Hold the bacon
El Chilango Taqueria
El Chilango Taqueria3397 Watt Ave.
El Chilango Taqueria, open since summer 2012, is one of those restaurants that seems to be falling through the cracks. For starters, it’s tucked away on Watt Avenue in the Arden Arcade neighborhood. Another cause for concern: It used to be known Taqueria y Pasteleria San Marcos—hopefully, the new owners burned some sage to clear the failed-business vibes.
Chilango is slang for a denizen of Mexico City, or D.F. (Distrito Federal) as it’s known within Mexico. To illustrate the culinary diversity of the region, it’s notable that with the opening of this restaurant, there are now at least three chilango-style torta restaurants in the Sacramento area.
The proprietors of El Chilango are indeed from D.F., and one directs me toward the torta chilanga and the gorditas as examples of regional cuisine. The torta chilanga contains melty white cheese, spicy chorizo, sliced hot dogs, lightly fried ham, crunchy onions and avocado. This is all sandwiched within a charred, crispy bolillo that’s moistened with a schmear of refried beans and mayo, not to mention the orange grease oozing from the chorizo and dripping onto the plate. All these elements come together except the hot dogs, which are superfluous. Flabby, bland Mexican hot dogs are an affront to other wieners; don’t talk to me about street carts in San Francisco’s Mission District that serve them wrapped in bacon—such praise will fall on deaf ears. You can wrap a lump of coal in bacon, but that don’t make it a diamond.
This torta certainly rivals those at El Abuelo Super Tortas Chilangas and surpasses some at Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, but it’s the gordita you’ll return for. El Chilango’s gordita comes out steaming hot, stuffed with abundant chopped cilantro and onion, melted cheese and caramelized bits of chicharrón. The masa is crisped and oily on the outside and cooked all the way through with not a hint of the gumminess that can sometimes plague similar dishes, such as pupusas.
The gordita is so good that I demolish the whole thing, despite having already eaten half of the torta, a ceviche tostada and the better part of three tacos. The woman at the counter raises her eyebrows when I place my initial order and pointedly brings the gordita in a to-go container, but there was no way the dish would ever make it past the restaurant’s threshold.
On to the less remarkable dishes: The ceviche is composed of flaky white fish and tastes intensely of lime, and the tostada under it is crisp and flavorful—not just a slightly stale afterthought as it is at many restaurants. The carnitas are long-grained, stringy hunks with crispy bits here and there; the al pastor and asada undistinguished.
Chips and salsa start the meal. The tomatillo salsa boasts a little heat and abundant charred chilies. More variety would be good, but on a Sunday afternoon, the salsa bar had already been dismantled.
One dish that I don’t have room for and take home instead is the creamy coffee flan. Chilango Taqueria offers three varieties, as well as beer and micheladas. A bottle of Bohemia and a gordita from El Chilango Taqueria makes for a perfect simple meal, no bells and whistles or bacon or hot dogs needed.