Denver Dives Worth the Descent: Gomez Burritos
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Using the word "dive" to mean a place of ill-repute dates back to the 18th century. At that time, such places were usually located in a basement or cellar-type structure. Thus, patrons literally had to "dive" to get into a place that also indicated a dive in their morals. Gomez Burritos is neither a place of ill-repute nor located in a basement, but it is an out-of-the-way gem worth seeking out!
Driving home the back way from work one afternoon, I saw a garish sign advertising 99-cent burritos. Considering the area of town – Commerce City not too far from the highway or the factories -- my initial thought was, “Scary – could be ‘burritos’ just like the 99-cent sandwiches in Turkey were ‘chicken’.” Never mind: the restaurant had what seemed ungodly hours: 5 AM to 3 PM. A couple weeks later, though, running early for work, I remembered the hole-in-the-wall restaurant advertising 99-cent burritos and decided to take the back way. So I discovered Gomez Burritos.
Chicharrónes are part of the traditional cuisine of many Spanish-influenced countries. They are made of pork skin and fat that has been rendered. The result is a dense, crispy, chewy delicacy. In Mexico, they can be found in even the tiniest corner grocery; visitors who enter a market will find stands dedicated to the chicharrón alone.
Chicharrónes can be made from most any part of the pig's skin. Depending on the area of the body, the skin-to-fat ratio varies. Certain parts of the pig's body is thin-skinned, leading to crunchier chicharrón. In some cases, though, this thin skin is first dried then deep-fried, creating literal sheets of the foamy chicharrón reminiscent of pork rinds. Some of the densest chicharrón curls up on itself almost like cones. However, one of the favorite chicharrón for cooking is made from fatback and comes out with a concentrated, half-inch layer of fat. Crumbled into pieces, these add a chewy, delicious texture to bean burritos.
Gomez Burritos, in the grand tradition of the Mexican taco stands you can find on South Federal, offers small-ish portions for small prices. The burritos are by no means minuscule – they start with a 9-inch tortilla – but they are modest. For the advertised 99-cents, patrons can receive a bean-cheese-chili burrito or even a breakfast burrito. Add $1, and the choices increase exponentially.
The majority of their burritos run $2-$3, the more expensive burritos consisting of beef usually, or more pork. Their authentic style includes such staples as beans, green chile, cheese, potatoes, and pork. Envision these in any delicious combination, and they probably feature such a burrito at Gomez's.
My personal favorite burrito, for a scant $2.25, is the #10. (Oh, at Gomez's, the "in" way of ordering is by number, with hotness of chile specified.) The #10 is a 9" tortilla filled with soft beans, gooey cheese, mild chile (for me – patrons can also ask for spicy or half-and-half), and the pièce de résistance: chicharrón. Chicharrón are, literally, fried pork fat with the skin on; they are something like extra-crunchy, dense pork rinds. They are not healthy. And they are not for everyone. Fans of this delicacy do not find bean- chicharrón burritos just anywhere. But when we do, we know we have found an authentic Mexican restaurant. And it is sometimes a dive, like Gomez' Burritos – in a good way, of course.
In addition to cheap but tasty burritos, Gomez's offers plates. Running just around $6.99, these platas include rice or potatoes – the latter again gives Gomez's away as authentic – and the ubiquitous beans. If you have a hankering for home-made (style, at least) tamales, just $13 will get you a dozen.
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Commerce City is the factory center of Denver. "Charm" is added by the highways bisecting the area. Located out-of-the-way, Gomez Burritos is small and unassuming. Located next to a similarly “unassuming” liquor store, the store front does not necessarily invite. But closer inspection reveals the glass to be clear and the inside to be clean. The inside, with its murals of beach scenes, feels downright cheerful.
I have never witnessed a line out the door, but I have seen a line 7 to 8 deep at 6:00 in the morning. Expectedly the patrons are often comprised of workers, likely from one of the nearby factories, many of them at least of Mexican descent if not actual immigrants (another sign of the authenticity of the food). However, I have seen sports cars in the parking lot and patrons in business suits; downtown office buildings are only 5 miles away, and Gomez's is a quick jaunt from the highway. This find is no longer so hidden, but it still carries the feel of a jewel in the rough, tucked out of the way.
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Gomez Burritos offers authentic Mexican food at very affordable prices. They have three locations, but the original sits at 5520 Washington St., Denver, CO 80216, just half a mile from the Denver Merchandise Mart. Their early hours mean enjoying them for breakfast or lunch. So, if you're anywhere near the 58th Avenue exit on I-25, pop in for a delicious 99-cent burrito. Bring cash, though, and don't mind the few minutes you have to wait for these hand-made specialties.