Thursday, October 30, 2014

Carnitas El Atoradero: Bolivia, Bolivarianism and Burritos!

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado,

  You never know what is going to happen when you visit a restaurant.  Being an experienced foodie, I visit every restaurant expecting the unexpected, but little did I know that my innocent dinner at Carnitas El Atoradero would become a lesson in international politics and human rights.  Who knew I would learn so much about Bolivia over tacos and burritos?

Located in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, Carnitas El Atoradero is the restaurant half of two businesses; the other being a Mexican bodega (called El Atoradero) that sells imported products. The restaurant is a small mom-n-pop style eatery with wooden lacquered tables, a large take out counter, and a television mounted on the back wall.  The hideous neon green walls feature a few scattered pictures of Mexico and old newspaper reviews of the eatery.  The décor is nothing to write home about, but the menu more than makes up for the lack of atheistic appeal.

After a LONG and STRESSFUL work day, I hailed a cab and trekked down to the one place in the Bronx I knew I could satisfy that gnawing desire for tacos and relaxation.  Upon entering Carnitas El Atoradero, I noticed it was practically empty with the exception of someone buying take out and a middle-aged man eating alone watching the Telemundo news.  This was strange; Carnitas is usually a beehive of activity. I guess the Columbus Day rain kept some of the usual patrons at home.

Eager to eat my stress away, I sat down and impatiently waited for my server to bring me the menu.  I was going to order my favorite Taco de Carnitas (fried pork), but I wanted to see if anything else on the menu piqued my curiosity.  My server handed me the menu with a big smile and a welcoming, “Buenas” (good evening in Spanish).  The wait staff at Carnitas El Atoradero is always welcoming and sweet.  I’ve always appreciated their attention to detail and customer service.

The menu is divided into 13 sections: Tacos, Quesadillas, Tacos Placeros, Tortas, Cemitas, Burritos, Sopes, Huaraches, Tostadas, Flautas, Pupusas, and Especiales de la Casa.  Hungry and cold from the rain, I decided to order a taco de carnitas as my delicious appetizer; the Sopa de pollo (Chicken soup) to warm my bones; and a steak burrito to fill my tummy.

I noticed the middle-aged man watching the news clapped and whistled when they announced that Evo Morales had been re-elected President of Bolivia. After his sudden out burst, he turned in my direction and apologized for being loud.  We both laughed; I told him that I agreed it was excellent news. I asked him if he was Bolivian and he raised his Jarritos bottle, and proudly replied, “No, I’m a Bolivarian.”

I returned his toast with my Diet Coke and began to eat my taco.  The tortilla was warm, soft and had a wonderful taste of corn meal.  The carnitas was perfectly grilled, well seasoned, and moist.  The radishes and onions were crunchy and added a spicy and sharp flavor to the taco.  The cilantro-my favorite part of any taco-imparted that delicious freshness and herbal flavor that makes it an essential taco ingredient; any taco without is always lacking.

I asked him if he was Venezuelan, because many of them refer to themselves as “Bolivarians” because of their belief in Simon Bolivar’s dream of a united Latin America.  He replied he was Mexican, but considered himself a citizen of all of Latin America and a devotee of Simon Bolivar.  He added he was a political science professor at his university in Mexico; his main areas of study were Venezuela and Bolivia.  For the past 5 years, he traveled to both countries to study their political development and social justice movements. He enthusiastically began to tell me about his experiences in Bolivia.

As I listened, I enjoyed my steaming bowl of Sopa de pollo.  The simple and delicious piping hot broth warmed me through and through.  The chicken was soft and flavorful; the carrots and corn imparted a delightful sweetness that contrasted the onions’ sharpness.  The hearty chayote’s mild squash-like flavor gave the soup an intriguing earthy flavor.  Generously sprinkled with cilantro on top, the Sopa de Pollo reminded me of my mother’s homemade soups, which cured colds and made dreary rainy days tolerable.

I couldn’t believe my incredible luck!  I went to Carnitas El Atoradero for a good meal and ended up getting my own personal class on Bolivian history and politics.  We discussed how Evo’s agrarian reforms were empowering the indigenous population; how the government was working to eliminate illiteracy; and how medical care was becoming universal.  I was so intrigued by his stories that I almost ignored my recently arrived steak burrito. 

Impressed by my order, my new Poli-Sci professor paused mid-sentence to compliment my entrée choice.  He loved Carnitas El Atoradero because of its authentic food; he dined there whenever he visited New York City.  He continued his lecture, but I have to admit I barely paid any attention; I was captivated by my delicious meal.  The steak was soft, well seasoned, and plentiful; the rice and beans inside was savory and filling.  The tangy sour cream and salty white cheese topping gave the burrito a wonderful flavor complexity.  Just to add an acidic bite, I squeezed a lemon on to the burrito and it opened up the flavors even more.

Mid-lecture, the professor looked at his phone and realized he was late for another appointment.  Thinking he had monopolized my time, he apologized for talking so much; I reassured him that I loved our conversation.  I told him his stories had reinforced my desire to visit Bolivia to see its social transformation for myself…and to try the incredible food as well.  As he walked out, I realized how ironic the night had been: It was Columbus Day and I spent the night learning all about an anti-imperialist social movement led by a newly re-elected Indigenous president.

I can’t promise you’ll receive political education, when you visit Carnitas El Atoradero, but I can assure you that you’ll have a wonderful meal.  I hope your first visit turns out to be as amazing as my last.  Go taste for yourself!  Buen provecho! 

Carnitas El Atoradero
800 E 149th St
Bronx, NY 10455

HOURS: Monday-Friday 10am-10pm, Sat. and Sun. 10am-10:30pm
ATMOSPHERE:  Friendly and fun.
SERVICE: Very good.
SOUND LEVEL: Conversational.
RECOMMENDED DISHES: Burritos, Tacos, Sopas, and Quesadillas.
BEVERAGES: Jarritos (Mexican sodas), Agua Frescas (natural juices), and Pepsi and Coke.
PRICE RANGE: $2.50-$15.00

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