Mexican holiday celebrates treasured memories
Food carts, trucks, trailers, wagons, boats, blimps … you name it - they’re all the latest craze to hit the restaurant industry. If it moves and they can cram a stove and cash register into it, people will line up outside to throw money inside.
But long before there were Food Networks and Cooking Channels to beam these magnificent munch mobiles into our living rooms, Aquiles Demerutis was hawking his unique style of fish tacos from a humble cart in the streets of his hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico. At first glance, you’d swear that a younger Alan Arkin had opened a taco shop, El Dorado, next to a UPS store on Route 24. But Aquiles’ welcoming smile and quick sense of humor are all his own.
Before he came to Rehoboth Beach, he worked kitchens all the way from Vancouver, B.C., to Baja, Calif., to the Yucatan Peninsula. If you noticed that his last name doesn’t have much of a Mexican ring to it, you’d be right: His dad is Greek, and his mom is Mexican. Aquiles proudly describes himself as “Greexican.”
Of course, any restaurateur can smile and be friendly (too bad all of them don’t), but can he walk the talk? My experience so far indicates that he certainly can. The specialty of the house is, of course, the fish taco. In fact, the restaurant is named after it (dorado means mahi-mahi or dolphin fish). Snow-white morsels are ever-so-lightly beer battered and fried, then cradled among thin strips of cool cabbage and folded into a warm tortilla.
The rest is up to you. The fixins’ bar overflows with mild pico de gallo (like salsa, but not as saucy), pureed and spiced avocado, a sweet/hot tomatillo salsa, and a challenging mix of marinated onions, carrots and habanero peppers. That one will knock your socks (or your flip-flops) off.
The first time I ventured into the tiny storefront, I perused the surfboard suspended above the counter (it doubles as a menu) and decided to stick with my old standby – a chicken burrito. As I began to order, Aquiles set down his pen, folded his arms, and said (with a particularly Arkin-like scowl), “Sir, you can get a chicken burrito at Applebee’s. Boring! Why not try my specialty!?” Nothing if not obedient, I complied. And I’m glad I did.
Demerutis loves to integrate his mom’s Mexican culture into the restaurant. In fact, Wednesday, Nov. 2, he’s pulling out all the stops to celebrate the Mexican national holiday of Dia de los Muertos, when family and friends gather together to remember their dearly departed. Aquiles tells me that it has nothing to do with Halloween, and actually focuses on the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 1-2).
On that Wednesday night, the restaurant will be arranged around a ceremonial altar that pays tribute to the memory of the deceased. Traditional “ofrendas” (offerings) include the favorite foods of the departed, Mexican marigolds (their intense orange hue is thought to attract the souls of loved ones), trinkets for departed children, and bottles of tequila and mescal. In Mexico, the festivities often extend to caring for and decorating the actual graves of family and friends.
Cemetery visits will not be part of the program at El Dorado, but Aquiles is cooking up a feast of non-menu items, all of which have special holiday meaning. Made-from-scratch dishes will include shrimp tequila flambé, fried sweet potatoes dusted with sugar and cinnamon, pumpkin candied with molasses, and smoky hot chipotle peanuts. There will be a single reserved seating around 6 p.m. that evening.
So if Halloween night fades into morning and you still haven’t had your fill of the mysterious and otherworldly, add another holiday to your calendar by joining Demerutis and his staff in celebration of Dia de los Muertos. Interested? Give him a call at 302-645-1596.