A Taste of Aztlán
El Sabor de Juarez balances north and south
“Luckily it’s in the neighborhood too, but barely,” his mind continued as the car lumbered toward Gibson Boulevard. March was headed for El Sabor de Juarez, a long-running, hybrid-style place where el Norte meets up and mixes readily with el Sur.
It’s known as a joint where eaters can relish the best chuleta a la Mexicana ($9.95) in town or feast on a combo plate complete with challengingly piquant carne adovada and perfectly hot, fresh and pillowy sopaipillas.
The place sits between an overused pedestrian bridge and a pawn shop where they have a few cool guitars, but mostly old power tools and CRT teevees fill the shelves. El Sabor de Juarez is right across from Kirtland Air Force Base, a veritable city on the other side of the road where the main mission involves storing and stewarding thousands of nuclear warheads.
Though that last fact doesn’t have much to do with reviewing a restaurant, March always thought about it whenever he was in the neighborhood. Whenever he ate in places along the border between Burque and Kirtland, he always hoped to run into a major or colonel to ask them what it was like to guard so many atom bombs.
Anyway, March pulled into the driveway in front of El Sabor de Juarez and went in to eat lunch. He was accompanied by his wife and partner. Both of them were looking forward to the visit. They hadn’t been there in years, since a friend of his brothers had stopped in El Duque while motorcycling across the western lands in 2011. Enrique wanted rico menudo ($6.95) and El Sabor was the best in town, he said. Their traveling guest ended up taking a two-day break in town so he could have two goes at El Sabor’s rich, soupy specialty.
August ordered the combination plate with red chile ($8.95). His wife ordered the cheese enchilada plate with green chile ($6.95). As an appetizer the two asked for a couple of beef tacos.
The tacos ($1.25 ea.) at El Sabor are definitely Califas style; freshly made corn tortillas that are then lightly fried, with stuffings and condiments added afterwards. Though they can be filling in large amounts, a combination of light crispiness and fresh ingredients make them an awesome apéritif.
The meal arrived quickly, cooked up and served by a family that’s been in the business of making comida a toda madre at the same location since 1980. Jesus Mata and his wife Sarah Jaramillo told March that the recipes they use at their shop are from home, are traditional.
March’s’ companion confirmed the peppery, fresh-vegetable palate underlying the green chile had an intense heat that was made more alluring by its combination with sharp cheddar cheese.
Even the tamales, often relegated to second-banana status (if that’s even possible with non-Carribbean chow) were thoughtfully made, moist and tangy, August replied. When they finished dinner, they left sated and March vowed to return.
It was all so rewarding a gastronomic experience that March thought to go again, for a late lunch, the following day. At the suggestion of the restaurant’s owners, he ordered a carne adovada burrito ($4.95), an order of sopaipillas ($2.50) and a bottle of Coca-Cola ($2.50).
He already knew the volcanic wonders of El Sabor’s carne adovada, but was surprised to find that the tortilla that wrapped up his meaty indulgence was homemade. Nothing could be better than that, he thought as he watched the owner’s son box up his latest order.
As March drove his meal back to the office to eat it and then to make written remarks about eating at El Sabor de Juarez he thought about what sort of phrase would best describe this singular, yet often overlooked place. This is what he came up with: El Sabor de Juarez offers a hot taste of home at the edge of a city bordered by fire.
3527 Gibson Blvd. SE
Hours: Mon-Tues 8am-2:30pm, Wed-Sat 8am-7:30pm, Sun 8am-6pm
Vibe: Enchiladas and missiles
Alibi Recommends: Chuleta a la Mexicana, combination plate, enchilada plate, tortillas, sopaipillas