Outside El Paso, far from the interstate, and several blocks off the main road that runs through the village of Canutillo, is the Little Diner. Here are the finest flautas and gorditas in West Texas.
Flautas, which means flutes, are tightly rolled, crisp-fried tortillas packed with either seasoned chicken or beef. The chicken is moist and savory, the beef is brisket, cooked until falling-apart tender. About the size of a hefty asparagus stalk, a Little Diner flauta is perfect finger fare: pick it up and crunch away; juices from inside will dribble down your chin.
Gorditas are sandwich pockets made of cornmeal, griddle-cooked then stuffed. They have an earthy corn taste and moist insides with just a hint of flaky crispness all around their skin. Many cafes in this region serve them, but Little Diner’s gorditas are notable for their refined texture and gay orange hue. Inside is ground beef, along with melted cheese, lettuce, and tomato. To spice it up, the restaurant offers dark red, chunky sauce with a Tex-Mex wallop.
Curious about the punch of the table salsa, we visited the kitchen, where two ladies sat at a dinette table hand-shredding cooked brisket for the flautas. Here we found Lourdes Pearson, who bought the Little Diner from her mother, Irene Gallegos, in the early 1990s. Lourdes grew up in the business, and with casual expertise she explained that Sandia peppers were the secret of the sauce. “They have the most heat, so we wouldn’t stuff them for chilies rellenos,” she said. “For rellenos, mild Big Jim peppers are best. We try not to serve anything too terribly hot at the Little Diner. Late in the summer, though, the salsa can get pretty powerful. That is when we get our chilies straight from the Mesilla Valley.”
Lourdes said she buys her chilies from La Union, New Mexico, each autumn during the chili harvest. “I buy as much as I can,” she said. “We roast, peel and stuff them, then freeze them. That will last us through December and January. Then we buy chilies from Mexico.”