Salsa lessons

The burrito adobada was the best item our reviewer tasted at Aldertos.

The burrito adobada was the best item our reviewer tasted at Aldertos.

Photo/Allison Young

Alderto’s Fresh Mexican Food is open 8 a.m. to midnight.

Aldertos Fresh Mexican Food is the kind of family business I like to support, which makes me sad about the mixed experience some friends and I had there. When the only completely flawless thing about our meal was an above-average salsa bar, it’s safe to say there’s some room for improvement.

At bare minimum, a plate of nachos should involve corn tortilla chips and some kind of melted cheese. Although our order of super nachos ($8) did begin with a plate of chips, it was a bit lacking in the cheese department. The chips were slathered in sour cream, topped with a good amount of diced carne asada and about half as much refried beans and guacamole. Finally, a half cup of shredded, unmelted cheddar and Monterey Jack topped the pile. The whole thing was room temperature at best and generally a disappointment.

An a la carte order of enchiladas included two six-inch tubes of corn tortilla stuffed with shredded chicken, covered in mild red sauce, a sprinkle of cheese, and quite a bit of shredded iceberg lettuce ($4.85). The flavors were very mild by themselves—salsa bar to the rescue.

The best thing about the two combination plates ordered—carnitas ($8.35) and chile verde ($6.75)—was the refried beans’ noticeable touch of cumin and other seasonings. Less successful were the meats on both plates. The shredded pork was quite dry and underseasoned, while the diced pork in green sauce was tough and very salty. The carnitas improved with the addition of salsa, but there was nothing to be done with the salty verde except mix it with rice and beans, chased with plenty of water.

A pair of burritos were better. The burrito adobada ($5.20) involved a large, fresh flour tortilla stuffed with fresh, chunky guacamole, pico de gallo, and at least a pound of diced pork marinated in a vinegar-based red sauce. The addition of housemade, spicy salsa turned this into the best item I tasted. Nearly as tasty, my friend’s super burrito ($6)—though a little salty—included a good balance of carne asada, refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, cheese and lettuce.

Machaca is a style of dried-then-reconstituted meat—usually beef—that sounds a bit odd to the uninitiated, yet can be delicious when done right. Though perhaps a bit chewier than other examples, the meat in our machaca torta was nicely seasoned and worked quite well with the pepper, onion, egg, lettuce and guacamole on the sandwich ($4.20). The telera roll was soft and inviting, which made the fact it was incompletely sliced a bit of a bummer. If I’d been served that at the drive-thru, it could have led to a messy disaster. The bread was stronger than it looked—resistant to tearing—and required application of a knife to separate the halves. On both flavor and texture, this was the second-best item we tried.

As for that salsa bar, I’ve seen some with more variety but none that beat it on flavor. There seems to be a phenomenon at many taquerias where I’ll find one or two good sauces, then at least one I never want to taste again. This unassuming salsa bar is one of the few that truly has something for everyone, without any sour notes. From some very mild salsas and medium hot garnishes, on through to a spicy/smooth guacamole and a very spicy, roasted salsa with its mix of flavors dancing in the heat, they really should consider bottling and selling a couple of those to take home.

Although an imperfect meal, it wasn’t without its charms. A little restraint with the salt shaker—with as much attention given to nachos as with the salsa—and Aldertos could lure me back for another taste.