Nowhere in Mexico City does one feel the collective weight of the largest population in North America more than on Avenida Lazaro Cardenas, the traffic artery that gushes a surfeit of humans and cars up the heart of the city’s downtown. The gutters stink of rotting fruit. Dirt and littered garbage encrust the sidewalks. And, at rush hour, walking a block means suffering a gauntlet of elbows and hands pushing at you and past you.
For the most part, the businesses that line this street offer little comfort. Goods lie in heaps on carpets or hang two feet deep upon the walls of stores seemingly designed to be fire hazards, cramming too many people onto too little floor space. The food stalls deliver speed and convenience at the expense of quality and coziness. Perhaps the apotheosis of this urban development is the Plaza de Tecnologia, a multi-story building stuffed with electronics stores selling cameras, computers and phones. The vendors shout at you as you walk by them. It is a space replete with modernity in its hi-tech wares and its mode of consumption, which conveniently subtracts any amount of pleasure from the shopping experience.
Thankfully, right next to the Plaza de Tecnologia sits El Moro, an oasis of homey serenity and delicious sweets. The restaurant’s facade suggests an earlier, slower era, with stained glass windows depicting green fields and smog-free skies. It’s a tableau of what Mexico City once was and will never be again.
Stepping through the doorway, one is greeted by a host wearing a three-piece suit. If we’re lucky, the host on duty will be Roberto Garcia. Garcia smiles at us, opens his arms towards an unoccupied table and follows us to our seat. As we sit, he asks if our table pleases us. We look around at the antique, brightly colored tiles painted with flowers that line the walls. They’re like the ones found in well-maintained Mexican homes built in the 1930s.
If we sit in our seat incorrectly, with our butt barely holding onto the seat’s edge, Garcia comes back and taps our shoulder. “It’s like you want to leave,” he says. “You’re at home!” And then, gently pulling us up by our elbow, he slides our seat into the back of our knees. Sitting down again, this time with our butt fully supported by curved wood, we realize our chair is very comfortable. We relax. We feel almost at home. And the oppressive bustle of Lazaro Cardenas slips from our mind.
The dining room at El Moro is full of people easing themselves into their happy places. And while the dimly lit ambiance and superb service partly explain the drowsy slouch of their bodies into their seats, the food before them is clearly the key ingredient. On gleaming plates lie piles of thick, freshly fried churros. Customers delicately pick up their pastries with two fingers, twirl them in the dip, and nibble until only a sugary residue remains on their fingertips.
El Moro’s menu is short, with few options beyond the traditional churros rolled in sugar, sugar and cinnamon or nothing at all. The accompanying dips are similarly limited: chocolate, condensed milk and cajeta, also known as dulce de leche. However, when paired, these items become greater than the sum of their parts. The bold, sugar-cinnamon churro is best paired with the humble condensed milk, the milk’s dull, creamy softness draping itself upon the explosion of spice and sweet and grit bestowed by the churro. The two middle-of-the-road items, the sugar churro and the cajeta, complement each other’s moderation, with the cajeta adding a subtle burnt undertone to the more direct sweetness of the sugar. Our favorite combination is the plain churro with chocolate. The high quality of the ingredients used at El Moro is nowhere more evident than in the naked flavor of the plain churro. The crisply fried exterior gives way to a soft doughy center that satisfies without any embellishment. However, when dipped in excellent dark, thick chocolate, the formerly plain pastry casts a spell of intoxicating richness over one’s tastebuds.
Founded in 1935 by Spanish immigrant Francisco Iriarte, El Moro took its name from a churro vendor in the town square of Elizondo, Iriarte’s hometown (moro is Spanish for Arab). According to Felipe Iturbide, El Moro’s manager, loyalty to the past is key to El Moro’s continued success. “It’s no big secret how we make our churros,” Iturbide told us. “We use salt, flour, water and oil. Just like we always have.” But Iturbide’s description of the recipe belies the difficulty in keeping things simple in a megalopolis like Mexico City, where innovation perpetually offers stiff challenges and gross temptations. Most dedicated churrerias in the city offer a wide variety of toppings and fillings: cream-coated, strawberry-filled, caramel-laced, etc. But Iturbide says El Moro’s owners, the third generation of the Iriarte family, remain resolute in their commitment to honoring the past.
This explains why, in spite of its great success, El Moro took more than 75 years to open a second location. “It’s hard to retain control of quality,” he said. “So we’re expanding very slowly. We have something special here and we don’t want to lose it.”
Address: Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas 42, Centro
Telephone: +52 55 5512 0896
Hours: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
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