Burritos


I’ve mentioned this before, but burritos are not a traditional Mexican food. My abuelita never made even one burrito in her entire ninety years on the face of this earth. Not even my mother made burritos. My father didn’t make burritos either and he used to cook up some weird combinations of ingredients that no one in our family ever ate even though he said it was delicious. Only my father would eat his concoctions, which were only made palatable by adding profuse amounts of salsa and/or jalapeño peppers. And sometimes even he didn’t finish the entire serving. Despite his creativity, he never neared anything resembling a burrito. I guess because no one had invented giant tortillas back then.

Flash forward to the present. Somehow, mysteriously, burritos became American fast food. Yes, I’ve been known to eat a burrito or two on the go. Unlike traditional Mexican food that must be eaten sitting a table–picture yourself eating tostadas with all the trimmings on top–the burrito is the perfect driving food! It is one of the staple foods of American youth today. Including my oldest son. I think my son loves burritos almost as much as me. I think I once saved his life by throwing away a three-week-old burrito he had in the refrigerator. So, last week, he says we should go out to eat together. You know, so we can catch up on things, which usually means we hurry up and eat and then pull out our smart phones and ignore each other. However, we really do enjoy our time together.

Anyway, we ate a place called El Famous Burrito¡ with the exclamation point upside down at the end of the sentence instead of the beginning!  We were in a hurry and there was parking out in front, at Madison and Peoria. The most eye-opening revelation of our whole fine dining experience was learning that burritos could come in different sizes! They were offered in large, medium, and mini. But the mini burrito looked more like an egg roll! When I used to eat burritos before my son was born, they only came in one size. Large! I would usually eat one burrito along with three tostadas. Now, I don’t always finish a burrito. So I ordered a medium. Well, the medium was just right for me. Although back in my younger days, I’m sure I would have ordered something else. But these burritos passed the most important taste test of all. They tasted Mexican!

South side dinner


El Gallo de Oro Mexican restuarant, Chicago, Illinois.

Well, now it can be told. First, you must admit that you have a problem before you can solve it. My problem? I like to retrace my steps all the way back to my youth.

So tonight, I went to El Gallo de Oro, bought a steak burrito, and parked in Marquette Park by the Rose Garden to eat it, as I am wont to do. I used to do it all the time, but tonight I compared scenarios.

The first time I bought a burrito at El Gallo de Oro, I lived down the block at 3006 W. 64th Street and I only paid $2.25 with tax. But that was twenty-seven years ago. Today, I paid $6.06 with tax. Today, I barely finished my burrito, but twenty-seven years ago, I would also order two or three tacos or tostadas on the side. I would practically inhale all this food and I ony weighed 140 pounds, compared to my 180 or so today.

And Marquette Park isn’t the same, either. No one cruises through the park like in days of old. This used to be the place to hang out, to see and be seen by everyone. I don’t think anyone even noticed I was there tonight. Not even the police car that drove past me driving the wrong way.

On the plus side? I felt very safe there in my solitude reminiscing about my days of old when I was young and naïve and wouldn’t realize that the grease from the burrito had dripped on my shirt until the person I was trying to impress would point out the grease stain. Okay, I don’t miss the dripping grease all that much. I’m much older and wiser now.

El Gallo de Oro


El Gallo de Oro, 2952 W. 63rd Street, Chicago, Illinois

When I lived at 3006 W. 64th Street, I always used to eat at this great Mexican restaurant that was exactly one block away. El Gallo de Oro, 2952 W. 63rd Street, 773.737.8101, has been there since at least 1981 when I moved back to Marquette Park after being honorably discharged from the Marines. This Mexican restaurant serves real Mexican food cooked by real Mexicans to other Mexicans who patronize the restaurant. That’s how you can tell if a Mexican restaurant is really good: by how many Mexicans eat there. I remember once going to Milwaukee and my girlfriend suggested that we eat at a Mexican restaurant, either La Perla or La Fuente, but she didn’t know which one was better. We ate at the one where all the Mexicans ate! And it was great Mexican food! So are you wondering which restaurant was better? Well, I honestly can’t remember because I drank a few too many bottles of Negra Modelo. Anyway, El Gallo de Oro has great Mexican food, and I say this after having come back from having eaten Mexican food in many Mexican restaurants and Mexican homes in Mexico. Well, lately, I’ve been going to different Mexican restaurants in the Chicagoland area, or Chicagolandia as I like to call it since we have so many Spanish speakers here, and I’ve been ordering the enchiladas de pollo. Today, I tasted the enchiladas at El Gallo de Oro and they were ¡sabrosísimas! This is a great Mexican restaurant.

When I still lived in the neighborhood, I ate there several times a week. Of course, everything I needed in the neighborhood was within a two-block radius. The cleaners, the gas station, the locksmith, the used bookstore, Aldo of Italy my barber, and of course, El Gallo de Oro. I went to the locksmith exactly once, but it was nice to know that he was always available even though I dreaded the day that I would actually need him. Aldo of Italy cut my hair once a month before I ate at El Gallo de Oro. Aldo always loved speaking to me in Spanish while he cut my hair until I fell asleep. Anyway, again, I loved the attitude of the Mexicans at El Gallo de Oro. They were typical Mexicans who loved to brag about their food and service. I especially loved their sign in the window: “La competencia es buena, pero nosotros somos … ¡más chingones!” In English, The competition is good, but we are … ” Okay, I’m not sure how to translate the last two words, but you could tell who was Mexican and who wasn’t by how they reacted to the sign. Of course, at that time the FCC let a lot of profanity get aired on all the Mexican radio stations. So the sign remained in the front window for many years until about two years ago. I rather miss that sign. That’s the thing about Mexicans. They have chutzpah!

One time, I told my father, brothers, and sister that I had a special surprise for them for our Thanksgiving dinner that year. They were so curious, that I caved in to all their questions and told them my surprise beforehand. “We are eating Thanksgiving dinner at … ” and I paused for dramatic effect … “El Gallo de Oro!” “But we want turkey,” my sister shouted. “Yo quiere guajolote,” said my father. “Un momento,” I said. “El Gallo de Oro is serving turkey burritos on Thanksgiving Day!” After a little grumbling, they finally agreed to my Thanksgiving dinner plans! Everyone got to eat turkey, I got to eat at El Gallo de Oro, and my father got to eat so many jalapeño peppers that sweat poured from his forehead profusely and he had to keep asking for more and more water. Well, El Gallo de Oro managed to satisfy yet another finicky Mexican family–again!

Yo quiero guajolote con jalapeños.

Hot dogs, chop suey, pizza, and burritos


Yet another Taco Bell that I did NOT patronize!

Hot dogs, chop suey, pizza, and burritos. What do all of these apparently different ethnic foods have in common? They are all American foods! As American as Mom, apple pie, and the Fourth of July. And while we’re on the topic of American foods: just how Italian is spaghetti? Marco Polo brought the noodles to Italy from China and there were no tomatoes in the tomato sauce until Columbus sailed to the New World.

My friend once returned from a vacation to Mexico and complained to me that Mexican restaurants in Mexico didn’t sell burritos. “I thought burritos were Mexican food!” he complained. Actually, burritos are just another American popular fast food that you can order to go and eat while you drive. Because real Mexican food is extremely messy to eat and must be eaten with your fingers at a table. Just try to imagine someone attempting to eat a chicken tostada while driving. It’s not a pretty sight, is it? By the way, if you ask for a burrito in Mexico, you will get some strange looks. A “burrito” is a small donkey and they’ll wonder what you plan on doing to that burrito. My point is that you won’t get a burrito in Mexico. So don’t order a burrito unless you really want a small donkey.

When I teach my college Spanish classes, students are amazed by the photograph of the Mexican dinner table in the Spanish textbook. They are shocked! “Where is the basket of tortilla chips?” they ask. Well, mis amigos, you will only see a basket of tortilla chips in a Mexican restaurant in the U.S. The last time I went to Mexico to visit mi familia, no one ate tortilla chips, Tostitos, Fritos, or Doritos! When mi familia visits me from Mexico, I never say, “You must be hungry for some real Mexican food. Let’s go to Taco Bell!” Because Taco Bell does not really sell Mexican food. However, Taco Bell has opened restaurants in Mexico and is planning on expanding there. I just wonder if they claim to sell authentic Mexican food in Mexico?

Where are the tortilla chips? Yo quiero Taco Bell.