In Northern California where most people are living their day-to-day wearing masks to avoid smoke inhalation a taquero originally from Guamuchil, Sinaloa is providing a much needed respite with tacos, burritos, tamales, and human kindness.
Jose Uriarte closes his popular brick and mortar taqueria Gordo Burrito up in Chico 100 miles north of Sacramento every Sunday to rest and as he puts it, “Be with God.” But this past Sunday, the Sinaloa expat put in work, driving his second location a taco truck through a thick fog of smoke to the parking lot of an old Elks Lodge where hundreds of displaced Californians have taken refuge from the deadly Camp Fire.
“It’s so … big,” Uriarte said in Spanish Wednesday, taking a long pause to explain the devastation. The smoke is so bad, it blocks the sun and makes it cold and surreal, Uriarte told L.A. Taco in a phone interview.
“It’s heartbreaking, but I just want to do what I can to help anyone that needs it, right now.” On Sunday, he donated 300 meals at the Chico Elks Lodge refuge. And everyday he is giving away food to others in the community who are helping in the state’s deadliest fire: firemen, EMTs, police, social workers, and displaced people in need of a warm meal.
Uriarte said there are camps similar to the Elks Lodge all over the region in Walmart parking lots, at the local fairgrounds, anywhere you can fit portions of the roughly 52,000 people evacuated from their homes because of the Camp Fire.
“I’m just a small business owner but I see people and I’m like, ‘Here’s 10 or 15 burritos.’ It’s the least I can do,” Uriarte said.
He was also generous with his time, talking to L.A. Taco in the middle of the lunch rush, where he was taking orders from patrons all either wearing masks or with masks hanging around their necks. “It’s hard to really explain the reality of the situation.”
The scene he described is in stark contrast to the usual scene described in this review of his award-winning restaurant:
Gordo has the best vibe among my winners. When the owner, Jose Uriarte, isn’t there, it’s a pleasant, friendly spot. When he is, it’s a party. Uriarte is having fun and wants you to join in. He keeps the conversation as Spanish as you can handle, so you know you aren’t at Chipotle. Gordo’s art is unforgettable, both the Aztecan murals and the logo (a campesino pulling a wagon swamped by an enormous burrito), which you can score on a T-shirt.
Uriarte told L.A. Taco that his specialty like any eatery with Guamuchil roots is mariscos or seafood. The vendor is from a tiny town just outside Guamuchil called Mocorito. Guamuchil is tucked between a lake and the Pacific Ocean, about 100 clicks north of the Mexican state’s capital Culiacan.
It’s also 1,500 miles south of the Chico Elks Lodge, where Uriarte and his staff fed a diverse collection of his fellow Californians after the deadliest fire in our history.