"He must be really desperate... he's reviewing markets."
I am... and then again I'm not.
It's a market, true -- and they sell fantastic cuts of beef, very, very good alfajores and every South American victual you could possibly need (including frozen purees of Brazilian rainforest fruit from acerola to cacao fruit) -- but the reason to go there is for the sandwich counter, which is adjacent to (and accessible from) the main store.
What is it about store sandwich counters in SoCal? I mean, the killer meatball sandwich in Anaheim comes from Niberino's in the His-Nibs liquor store... the liquor store at Victory and Alameda in Burbank sells fantastic fish and chips...
El Gaucho, then, as its name suggests, serves Argentine (and Uruguayan) sandwiches. The choripán is a delicious chorizo sausage, cut in half ("en mariposa") on a crusty roll. You're meant to dollop some of their delicious chimichurri (in bowls at the register, or ask for a to-go tub if you're not eating inside) on the sandwich. The huge Italian influence in Argentina is evident in the prosciutto sandwich, which can be hard to eat (prosciutto is not exactly a meat that lends itself to neat bites) but is delicious. The matambre is a culinary invention of beef rolled around filling (egg and vegetable), then sliced onto -- you got it -- a crusty roll. Milanesa is a very good rendition of breaded and fried beef, like a meatier schnitzel, on (wait for it) a crusty roll.
In the cooler just over the "border" into the store, next to the (very good) alfajores, you will find sandwiches de miga, which are double-layered, crustless meat sandwiches traditionally served as a snack.
The apotheosis, however, of the Argentine sandwich is the "sandwich de entraña", or skirt-steak sandwich, and it's what I've had two-thirds of the times I've been. Grilled skirt steak with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on another of those addictive rolls. While it's not a neat sandwich to eat, it IS the best sandwich on the menu and the smell will drive you insane. The mayo is important -- the juice from the beef melds with it and turns into this gravy that spreads all throughout the bread, so that when (and this will happen) you accidentally bite off a huge piece of entraña, leaving part of the bread "unmeated", you will still want to finish the bread. I'd say I could eat four at a sitting but this is not some fussy retiring tea sandwich -- this is a MAN sandwich and one is plenty.
El Gaucho also offers empanadas of beef, chicken or spinach. The chicken are particularly good, though I have opted more often for the spinach so that some vegetables may enter my meal. (There are no salads on the menu, so this or a vegetarian sandwich are your two options for plant matter.) The casing is crisp around the edges and surprisingly tender away from the edges. These are better empanadas than the much-vaunted Empanada's Place in West LA and Costa Mesa, and cheaper.
Service varies. One of the guys is very gruff and it can be off-putting, but you're not there for services, you're there for a damn good sandwich and bragging rights to your coworkers. Another of the guys is very open and a total sports nut.
Decor is nil. There will usually be some South Americans sitting at the few (four or five) small tables, watching sports (usually soccer, though one of the guys is an ardent Lakers fan) on one of the three (yes, three) huge televisions mounted on the north wall. Eat, talk, watch TV, leave.
Note that they normally close at 7 PM. I have snuck in just under the wire and been served without complaint, but this is not a place you're going after a day at Disneyland.
Value is, of course, excellent. All sandwiches are either $4.99 or $5.99; empanadas are $1.75 each (I think). While the sandwiches are not the jaw-dropping cheap price of their Vietnamese cousins the banh mi, they are large and well worth it. Go in, and find a little piece of Argentina right in an anonymous looking market on State College, 3/4 mile north of Ball Road. You'll find yourself craving it after a couple of visits. And stop by the meat counter -- after all, one of the aphorisms of the restaurant industry is that a great steak isn't cooked, it's bought -- and you can buy the entraña right there.
El Gaucho Meat Market #2
847 S State College Blvd, Anaheim, CA
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