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CLASSIC MEXICAN CHARM: EL ARRIERO PROVIDES RICHER, TASTY EXPERIENCE ON TRADITIONAL FARE

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“De nuestro pueblo a tu plato.”  From our town to your plate”: It’s the first line on the menu at El Arriero and it speaks volumes about the kind of experience diners can expect in the little shotgun restaurant tucked away in a strip-mall corner.

sopes

STELLAR SOPES: Homemade thicker corn toritillas come topped with choice of meat, beans, lettuce, tomato, and cheese on El Arriero’s sopes, which ring in at only $2.50 each. Photo by Shea Carver

It’s a classic Mexican restaurant from the Ibarras who brought us the much beloved El Cerro Grande. This vision departs from the established chain as much more Mex than Tex. It’s a walk-up-and-order from the counter type of place, with daily specials often featuring Mexican stews like menudo and posole. El Arriero offers classic dishes and might be a little jarring for anyone who thinks Mexican cuisine is limited to choosing between beef, chicken or beans to fill a burrito. They offer beef stomach, intestines, tongue, and cheeks for fillings on tacos, sopes, tortas, tacos, and huaraches. They boast a salsa bar, with varieties in green and red, hot and mild, as well as toppings like radishes, cilantro and onion to accompany any order. Put simply: The restaurant serves up classic charm that shouldn’t be missed.

I started with an old favorite, chorizoqueso.  The preparation is as simple as it sounds: melted white cheese with ground chorizo. It’s salty as hell and any cardiologist would slap you if he saw you order it, but it is tasty. The medium spicy meat is softened just a bit by the queso and the blend of textures when dipped with one of their homemade, fried-to-order tortilla chips. It is genuine pleasure.

Keeping with a classic, I moved on to a burrito, but I had to try the carnitas. The Mexican style of pulled pork blends lean and fat together in a fantastic mix that gives diners the full flavor of the meat. I ate the full length of the burrito, though I shouldn’t have because it’s far too much food for one sitting. I thought the sour cream was a touch heavy-handed, but otherwise I’d go back for another the next time I feel like eating two meals at one sitting.

During a return visit, I went for a specialty dish, the molcajete. The dish has an “everything but the kitchen sink” feel to it: beef, chicken, chorizo, two kinds of cheese, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and cactus. It’s prepared in a stone bowl, and word to the wise: Don’t touch the bowl. It’s hot and it stays hot. It will still be hot when you’re through eating.

I found the molcajete a bit underseasoned, but the bottle of salsa picante on the table fixed that problem nicely. The green peppers were overpowering, perhaps because there were way too many of them. Otherwise it’s a tasty treat. Onion and tomato provide most of the flavor, and while I was hoping for something a little spicier, it’s hard to complain about onion and tomato.  I particularly loved the homemade corn tortillas; they’re much more flavorful than the flour variety I had with my burrito.

But forget dinner. You should stop by just for a glass of their infused water. Yes, they offer horchata, a Mexican specialty made of rice milk and cinnamon. Horchata is tasty, but a little thick and heavy on the cinnamon for this time of year. I’ll head back for another glass in October. But the daily fruit-flavored water, which varies, is delicious. The watermelon water available on my first visit simply refused to last long in my glass. I went through it as fast as I could pour it; it was so refreshing. My second visit came with pineapple water, which I also enjoyed. Though, I admit it couldn’t live up to my memory of the watermelon version. Still, either made a nice, sweet alternative to soda.

Custard desserts have long been my favorites, and by now I expect some readers have noticed I can rarely pass up a creme brûlée or pots de crème. But flan always has been the ugly stepchild of the custard family, as I tend to find its consistency weaker and unimpressive.  That’s why I’m pleased to report that El Arriero has changed my mind with a rich, full-flavored flan. The crystalline sugar on the bottom give it a textural contrast that I loved, and the mild caramel was light and bright. The dessert only suffered from an excessive whipped cream and chocolate syrup. They’re not needed at all. I’d recommend cutting them entirely and letting the flan speak for itself.

I’ll be back soon to look at a few more unfamiliar entrées. El Arriero offers Mexican a richer experience than we sometimes have here in the states. I look forward to seeing what else they can do to expand my horizons.

DETAILS: 

El Arriero

6932 Market Street, Ste. P
Sunday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
www.facebook.com/elarrierotaqueria
(910) 208-4948

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