FYI, “El Gato” means “The Cat” in Spanish.
When it comes to the great northern hipster cities of America you think of Portland Oregon or Seattle Washington, but when you think of great northern hipster cities with lake monsters, you can only think Burlington Vermont. And much like the legendary beast of Lake Champlain, the city is also home to legendary Mexican restaurants, or barring that at least Mexican restaurants, such as El Gato Cantina. Guess which restaurant’s nachos are getting reviewed here?
Less than a one block stroll from what is probably a historic downtown (since EVERYTHING in New England is historic when it comes to the timeline of America) El Gato Cantina sits much like the proverbial cat for which it is named. Once a year I venture north to The City By The Lake (or whatever the tourism board calls Burlington) and always try and sample the local flavor. By local flavor of course I mean Mexican food in one of their restaurants, and this year the flavor that catcalled (see what I did there?) my stomach was El Gato.
If I had wanted to wait an hour I could have gotten a table outside where tables took up 95% of the sidewalk in front of the place, but when the siren call of nachos is in your ears, you’ve got to take what you can get, in this case a table inside. It was the nice faux-traditional Mexican interior that you come to expect in Mexican places, but what was nicer was their sign for homemade infused tequila, especially jalapeno tequila. If only there was a Tequilanomics, which there isn’t, so back to the nachos.
What wasn't so nice was their nacho options. They had “Nachos”, which were your Anayan standard chip, cheese, jalapeno version for $7, or the “Nachos Grande” edition for $13. Since I like my nachos like I like my Rio, Grande, I ordered the larger version, and since $13 for nachos ($10 being the prime reasonable price for an order) is more than a reasonable nacho price, hoped for a beast of plate to soon appear before me, filling me for meals to come. It didn’t.
While the chips and salsa were tasty and my habanero and jalapeno infused tequila margarita was hella delicious, I was unamused when a regular sized plate of nachos appeared in front of me, in a less than timely manner I will also add. Now when you pay more than $10 for nachos you expect to either get a giant serving or some really special artisan food. This was not a giant serving , and sadly neither was it an artisanal masterpiece.
Two things held it back, the lettuce and the shredded beef. Lettuce is of course the most contested of all nacho toppings, sometimes adding to the overall flavor, sometimes just getting in the way, and it this case it seemed to be just a colorful addition, nothing more. The shredded beef was dry, reducing it to a stringy mess on top of my otherwise delicious meal. I’m not going to lie, everything under the lettuce and beef was delicious. The chips were great, cheese one of the tastiest I’ve ever had, fresh jalapenos just right, great beans, and absolutely no oily mess on the bottom of the plate, but their light was hidden under a bushel, a bushel of lettuce and stringy meat.
Looking back I think the better option would have been if I had just gotten the Anayan standard “Nachos” version and it would have been quite a treat, but El Gato tried to fly too close to the sun on wings of chips and cheese with the “Grande” and came up lacking. My advice, go to El Gato, get as many delicious margaritas as you can drink, but just stick to the regular version. You’ll save yourself $6 over the “Grande”, which you could always use to buy another regular nachos.