The second film in the Indiana Jones trilogy is to blame for my fear of Jell-O molds, monkeys and, until recently, Indian buffets. In Temple of Doom, Jones works his way through an Indian feast of snakes and eyeball soup. Nothing, however, could prepare audiences for dessert, which consisted of whole monkey heads atop chalices, each skull carved around its circumference, so that upon lifting it by the primates' long, gray hair, chunky, ambrosia Jell-O-like brains were revealed.
This scene popped into my head, as it does a few times a year, while I was en route to Tacos el Gordo de Tijuana (689 H St. in Chula Vista) last week for my first-ever taste of beef brain tacos, or sesos in Spanish.
The place is something of an institution, and not because of sesos. It's regarded by many as the place to get authentic Tijuana-style "street tacos," as we gringos know them. Freshly made, moist corn tortillas carry tender meats ranging from carne asada to buche (pig's stomach). The chain, which branched beyond its Baja border to three San Diego County locations, is also known for its many sauces and salsas.
Those quickly became my lifelines on this offal-themed visit.
First-time visitors might find the ordering system a bit confusing. You first grab a red, cafeteria-like tray, then you decide what line you want to stand in. Behind the open-kitchen's counter, there's a cook tending to patrons for each line. Just read the signs by each to see which tacos strike your fancy.
When I got to the front of the entrails line, the cook raised his brow at me, insinuating "order now." When I did, mariachi music came to a screeching halt as he barked in a most American accent, "That's brains."
I retaliated with a proud "Si!" and rounded off the order with a lengua (tongue) taco. This is also the point where you should request some grilled green onions and charred peppers.
The brains are placed on a flat-top grill and griddled into a patty, forming a crust on the exterior, before they're chopped up and placed in the tortilla. They're then covered in salsa verde, guacamole, diced onions and cilantro.
It certainly didn't taste bad; in fact, the brains were virtually flavorless. They didn't taste like beef, or any meat, really—the protein simply took on the flavors of everything else in the tortilla, which was quite pleasant. The texture was troubling, however. With the firmness of scrambled eggs, when chewed, the brains were creamy, pasty and rich—a definite mind-bender, since flavor was absent.
But the lengua taco made up for it. I've enjoyed these several times before; the deep, beefy flavor is akin to the best pot roast ever. If you can wrap your head around it, I highly recommend that you order these on your first, or next, visit.
Tacos El Gordo definitely has some of the best in town. As for the sesos, tried in honor of CityBeat's zombie-themed Comic-Con issue, I just couldn't shake the mental image of the cow's head from which they came, and that godforsaken scene from Indiana Jones. Shudder. Wince. Shudder.