s if you ask for the works: diced raw onion, cilantro and spicy salsa. Unapologetic garnish for an in your face street meat meal.
The buche, or hog’s maw, or pork stomach, if you want to come across like veterinarian, also could have used a longer simmer time in the pan of lard. I love buche, especially at Carnitas places so in a more perfect taco world, had this pork stomach been hit on a hot flat top, we just might have had a crispier and overall richer offal experience.
The beef cheek stole the show. Intensely beefy, salty, tender and paired with an acidic, citrusy tomatillo salsa, I could live off the Cabeza tacos at Tacos El Gordo. It’s 11pm at night as I write this, I’ve eaten dinner and am ready to brush the chompers and hit the sack and I would jack up all of that just to eat one of these tacos right now.
But that trompo . . . that’s what draws in the crowd. You’re gonna want to also wait in the Al Pastor/Adobado line for at least one of these . . .
A damn solid Al Pastor taco. The rub/marinade on the Al Pastor was a little sweet for my tastes but the combo of that sweet pork plus a sliver of pineapple and then spicy salsa is how taqueria empires are built. You would be remiss not to get one of these.
Granted this was at around 10:30am, but four tacos was plenty and will set you back around $10. These tacos were just hefty enough thanks to a fair amount of meat. Not as cheap as LA or Mexico, but in Las Vegas . . . you are no doubt getting some Bang for your Taco Buck.
Fair warning, even at opening, the line was forming and apparently at night, the waits are serious. But I don’t mind waiting in line for legit Tijuana style street tacos. Especially if the alternative is playing slots next to a couple who came all the way to Vegas from Canada only to find Celine Dione is no longer in residency.