Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An adventure authentico at Del Campo a la Ciudad

Posted By on Wed, Oct 10, 2012 at 9:53 AM

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If searching for authentic and exceptional Mexican food, most Little Rock residents know you need only explore the south side of our fine capital city. Perhaps this region feels a greater pull towards our North American neighbors due to its more southerly latitude, but there is no question lower Little Rock houses one of the highest concentrations of fine ethnic food in Arkansas. In certain areas, at certain intersections, it’s almost as if you need only close your eyes and point in some random direction and you’ll be facing a respectable Mexican dining option.

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I’ve often driven down S. University Ave. with eyes peeled, scoping out the fabulous-looking dining options that stud this street like a golden picket fence. One such location is Del Campo a la Ciudad, which I believe, (based on my poor recollection of high school Spanish) either translates to “a camp in the city” or “a decent place to get taco-drunk.”

Del Campo proffers a rather sizeable menu, indeed, it can be a bit overwhelming and anxiety-producing to the chronically indecisive patron. The options are extensive, including everything from tacos and burritos to the somewhat less common huaraches (an oblong fried masa dish), sopes, tostadas, and tortas…the kind of things you’d expect from a place genuinely attempting to appeal to the Latino population. Meats and fillings of nearly every variety may be included in the vessel of your choice: chorizo, carne asada, pollo, al pastor, and barbacoa. More adventurous eaters will find pleasure in items not likely to be found on any Taco Bell value menu- chicharrones, papas (a Mexican diced potato dish), buche (pork stomach), lengua, tripe (cow’s stomach), and cactus.

My meal started with the great equalizer of all Mexican establishments, tacos. The corn tortillas are pressed slightly thicker than the average supermarket option, giving them a somewhat cakey, chewy texture. Where most street tacos achieve this mouthfeel by wrapping their tacos in a double layer of tortillas, Del Campo does it with a single, thicker variety. While their flavor was full of earthy, toasted ground corn, they would have benefited from a bit more seasoning, a light touch of oil, even a touch more salt. Nonetheless, they were sufficient to support their innards, the contents that truly helped these tacos shine. My choice of fillings included a few personal favorites: pastor, chorizo, and asada. A chorizo taco rarely disappoints. Spicy, porky, and greasy…what’s not to love? It’s a relatively forgiving sausage to prepare, its soft texture and inherent richness and spice give it such a distinct flavor, most restaurants can pull off a fairly decent version with minimal effort. Their al pastor, similarly, finds itself on the more bold side of the flavor fence. Marinated chunks of pork, stained a bright reddish-orange from a nearly excessive amount of seasoning, are tossed around in white onion and given a quick sear on the flattop. The resultant pork is gently charred and crisp in spots, while most remains juicy and tender. Lastly, the asada left me wishing I has opted for another filling. The strips of beef were not terrible, but they were a bit dry, bland and stale.

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While I was fully expecting to be excessively stuffed with the amount of food soon to be consumed, I simply could not pass up the delicious looking enchilada plate. Here Del Campo takes their thick flour tortillas and stuffs them with shredded chicken, beans, and Oaxacan cheese. These are then doused in a spicy red enchilada sauce, teeming with chili pepper and tomato, and fried up on the burning flattop. The outer edges of the enchiladas become crispy, almost to the point of burnt, before they are yanked from the heat and thrown on a plate with a side of lettuce, chopped tomato, and avocado. I am a true sucker for Oaxacan white cheese, that mild, creamy, stringy-soft cheese that slowly melts across the surface of many authentic Mexican dishes…I was pleased by its inclusion in these enchiladas. However, I feel this dish could have benefited from a bit more red sauce, perhaps a light spoonful over the top to finish things off, as the cooking process seemed to dry it out a bit too much. Still, these enchiladas were a pleasantly played riff on a beloved Mexican staple, one I would be happy to eat again.

Del Campo a la Ciudad has a menu large enough to keep any authentic Mexican food enthusiast exploring its dishes for weeks. Their taqueria, in fact, makes up only a small part of their store. You’ll also find a good selection of popular Latino groceries, Mexican fruits, a wholesale meat counter, and bakery. It’s worth pulling over if, like me, you’ve passed by often, curious about what possible treasures lay within.

Del Campo a la Ciudad
6500 S. University Ave.
Little Rock
(501) 562-1281

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