By Dan Marinelli
DESERT HOT SPRINGS – In the Mexican food-laden Coachella Valley, finding a decent spot to get a burrito is not rocket science.
In Desert Hot Springs, however, the go-to place during the day – or late at night – is El Matador, right off Palm Drive.
El Matador is small, quaint and not as modern looking as a more-corporate restaurant, but the savory and delicious food most certainly picks up where the décor is lacking. El Matador is a Mexican restaurant, but owner Martin Mesa draws influence from cuisines across the globe.
“The food is a combination from Ecuador, Spain, Guadalajara and Guatemala,” Mesa said. “The rice recipe is originally from Spain, the beans and meats are from Guadalajara and some of the ingredients for the ranchero sauce is from Guatemala.”
From 11 am. – 9 pm., El Matador is open as a sit-down restaurant. The mom-and-pop shop’s menu boasts traditional Mexican items like tacos, burritos, tortas (sandwich), chile rellenos, tamales and various Mexican seafood dishes.
The best part about El Matador might be at sundown, when Martin opens the window on the façade of his restaurant and sells authentic Mexican street tacos.
“When we got the place, it had been running 14 years as a Mexican restaurant already,” Mesa said. “My world was a taco shop – which was why we started selling tacos six years ago. “
Desert Hot Springs is lucky Martin opened his delectable Guadalajaran bistro. The taco stand is essentially everything that is offered in the restaurant, but is highlighted by more affordable items and a wider meat offering.
“Tacos are a little bit cheaper, Mesa said. “When the economy went down, instead of spending 10 dollars inside, you can eat for four or five dollars outside, and its good quality because we use fresh, high-quality ingredients.“
The diverse meat selection at El Matador stands out among similar eateries. Many Mexican restaurants like to keep their menu safe, only offering meat selections intended for a novice pallet, like chicken, beef, and pork.
In addition to offering the risk-averse meats, El Matador also offers carne for the more adventurous eater, such as lengua (tongue), tripas (tripe), buche (pork stomach), birria (beef in a savory chile sauce) and even cabeza – which is meat from the head. More delicious Mexican favorites that El Matador offers are carnitas, chorizo, saudero (tender, fried beef) and al pastor (sweet, chile pepper-seasoned pork).
The aforementioned meats are not common at all Mexican restaurants in the Coachella Valley, which is why El Matador is a place that must be visited. Most importantly, the quality of El Matador’s meats is always top-notch, meaning little or no fat and gristle.
“We tried to bring something here from Guadalajara, and in Guadalajara, you can get 12 different kind of meats. The reason we serve so many here is because we want to be more special than other Mexican restaurants.“
Martin Mesa’s restaurant is a cut above, and definitely worth a try.
El Matador is open seven days a week and the taco stand closes at midnight.
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