If you drive down W. 21st St in Wichita in the late afternoon, chances are that by the time you approach the 200 block you will notice that the air takes on the delicious scent of mesquite smoke and grilled meat. This delightful aroma emanates from a bright yellow food truck, El Pollo Dorado al Carbon (or more accurately the large charcoal grill next to the truck) that can often be found on the north-east corner of W 21st and Wellington.
This truck does one thing–charcoal-grilled chicken–and it does it very well. Out of the small window of the vehicle pieces of chicken, golden/orange from marinating in achiote paste and other herbs and spices, magically appear with a small selection of salsas, ranchero beans, and freshly cooked corn tortilla. The chicken–lightly-spiced and scented with mesquite smoke–is succulent, tender, unctuous, unbelievably flavorful, and grilled to perfection.
The accompaniments are just as delicious. The ranchero beans are flavored with the traditional bean-herb epazote that for some can be an acquired taste, but they are plentiful and served piping hot. The corn tortillas are soft, hot and delicious; the light perfume created by the nixtamalization process is the perfect compliment to the aroma of the grilled chicken. On the night my wife and I visited El Pollo Dorado, we were served three salsas: a garlicky salsa de arbol that would have turned cardboard into a gourmet meal (and have driven-off vampires for at least a two-block radius), a light guacamole laced with habanero peppers and lime juice, and a thin and deceptively spicy, habanero-spiked citrus salsa that I would buy by the tub if it were commercially available.
Like most food trucks in the area, cash is the only form of payment. Half a bird with sides was $8.95 + tax while a whole bird with sides runs $13.95 + tax. It is worth every penny… .
Panaderia el Marmol
713 W South Ave
Emporia, KS 66801
* Cash only
Looks can be deceiving–especially when it comes to restaurants. A quick glance at the gaudy purple facade, green interior and old worn booths of Panaderia El Marmol belies the goodness to be found emanating from its kitchen. This restaurant and bakery located across from the skate park on South Ave in Emporia, Kansas has a very limited menu but what it does, it does very well.
One of the highlights of this hole-in-the-wall eatery are the fresh tacos. Built upon a double layer of delicate and flavorful homemade corn tortilla and available with a variety of meats from the regular suspects of carne asada, pollo, and al pastor, to more exotic fillings like lengua and tripitas (which is excellent when cooked extra-crispy), and topped with a simple salsa of cilantro and fresh onion tossed in lime juice, these tacos are small, delicious and inexpensive.
However, these moreish delights are not the star of the show–that role is played by the pupusa. These luscious discs of masa are stuffed with a simple mixture of shredded pork and cheese and then fried on a comal until golden brown and tender. They are served piping hot with fresh radishes, lime wedges and a sublime curtido, a lightly brine-pickled mixture of cabbage and carrot tossed with tiny chunks of pickled jalapeno and moistened with the savory smokiness of the house salsa roja, a side dish that makes most coleslaw seem bland and uninspired. To describe the combination of hot pupusa and cool, tangy curtido as delicious is an understatement.
The restaurant can get busy during the lunch hour, but given that everything is prepared when you order, service is surprisingly fast and always friendly. For the price of a fast food meal you can eat a fresh and wholesome meal that is tasty and supports a great local business. Panaderia El Marmol stocks a range of paleta (Mexican ice cream treats) from Paleteria de Reynes in Wichita-the perfect foil for a hot Kansas summer day (hint: try the cantaloupe), and a variety of Mexican sodas that are natural partners for the food.
Tucked away on a quiet back road between Ludington and Pentwater on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan is Bortell’s Fisheries. This tiny but colorful family owned fish-house that has stood only yards away from Lake Michigan for over 100 years is a hidden gem.
Bortell’s specializes in fresh and smoked fish and on any given day has a variety of local fresh whitefish, walleye, lake perch, smelt, fresh and smoked trout, and smoked salmon that can be ordered to eat under the shade of the trees (there is no indoor seating) or to go.
The deep-fried whitefish was very fresh and succulent, the flaky white flesh covered in a light and savory batter. The lake perch was cooked to perfection, the breading crisp and the fish itself obviously very fresh, and the sweet and tender fried scallops bursting with juice. Unfortunately, the sides that came with the fish were not of the same standard. The coleslaw, although fresh, was too liquidy and lacking in the tang that one expects of a good home-made slaw. The fries were cooked from frozen and while tasty enough, were nothing special, especially given the freshness and quality of the fish.
Bortell’s is definitely worth the drive if you are in Northern Michigan in the summer months; just stick with the fish and forgo the sides. Also, don’t forget your cash, Bortell’s does not take plastic.