Irrespective of what number of occasions I’ve dined at a fuel station — whether or not fried boudin balls in No Man’s Land in western Louisiana or tom kha kai in Leesburg, Va. — I all the time expertise a childlike thrill at discovering one thing contemporary to eat inside a spot extra devoted to fueling your automobile than your physique. I do know that, culturally, we’ve lengthy since handed the second when gas-station eateries are novel, however that’s not how I take into consideration these companies. To me, they continue to be uncommon and superior objects, worthy of appreciation only for present, like a rainbow eucalyptus within the wild.
I don’t keep in mind how rapidly I obtained behind the steering wheel after studying about Taqueria El Cabrito, tucked inside an Exxon station in Silver Spring, however I’d prefer to suppose Usain Bolt couldn’t have stored tempo with me. As soon as I arrived there, I found a tough and exquisite reality: This isn’t the one El Cabrito discovered inside a fuel station. The brothers behind the small chain even have taquerias slipped into stations in Annapolis and Laurel, although generally underneath barely modified names. They’ve full-fledged eating places, too, every bearing the mark of the goat.
I discovered this background from Miguel Aragon, a good friend of the 5 Soto brothers who personal or function 9 taquerias round Maryland. Oldest brother Alberto Soto owns six places, Aragon tells me, whereas the subsequent oldest, Raymundo, has three, together with the Silver Spring store. Aragon is aware of this as a result of he units up the cost programs for the taquerias. He additionally serves, as I’ve come to understand, because the brothers’ gringo handler.
The brothers hail from Oaxaca in southern Mexico, the place their mother and father nonetheless reside. Their menus replicate most of the traditions of the state, the place the delicacies, for quite a lot of causes, has largely held quick to its Indigenous foodways. Inside this Exxon, you’ll discover tlayudas, Oaxacan purple mole, agua frescas and barbacoa (although, sadly, not goat, as you may count on from a spot whose title interprets to “child goat”). The meals is essentially executed by Jesus Soto, the center brother, who leans on household recipes.
The Soto tlayuda is served extra like a calzone than the type of big flatbread discovered at, say, Guelaguetza in Los Angeles, the place every outsized tortilla is toasted and topped so generously that you just start to know why the dish’s title is tied to abundance within the Náhualtl language. El Cabrito’s tlayuda could also be brief on showmanship, however it’s filled with extra meats, beans and cheese than that tortilla can comprise, particularly in case you order it with the campechano mixture of proteins, which I recommend you do.
El Cabrito provides precisely one mole, however it’s stable: a streamlined, turbocharged tackle Coloradito mole. Jesus doesn’t incorporate chocolate or fruit into this model. As a substitute, he lets three chiles — guajillo, poblano and ancho — take over the mole, making for a nutty, flamable sauce that lights a hearth underneath these items of tender rooster.
Ordering right here can, on some days, really feel like a sport of Go Fish. Have they got any mojarra frita (fried tilapia)? Do they have a pambazo sandwich? Have they got any horchata? Some afternoons, the reply isn’t any, which is simply the truth for a small counter-service operation with a big menu apparently designed for nearly each taqueria within the chain. I provide this extra as a cautionary word than as a criticism.
In case you do occur to cease right here on a day when Jesus has tilapia, don’t hesitate to order the mojarra a la Mexican, a complete head-on fish slathered in spices, together with, a lot to my shock, Lawry’s seasoned salt. Hey, if it’s ok for brisket, it’s ok for tilapia. The fish is deep-fried after which completely smothered in a tangle of diced tomatoes, onions, jalapeños and extra, cooked down right into a free sauce. So easy, so excellent.
Ought to your urge for food require one thing extra modest than a complete head-on fish, the kitchen places collectively a imply taco plate, that includes the type of cuts, offal and in any other case, that don’t play in additional fashionable taquerias. The lengua is so delicate and tender, it cuts like butter. The cecina de res, in contrast, calls for extra effort, giving your jaw a light-weight exercise whereas flushing your palate with salt and savory beef. The cueritos, or pork pores and skin, is pure fatty pleasure, notably when tucked inside a warmed tortilla, then garnished with chopped onions, cilantro and a beneficiant pour of the chunky housemade salsa verde.
Each time I’ve ordered tacos right here, the tortillas have been pulled from a bag, and how I really feel about that. Aragon tells me El Cabrito does make its personal, too, however it’s a must to ask for them. “If , ,” he instructed me, “just like the secret menu at Taco Bell.” So on the day we met on the taqueria, I requested Jesus for the home made tortillas. He didn’t have any.
Probably the greatest issues about El Cabrito — effectively, apart from its pozole rojo, so spicy and comforting — is its want to nurture those that embrace the enterprise, beginning with the 5 brothers who, as Aragon tells me, first handle each other. In addition they handle their communities. Someday on the taqueria, I met a girl from Veracruz who now lives within the Silver Spring space. She used to drive all the way in which to the El Cabrito in Annapolis as a result of she thought it was the one place within the DMV that served actual Mexican meals. I requested her if the brothers opened this location only for her. She laughed, but in addition stated she’s now a weekly presence, the type of alliance between buyer and informal restaurant that no cash should buy.
El Cabrito’s dedication to its neighborhood extends to the menu, the place you’ll discover large caloric platters corresponding to El Ranchero and the aptly named Tres Animales. These plates are designed to feed these women and men who carry out handbook labor — to present them the vitality to make it by way of the remainder of their workday. One afternoon, I ordered the El Ranchero and was overwhelmed by its largesse: crusty flaps of cecina, skinny seasoned strips of griddled rooster, slippery lengths of nopales and, for good measure, a pair of fried eggs. If I completed that plate, I’d be facedown on my keyboard. However I’d be fortunately facedown on my keyboard, dreaming of my subsequent go to to this gas-station taqueria.
2514 College Blvd. West, Silver Spring, Md., 443-714-5857. (The house owners have eight different places round Maryland, together with ones in Annapolis, Laurel and Baltimore.)
Hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. day by day.
Nearest Metro: Wheaton, with a brief stroll to the store.
Costs: $3 to $18 for all gadgets on the menu.