True gorditas aren't that different from tortillas, but they're thicker, so that when they're grilled, they puff up just a little and form a pocket, creating space that's then stuffed with beans, meat, cheese or grilled vegetables. The result is something like a Salvadoran pupusa or a Venezuelan arepa. In Mexico, most gorditas are made from corn masa, but wheat-flour gorditas are a specialty of northern Mexico, and that's where the owners of El Sabor De Mi Tierra hail from.
At lunchtime, the dining room of this cozy spot in a Lakewood strip mall is filled with customers who clearly have discovered how good a true gordita can be, and on busy weekdays the line often stretches out the door with people waiting to get meals to go. Once they reach the counter, they don't hesitate as they order gorditas de harina (made with wheat-flour dough) or maiz (corn masa) bulging with their choice from at least fifteen possible fillings; few even glance at the menu on the wall. And silence reigns as diners tuck into single gorditas (a light meal), a stack of two (a solid lunch) or even three (you might as well head home for a nap) of the saucer-sized discs. At only $3 or $3.50 per gordita, Mi Tierra serves one of the cheapest, most filling repasts in town.
If you want to sample a gordita in its truest Durango form, order the harina version filled with chicharrón. Instead of crispy pork rinds (which would make for an awkward mouthful), these chicharrones have been simmered in mild green sauce until they're soft, with just enough chew to add texture and contrast with the refritos that are an option in all the gorditas. Before you take your first bite, swing by the salsa cart, where you'll find several styles in squeeze bottles plus diced onions and cilantro.
For novelty, you can't beat the all-purpose chile relleno, which finds its way inside a gordita at Mi Tierra much as it does a burrito at El Taco de Mexico or a crispy wonton wrapper at old-school Den-Mex joints like La Fiesta. There are other meatless options, from nopales (prickly-pear cactus) and rajas con queso (grilled chiles with cheese) to the far less common chile pasado — a dried green chile which is then rehydrated and simmered into a consistency somewhere between sauce and stew with a bitter, roasted flavor. If you're going to tackle a third gordita, chile pasado (minus the beans, just to spare your belly the added stress) is a light-enough option that you might be able to waddle out the door with some dignity intact — but don't even think about a fourth. And good news for vegetarians: Mi Tierra's beans are made without lard, and the masa for the gorditas are also made without fat of any kind.
Don't go to El Sabor De Mi Tierra if you're in a hurry. The kitchen is small and staffed with family, and every gordita shell is made to order, so your meal can take a while. Sometimes a guitar-and-accordion combo is playing in the corner; bring a few dollar bills, because the musicians are pretty good and work for tips. The kitchen is at its busiest mid-morning through late afternoon and slows down during dinner, so if you don't want to wait for a table, go after 6 p.m. Then grab a booth and fill a water glass from the earthenware jug (there's one on every table) while you wait for your gordita (or three, if you dare) that just could be the best in town.
El Sabor de Mi Tierra is located at 1395 South Sheridan Boulevard in Lakewood and is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Call 720-253-9658 or visit the restaurant's website for more information.