Great Things, Small Packages

Doña Tota is all gorditas, and you can have them filled with chicharron, cochinta pibil, pastor, and more.
Doña Tota
7053 San Pedro
7:30am-9:30pm Mon-Sat;
8am-8pm Sun
Credit cards
Gorditas: $.99-$1.99

It might seem strange that a commodity that is hardly common currency on Tex-Mex menus hereabouts can serve as the entire foundation of a chain of restaurants, but Doña Tota has parlayed the gordita into a 199-outlet powerhouse in Mexico. And sucursal numero 200 just opened — in San
Antonio. Welcome to the world of “little fatties,” stuffed with nearly whatever your hungry heart desires.

The San Antonio-style gordita, when you can find it, is most often a fairly thick disk of griddled masa slit horizontally and stuffed with, say, stewed chicken. The models that emerge from La Doña’s open kitchen are much more delicate, little thicker than a classy, hand-patted corn tortilla. Sometimes they’re up to containing the filling, sometimes not, but with upwards of 20 options — not counting breakfast — to choose from, the fastidious can always find a well-behaved fatty–filler. The rest of us will remember to grab several napkins at the order counter to deal with the exuberantly orange evidence of achiote that will emerge from the pollo pibil product.

With its forthright flavors of acrid achiote and maybe even a little oily epazote, the pibil is one of the outlet’s most distinctive fillings — unless you count the good ’n’ greasy, sloppy-picante carnita en salsa verde. Or the wonderfully fatty, crunchy chicharron version with a little of that same, luminous salsa verde ladled on at will.

But don’t rush to judgment here; there are breakfast options, though I didn’t try them, as virtuous as turkey ham with egg whites. Just hang back a little, as I observed most apparent first-timers doing, until you get a grasp of the menu posted above the order counter. But many patrons — mostly Mex-pat families, from abuelitas to unruly infants — seem to have the routine down already, and for the most part the kitchen delivers on its side of the bargain. True, a side of beans went missing on one order, one of guacamole on another day, but both were cheerfully delivered upon request.

But if there are still some efficiency issues to resolve, the culinary formula seems well-tested. A gordita stuffed with sloppy chicharron (not the crunchy kind) in medio-picante salsa roja, wants to disintegrate, but with some effort you can contain the spill — and you will want to trap every moist morsel. Equally eager to escape its bounds was the Lenten-special camaron ranchero, a forthright and feisty blend of some of the smallest shrimp I’ve ever seen, in a robust red sauce that put the sometimes-wimpy local versions to shame.

Containment was not an issue with the Piratota, however, one of the few offerings served in a flour gordita. The chopped fajitas that filled this pirate’s chest weren’t interesting in their own right, but blended with melted white cheese and lashed with a little spirited salsa verde or smoky roja, the package was a tiny treasure.

For sheer luxury in the palm of your hand, however, the Tota Supreme has it all: crunchy chicharron, carnitas, beans, mole, grated queso blanco … it’s an obra maestra that merits its $1.99, top-of-the-line ticket price. (There are some combo plates that are naturally pricier.)

Side orders are few at Doña Tota, and they’re almost laughably tiny by local, over-stuffed standards. But a dab of the blended but well-flavored refrieds will do ya, and the chunky, spicy guacamole is worth every penny of its $.35 supplement. Though I didn’t try it, I suspect the vinagreta of onion and habanero chilies to be tailor-made for the pibil of either pork or chicken. It’s just one more way this robust chain should continue to make inroads on local fast-food culture. And to contribute to the spreading reconquista. 

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