Gorditas La Rancherita 

Hard-to-find Mexican specialties in Norcross

Don't be embarrassed when the door slams behind you at Gorditas La Rancherita (2055 Beaver Ruin Road, Norcross, 678-206-0107). It happens to everyone. The shades are always drawn, lending the restaurant a tinge of sketchiness, and the hard booths aren't too kind on the rear. The drawbacks end there.

In our taco saturated culinary landscape, Gorditas' range of real-deal Mexican especialidades is a blessing. Chilaquiles is one of the most popular breakfast dishes in Mexico; old tortillas are repurposed by being fried to a slight crisp and slathered in a spicy salsa. Gorditas makes theirs with smoky red or acid green salsa. Chilaquiles is often served with sliced ham; here, they're topped with two fried eggs (or your preferred preparation), creamy refried beans, and what has to be the most authentic-tasting (it actually tastes like tomato – not bouillon) Mexican-style rice in Atlanta.

Chunks of fork-tender barbacoa de chivo (goat) are coated in a silky and heady sauce with numerous plates of taco-making accoutrements – a basket of Gorditas' exceptional tortillas included. These aren't store-bought tortillas. The short but serious female cook makes them to order in her cubby of a kitchen. They are thicker than the machine-made variety, but take a deep whiff of the steam when they come to the table. Your nose will immediately recognize the distinction.

The kitchen has a way with caldos (soups), and the portions are always generous. A gorgeous red pozole punctuated with glutinous pieces of hominy and slow-cooked pork is at once soothing and spicy enough to make you take notice. The best soup, however, is the caldo de res. The beef soup is served in a large bowl of spicy tomato and chili-laced broth, chunks of carrot, chayote squash, potato and more. You get a side of cilantro, onions, and lime to brighten the dish; and those lovely tortillas make another appearance just in case you want to pluck a piece of beef from the soup and eat it taco-style. It's enough for two people, but you won't want to share after you get a taste.

Huge gorditas present a round of thick masa sliced open like a pita and stuffed with anything from refried beans to chicharrones stewed in green salsa. The redolent corn flour maseca also shows up in obscenely large quesadillas oozing with cheese; crispy sopes; and, of course, the foundation for any of the tacos.

The biggest surprise on the menu is the pambazos. Pambazos are a type of torta (sandwich) made with a special roll. The roll is tougher than a torta roll because it needs to stay intact once it's dipped in red guajillo salsa. The sandwich is normally filled with softer ingredients – such as eggs cooked with chorizo or potatoes – before it's loaded with shredded lettuce, ripe avocado, onion, jalapeños, and crema Mexicana. Don't try to pick it up. This dish calls for a knife and fork.

The menu's drink selection is as impressive as the dishes. One of the restaurant's made to order juices – carrot, pineapple or mixed bag – is a brilliant foil to the carb-fest that's inherent in any trip to Gorditas. More sinful options such as the thick mallteadas (milkshakes), made with cajeta – think Nutella made with goat's milk – are worth the guilt they induce. Sadly, there are no margaritas on the menu, but there is beer; and they make a mean Michelada, a salt-rimmed drink made with beer, fresh lime juice and Maggie seasoning.

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