Royally sweet

The Churro Kings are artisans of the popular cinnamon-sugar pastry

Ricardo Montelongo fries fresh churros before his business partner, Erik Guiterrez (not pictured), fills each with strawberry or cajeta, a Mexican caramel.

Ricardo Montelongo fries fresh churros before his business partner, Erik Guiterrez (not pictured), fills each with strawberry or cajeta, a Mexican caramel.

Photos by Nicole Fowler

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Ricardo Montelongo crouches behind his modest, gray food cart that politely warns passersby: “Caution Hot.” He holds his hands out with steady precision as his metallic sausage stuffer produces perfectly long tubes of dough, which he gently places into a large metallic bowl of boiling hot canola oil. He presses several more, until there’s no room left.

He’s frying churros, a favored dessert in both Spain and Mexico. After a few minutes, he removes them one at a time and transfers the tall cylindrical tubes of fried dough upright into a small basket dangling on the side of the cart.

“Most of the churros you find at stores or in restaurants are baked,” Montelongo says. “A churro has to be fried, and it has to be eaten right away. Anything other than that is not really a churro.”

After a couple of minutes, Montelongo, 39, passes a couple of churros to his partner Erik Gutierrez, 36, who stands next to him at the filling station behind the cart. The two guys, known as The Churro Kings, are set up at Pleasant Grove High School, where they sell to students and parents during a high school band performance. Today’s two filling options are strawberry and cajeta—a Mexican caramel that’s less sweet and a bit runnier. Thanks to a convenient contraption on his churro-making device, each pastry is already hollow, making it easy for Gutierrez to fill my order with cajeta.

The taste is truly unlike any other churro I’ve ever had—soft, fluffy texture inside with a crunchy outer layer. The subtle sweetness of the cajeta fills every bite and balances well with the judiciously powdered cinnamon-sugar. It’s like a long doughnut that has more crunch, but isn’t overkill on the sweet tooth.

The entire process is on display behind plexiglass as The Churro Kings work their small assembly line while customers watch each step, from the fryer to the cinnamon-sugar dust.

“No one sees how a churro is made. When you get them at Disneyland, they’re just handed to you,” Gutierrez says. “A lot of people like the whole experience.”

Churro cam: Look at the cinnamon-sugar magic!

The duo started selling its signature sweet snack together three years ago. Before that, Montelongo would make churros for friends and family, often with an eye for experimentation. One time, he made ice cream sandwiches, substituting churros for cookies.

In 2017, Gutierrez’s wife to-be announced she wanted a churro stand at their upcoming wedding. But they couldn’t find anyone to do it. This sparked an idea to start their own churro cart for hire. The name “Churro Kings” came to them when Montelongo thought about a torta vendor he visited several times in Mexico: El Rey De Los Tortas (The King of the Tortas).

“His tortas are the best,” Montelongo says. “I’m like, why not call ourselves the kings? We’re doing the best churros in Sacramento.”

They started by setting up their cart on weekends in front of a friend’s taqueria, but soon found demand was high for private events, birthday parties and weddings. Having a cart instead of a food truck meant that they could squeeze into backyards and inside reception halls, which handed them an untapped market with virtually no competition. Last year, the Kings sold churros during 25 weddings.

Unlike wedding gigs, where customers pay in advance for a specific number of churros, the pop-up at Pleasant Grove High is not typical. Normally, they don’t set up at an event and sell their churros to the public. But tonight’s exception is to reach new clients. As a steady line formed and the sizzle of golden churros was under way, several people approached them to find out if the two are available for events.

“The people that have hired us [for weddings], they only get a little personal cake for pictures,” Gutierrez says. “I hate to say it, but at most of our weddings, people are in our line. They’re doing the toast and the DJ is like, ’Hey, cut the line. Let’s do the toast!’”

Churros have a long history that dates to Spain and Portugal, though European churros have thinner texture and are often dipped in chocolate. They later evolved in Mexico and parts of Latin America.

“We made them better,” Montelongo says—and he means it.

In Mexico, street vendors sell different styles and shapes of churros. But the essence of a churro is its simple ingredients: flour, water, eggs, salt, sugar and cinnamon. And of course, fried until golden.

Montelongo’s personal touch is a little extra cinnamon added to the water for flavor and getting the exact dough blend is a very delicate process. Montelongo’s early attempts were too dense or runny. But he applied his experience while studying baking in the culinary department at American River College in 2000. Montelongo learned that to consistently achieve that perfectly heavenly texture he craved, the dough must be made fresh the same day.

“You got to get it right every time, or it won’t taste right,” Montelongo says.

The duo has an exciting year ahead of them with lots of weddings and birthday parties booked. But the Kings are hoping to expand their business, and maybe even grow their menu, while keeping churros as the centerpiece.

“Our goal is to move into one of the trailers so we can expand our menu to include churros with ice cream,” Montelongo says. “Everything churros that you can think of. Churro bites. Filled churro. I’ve always wanted to do a savory churro. We want to build an empire with churros. We’ll still be the true kings.”