Location: 1705 Cleveland Highway, Gainesville
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday-Saturday, and 10 a.m. to noon Sunday
More info: 770-533-4295 or Taqueria Durango’s Facebook page
Tucked away on Cleveland Highway in a little sleepy placita, or a little group of stores located together, lies Taqueria Durango.
However, the Mexican restaurant is anything but sleepy. On any given day, customers stream through the doors, taking seats at the counters or scooting into booths and placing their orders for the traditional foods from South of the Border.
And once their food hits the table or counter, customers can dig into their meals and people-watch. Taqueria Durango owner Bravo Bravo said they may even get a glimpse of Gov. Nathan Deal, who has dined there on occasion with his wife, Sandra.
When questioned if the governor or other regulars receive discounts, Bravo said never.
“I don’t want to buy people off with discounts and have them eat here,” he said. “I want them to keep coming back because the food is good.”
Dahlonega resident Kelly Smith can attest to the good food. He said he looks forward to chowing down on tortas when he’s in Gainesville.
“I always stop over here,” said Smith, who has been eating at Taqueria Durango for five years. “Most Mexican restaurants don’t serve tortas. I’m always getting the steak torta.”
The tortas and the trompo-style preparation of meat are what caught my attention, especially since the trompo is prepared in the traditional way, like one would find in the streets of Mexico.
Trompo is thinly cut pork or al pastor that is seasoned with chili, guajillo, oregano, salt and cumin. The meat is then marinated the night before it is cooked. Finally, the pork is placed on a spit over an open flame and cooked until it is charred.
I ate the trompo in a taco, which is fairly decent. But my taste buds delighted in the tortas, which is a Mexican-style sandwich. The bread, called a bolillo, is stuffed with the ingredients of the meat and its toppings.
Cook Ricardo Mayorga, who is better known as “El famoso chaparro” (translation “the Famous Shorty”) prepares the tortas at Taqueria Durango.
Mayorga slices the trompo and places it on the bread. Then freshly crushed refried pinto beans are smeared on the bottom part of the sandwich. Mozzarella cheese is sprinkled on top followed by salsa, cilantro and lime. These condiments give the torta the final bit of flavor.
For customers who are unfamiliar with the seasonings, be forewarned: The salsa roja is extremely spicy. I recommend topping it with green salsa, which is made from avocados.
For customers not in the mood for a torta, I advise ordering a plate of fajitas. They come with a salad as an appetizer, five tortillas and rice and beans.
Once the appetizer and entree are consumed and you’re in the mood for some sweets, order the churros, the Mexican dessert pastry. They are stacked on each other like sides of a wooden cabin, with whipped cream in the middle and drizzled with strawberry syrup.
While Taqueria Durango’s desserts aren’t homemade, it still tastes delicious.
Following the fluffy pastry, finish the meal off with a cup of coffee.
Bravo, 47, designed the menu, ranging from the tortas to the churros. The Mexico City, Mexico, native started the business 20 years ago after working for eight years at a chain of Mexican restaurants.
“In that company I could do no more ... all was left was to be the owner,” Bravo said. “So I thought I’d open my own business.”
His business sports the scorpion as its logo, since Durango, a state in Mexico, is known for being “Tierra de los Escorpiones,” translating to “Land of the Scorpions.” Bravo said he believes it attracts customers because “a lot of the people are from Durango.”
And his 20-year tenure as a business owner supports that statement.
“Twenty (years) is not a coincidence,” Bravo said. “The people liked it. But most important is that we owe the people. Thanks to them we’ve lived for over 20 years.”
Bravo also owes much to his staff of nine, which includes himself and his daughter, Abril, and his wife, Rosa Bravo.
They work the day shifts, which are usually pretty calm. But on the weekend, the restaurant sees an influx of customers since the trompo is ready by Friday.
“The face of the store is the trompo,” Ricardo said.
Taqueria Durango is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to noon Sunday. The restaurant is located on 1705 Cleveland Highway in Gainesville.
For more information, call 770-533-4295 or visit Taqueria Durango’s Facebook page.
Charles Olsen is an intern at The Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.