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Gordita goodness at La Duranguense

Taqueria La Duranguense does not have a proper menu. For that matter, La Duranguense does not have a website, a Facebook or Twitter account, a phone number that anyone answers, or much of the thing that restaurant critics like to call ambiance.

Only cash is accepted, the food comes on plastic foam plates, and the friendly women who work behind the counter don’t speak much English, which can get confusing for a monolingual guy like myself.

As far as I can tell, La Duranguense has exactly one thing going for it: gorditas. Oh, but what gorditas they are.

I’ve brought a number of friends to La Duranguese, and whenever I’ve asked them what they think, the answer is always that same wordless sound of chewing, moaning and stuffing their face with more gordita. Phonetically, you might spell it, “Mmmggghhaahhhhmmmm.”

Between bites, one friend managed to mumble, “Oh man, the cheese.”

In popular American culture, the gordita has been unfortunately associated with the aggressive Taco Bell cravings of a certain telegenic Chihuahua.

If you can, put all of that chain food out of your mind before ordering at La Duranguense. Not unlike the arepas of Colombia or pupusas of El Salvador, the gorditas served at La Duranguense are hand-size pockets of masa stuffed with pinto beans, cheese and a choice of fillings, then griddled on a flattop. If that sounds a little rich, well, remember that “gordita” roughly translates to an affectionate way of saying “little fatty.”

At La Duranguense, the pockets are handmade in-house. If you happen to be there at the right time, you might even see a women behind the counter working a bowl of masa into the proper gordita shape. I won’t pretend to know the secret of her technique, but I will say she is doing everything right. The gorditas here are lovely vessels, thinner than a pita or arepa but sturdier and airier than a corn tortilla. They crisp up nicely on the flattop.

Those gorditas need to be sturdy to handle the portions loaded into them. When you order, you’ll be asked if you want beans and cheese. The answer is yes, of course. Between that and your choice of meat, stews or veggies, they can become a pretty hefty item. One is a small meal and two make for a gut-buster.

Add a quart of candy-sweet agua fresca and you’ll have a feast for under 10 bucks.

Of course, that brings us back to the menu, which is really just a banner above the register with a list of filling options. I’ve yet to try a bad one, though I do like certain options more than others.

Of the two chicharones sopas (stews), I prefer the rojo, which has a deeper roasted pepper and tomato flavor, over the verde. Between the carnitas and the carne asada, I prefer the clean meatiness of the carne asada.

But, of all of these, I actually enjoyed the vegetable options the most. The nopales (cactus) are a bright clean balance to the heavy flavors. The roasted poblano peppers are a mild, smoky pleasure in the rajas con queso. All are bold, assertive flavors, the kind that keep you coming back for bite after bite.

Whichever of these fillings you choose, be sure to make ample use of the cilantro, onion and lime that will come piled on the plate with your order. La Duranguense has just one salsa option, a roasted style with just enough fiery heat, but not too much, and you’ll be pleased to pour on a little with each cheesy, decadent bite.

That’s just this place’s style: La Duranguense doesn’t do much, but what they do, they do right.

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