Alfredo Delatorre is a lifer. He’s been working in Las Vegas restaurants, casinos and bars for almost 35 years, ever since he moved here from El Paso, Texas, as a teenager.
“My first gig was at the Olive Garden on Flamingo washing dishes, and then as a prep cook at Ricardo’s on Eastern,” he says. “I live and breathe this. I love everything about it. I knew on my first day at Olive Garden; I looked around and saw the arguments, the bartender trying to hook up with the server, two line cooks fighting in the back, and I thought, this is like my backyard. This is like my family. This is perfect. I knew right then this is what I wanted to do, and I never went away from that.”
Delatorre worked as a prep cook at the Mirage—where his mother was a banquet cook for decades—for 13 years before sliding over to the front desk. He then worked various jobs at new resorts as they opened: Treasure Island, Bellagio, Wynn, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, JW Marriott in Summerlin.
He left casinos to become a bartender and then general manager at neighborhood taverns, returned to the Strip to open Bobby Flay’s burger joint, then partnered with chef friends to open the popular King’s Landing in Zion, Utah. “I’d get there at 8 a.m., work in the kitchen all morning to get ready for service at 5 p.m., work until 9 or 10 and then drive two and a half hours back home. I loved it,” he says.
Delatorre changed course again recently after losing a cousin to cancer. He made a rare return to El Paso, and the journey changed the way he perceived the Mexican food he grew up cooking and eating. He also returned to a favorite gordita spot from his childhood, where he found inspiration.
“You know how sometimes you eat something and it just brings you back? Those gorditas were still so good, so simple,” he says. “And then my friends and family were doing dinners for my cousin, and there was all this [unhealthy] food with lard and stuff, and I thought, why are we eating this? You can make changes without compromising the integrity of the dish, but there’s that idea that you don’t change grandma’s recipes.”
After he returned to Las Vegas, Delatorre knew he wanted to cook his family’s food again, but this time he would focus on ingredients and flavors to create healthier versions of traditional dishes. That’s the idea behind his new fast-casual eatery, Gabi’s Gorditas, which opened recently on Blue Diamond Road.
These crisp, fluffy masa pockets filled with different meats, veggies, beans, salsas and garnishes—nothing like the Taco Bell gordita you drunkenly demolished in the drive-thru—are the main attraction, but the menu isn’t limited to Mexican ingredients.
“My restaurant is not Mexican, but it is traditional,” Delatorre says. “I use ingredients from all of Latin America, like tostones [caramelized plantains]. I put tuna poke on the menu, because I know a lot of Hawaiian chefs and I’m eating at their houses all the time.”
The picadillo gordita ($4.50), an update of his mom’s recipe with a blend of beef and pork plus Peruvian purple potato, is topped with pickled cabbage and sweet peppers and Argentine chimichurri sauce. Others are stuffed with pork chile Colorado ($4.50), brined chicken and avocado salsa ($4.75), crispy chicharron ($4.50) or charro beans ($4.75), a blend of Peruvian and Southern-style beans made with ham hocks and longaniza sausage.
Along with poke ($5.50) and nopales ($4)—a salad of tender cactus, pickled corn, oven-dried tomato, jicama and avocado—side dishes include those tostones ($2) and a cup of elote-style corn ($3). For something sweet, there’s house-made fruit roll-ups ($2) and the addictive Purple Haze ($4), a beverage of ube, almond and coconut milks and pickled berries.
Gabi’s Gorditas might be a small place with a small menu, but there’s a lot of passion and care incorporated into every bite, starting with the handmade tortillas that become gorditas. “We’re testing all the time, because that’s your vessel, that’s the main thing,” Delatorre says.
GABI’S GORDITAS 5095 Blue Diamond Road #110, 702-268-7466. Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
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