El Pastor was a sketchy-looking, albeit beloved, Buford Highway restaurant and one of the only spots in Atlanta with a trompo, the revolving spit normally used for al pastor or shawarma. My father, who's from Mexico City (the epicenter of tacos al pastor), loved it. I was never a fan, mostly because local health regulations required that they cook the meat after slicing it off the trompo. After much time as a fixture, El Pastor closed and a new restaurant, El Chisme Mexican Grill (5091 Buford Highway, Doraville), was born in its place. Much of the same ambiance-free décor remains, but there's a fresh coat of garish neon paint in the hallway leading to the bathrooms. As one of my friends said, all they need to really induce an acid flashback is a black light. A disco ball hangs from the ceiling and it's easy to imagine the tables being cleared out for a late-night dance party fueled by Mexican beer and a jukebox loaded with old-school Latin standards and, of course, Enrique Iglesias.
Non-Spanish speakers be forewarned: The staff speaks little English. However, our waitress — a friendly Mexican girl in her mid-20s — reminded me how enthusiastic service can enliven even the slowest of meals. Really, though, a long wait can be a reassuring sign. And how can you possibly fault a lone cook making everything from scratch?
Even the tortilla chips, made from handmade tortillas, are fried to order. They're accompanied by a large grey molcajete decorated with a pig's face and filled with a murky green, intensely spicy salsa dotted with chunks of roasted green chilies. Steer clear of the oddly watery guacamole, made even odder by the inclusion of green olives. A round of real — not Americano — fried quesadillas are a better choice to start. Instead of two tortillas pressed together, these more authentic quesadillas are hand-formed with masa and stuffed full of chewy cheese that causes comically long strings to trail from your mouth with each bite. Perfectly sized handmade tortillas can be filled with a slew of ingredients including chopped beef (asada) or tender chunks of pork. All of them are showered with diced cilantro and onion. A dollop of any of the impeccable, just-like-abuela-used-to-make salsas bring each taco together nicely.
Pleasantly greasy breakfast standards abound, most importantly, my favorite home-style Mexican dish, chilaquiles. While the chilaquiles lack an abundance of salsa, it's hard to find fault with the freshly fried triangles of tortillas, smothered in crispy strips of chicken and topped with two runny fried eggs, crema Mexicana and crumbled queso fresco. It's what we Mexicans cook in our kitchens at 4 a.m. after a rambunctious night out, or, better yet, the morning after.
The pozole — another crowd-pleasing hangover cure — was described by a friend who eats the dish often as the best he's had recently. After tasting it, I understood why. The spicy red broth was layered with the kind of flavors you only get with a little age — a crucial ingredient in any soup or stew. Spoonfuls of hominy and bits of stewed pork added heft to the otherwise light broth. A platter of tostadas, lime and other accoutrements allow the diner to tailor the pozole experience to their tastes. The pambazo, however, reigns supreme as the biggest gut bomb of them all. This cousin of the torta is a little different from its kin. The bread used is drier so it can withstand a good soak in some guajillo salsa before being stuffed with beans, pork, queso fresco, shredded lettuce — you name it.
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