This is the big one

‘Best tongue in Chico’ is only one reason why Gordo Burrito’s Mexican food is tops

Photo By Jason Cassidy

Gordo Burrito 1295 E. Eighth St. (530) 809-1211 Hours: Mon.-Fri., 6 a.m.-9 p.m. (till 8 p.m. Sat.); closed Sundays.

Though regular readers know full well that Henri is not the sports type, he has taken great pleasure these last weeks in watching the World Cup from South Africa.

I love the pageantry, the music, the dancing, the colorful costumes and painted faces of the fans. Not to mention the boys swapping tops after the game. And of course hearing the languages—and being reminded, there on the international stage, that the differences among us are insignificant beside our common humanity. In fact, one of the great joys of my younger days was living in cities around the world and listening to the music of the world’s languages, sometimes three, four, or more being spoken at different tables at the same restaurant.

I love hearing them here in Chico, too—Spanish, Hmong, Vietnamese, Arabic.

So naturally I was repulsed the other day when Colette pointed to a bumper sticker on a truck in the Costco parking lot: “Speak English or Go Back.” Quoi? Porquoi? ¿A donde? Oh. Perhaps “go back” in time, to when Spanish was California’s first language. Parfait! Perfecto, mon ami!

On the way home, our moods dampened, we stopped for gas at the Valero station on Eighth Street. Colette had just finished squeegeeing Pierre’s windshield when I noticed a little hand-printed sign in the mini-mart window: “Best Tongue in Chico.”

“I’ll be right back,” I said, getting out of the car.

I pulled open the door to the little room, stepped inside, and was met immediately with a lively crowd, some eating lunch at the counter or one of six tables, some waiting for their to-go orders. Through a cut-out in the wall behind the counter, I could see three women cooking. A young Mexican woman standing at the cash register greeted me warmly.

“May I take your order, sir?”

“Uno momento,” I said, and hastened outside to get Colette.

Gordo Burrito is owned by Jose Uriarte, who also owns the El Paisá taco trucks at Eighth and Pine and 20th and Park. The menu at his restaurant-in-a-gas-station includes standard Mexican fare at taco-truck prices: $2-$3 for tacos, $3-$4 for tostados, $6-$7 for burritos and chimichangas. Fillings include onions, cilantro, cheese, salsa, sour cream and your choice of meat—chicken, pollo asado, carnitas, steak, pork, fajitas, fish or shrimp. They also serve breakfast burritos, with homemade chorizo, as well as huevos rancheros burritos (both $3.75). I ordered two carnitas tacos and Colette the shrimp taquitos ($3.50).

“Would you like them mild or spicy?” the woman asked.

I told her, “Picante, por favor.”

“Mi también,” Colette said, grabbing some plastic flatware and napkins from a rack on the wall. I filled three little cups at the salsa bar, and we sat down and munched on some chips while we waited (I liked the tomatillo salsa best).

Our orders were ready within minutes, meat spilling out of my double-tortilla tacos, Colette’s taquitos stuffed with shrimp and on a bed of lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, salsa and cheese. We could barely finish, even though we agreed that the food was absolutely delicious. In fact, she raved about the taquitos for days.

We returned a week later, and I had the chicken enchiladas and a chicken taco. Colette stayed the course with her shrimp taquitos, this time making the sacrifice to let me try a bite. Absolutely divine, as were the enchiladas.

We now go at least once a week, for our “fix,” as Colette calls it, and have tried just about everything on the menu. La verdad? Manos abajo the best Mexican food in town (the only exception being the tamales—$1.50 a la carte—which are very good but not quite in the same league as Rosarito’s at the Chico farmers’ markets). Colette says the place would earn five stars even if all they served were the shrimp taquitos.

The tongue, or la lengua? I don’t think there is a best one. I do know, though, that we love to go back to Gordo’s to speak—or do our best to speak—la lengua española, with warm, friendly Spanish speakers who are making Chico a better place in which to live.