Oh, the wonders of a great gordita! A gordita is a real gem—a golden, crisp, delicious and delightful street snack from Mexico in which masa is patted out into plump rounds, cooked on a hot griddle with lots of oil, and then split in half and stuffed.
Stuffed with what, you ask? Crispy bits of chicharron, shredded lettuce, sour cream, cotija cheese, and salsa. Crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, and filled to bursting, there is nothing better. Tacos, sopes, huaraches, gorditas, quesadillas, tlacoyos, tlayudas: they're all variations of the same basic concept—take corn masa, shape it or flatten it, top with meat, cheese, salsa, cream, in any and all combinations, and enjoy. But gorditas are special, and not everyone is willing or able to make them, as I learned while searching up and down Roosevelt Avenue for the perfect bite.
My epic gordita tour, after the jump.
Jackson Heights Cart
The first stop was in Jackson Heights, at the unmarked cart on the corner of 75th and Roosevelt. They advertised gorditas on their hand-written sign, along with tacos, tortas, and quesadillas. I watched as the woman behind the cart scooped a handful of masa out of a green plastic bucket and began to make my order, first with her hands and then transferring it to a large tortilla press. Squirting oil onto the griddle from an orange-topped Gatorade bottle every few minutes ensured that both sides would be crisp.
Even stuffed with lettuce, cream, and cheese, and dotted with small pieces of dried chicharron, it was the thinnest gordita (flaquita?) I'd ever seen, due to its trip to the tortilla press. Because it was so thin, there was much less masa, so it was not as filling as most, which is good if you are planning on eating as many as possible in a short period of time. The thin-ness had another advantage as well: in the ratio of crunch to soft, crunch was much higher than average. Two containers of salsa, roja and verde, were added to the to-go bag, the green was average, but the red was exceptional. Thick with chile and heat, it cut the richness of the pork and cream perfectly.
Highlights: Made to order, fresh ingredients, great salsas
75th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights Queens 11372 (map)
At the exit to the 74th Street/Roosevelt Ave station, there are three taco carts lined up in a row. El Gallo Giro cart is usually the busiest, and seems to have the better tacos, but they do not take on gorditas—but the next two carts do, and I got one from each.
At Sabor Mexicano, gorditas are already made and waiting to be reheated to order. They were much bigger than the previous gorditas, fatter, and larger in diameter, and also more expensive. The gordita was doughier that the last as well, which is more traditional. There were larger pieces of chicharron instead of just ground bits, so some pieces were tough and some were fatty, and some actually had meat attached. Along with the lettuce, cream, and cheese, it came already garnished with a squirt of red sauce, which was pretty spicy.
Highlights: Convenient location, a little meat with the pork skin
74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights Queens 11373 (map)
The next and last cart on that strip does not have a name anywhere, but it does have printed menus as well as pictures decorating the cart itself. This gordita was the least attractive of the bunch, almost falling apart. It was very similar to the one from Sabor Mexicano. Same size, shape, price, already made, and also filled with larger chunks of chicharron and a little bit of meat. It seems that places which specialize in tacos are more likely to throw in the crispiest pieces of their carnitas rather than buy or make real chicharron. The only difference from this one and the one next to it was that I did get a container of salsa roja to go, which was thin, hot, and garlicky.
Highlights: See previous entry
74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights Queens 11373 (map)
Runner-Up: Chilpancigo GRO
Chilpancigo GRO (Guerrero) is just off of Roosevelt on 111th St in Corona. This cart was serious. The two women who ran the cart wore their street vending licenses around their necks, along with hairnets and gloves. They made some serious food as well. These gorditas were made to order, and were pretty near perfect. Plump but not too much dough, round but not too big, the masa was filled with the right kind of chicharron (and lots of it). A bite into this gordita was salty and porky, crisp and soft, creamy and crunchy. Of the three salsas offered, I chose the smooth avocado tomatillo, which cooled and tamed the saltiness and cut the pork fat as well. They also added onions to the filling, which gave a nice sharp bite.
Highlights: Made to order, extra chicharron, flavorful salsas, well organized and clean.
111th Street near Roosevelt, Corona Queens 11368 (map)
And The Winner: Tortas Neza
On 111th and Roosevelt Ave there was once a taco and torta truck by the name of Tortas Neza. The owner's wife would make the gorditas on weekends, and when I lived in Corona I would go as often as I could. Since then, the truck has become a restaurant—still called Tortas Neza, still run by the same people. The only difference is that they no longer offer gorditas. I walked in and studied the sign hanging above the small kitchen, just to make sure. I asked the owner if they still made them, and they don't, but if I wanted to wait 20 minutes he would make some for me. Of course I would wait for gorditas, so I ordered two.
These were always my favorite, for one simple reason: they are deep-fried. Imagine how much crisper the outside gets after a bath in the fryer, and how soft and steamy the inner masa becomes. I happily watched from my table as Mr. Tortas himself shaped the masa with his hands and then plunged them into the deep-fry. Just as I remembered, the gorditas were fat and golden, rounder than most. A nice handful of chicharron, lettuce, onion, cilantro, a hearty sprinkling of cheese, and some cream. The accompanying salsa roja was sharp and spicy, and just the right consistency.
I brought my bag of extra-special gorditas to my Mexican grandmother-in-law's house a few subway stops away and shared them with her. She liked them well enough, but said that hers are much better. And I will not argue with that.
Highlights: Really made to order, fried golden deliciousness—but not on the menu.
111-03 Roosevelt Avenue, Corona Queens 11377 (map)
More to Come?
Gorditas have proved somewhat elusive. Some trucks that advertised gorditas didn't come through—Tacos El Idolo on 103rd did not have them the day that I went, the woman running the cart outside of the 61st Street Station in Woodside was not making them anymore, and Los Cuatro Vientos on 67th and Roosevelt only sells them at 5:00 AM. (Believe me, that was an interesting conversation.)
I've found my favorite thus far, but I'm sure there are other gorditas left to be eaten in Queens. Where are your favorites? Let me know for Round 2.