Gilroy’s exotic Oaxacan market and restaurant serves rare specialties


Oaxaca is thought to be the gourmet food capital of Mexico, with dishes that mix food from the native tribes surrounding one of the country’s southernmost states with colonial Spanish-style cooking.
The thing that made Oaxaca (pronounced) unique for centuries was that the food was cooked by women in an industry otherwise dominated by male chefs. It is also known for its use of chocolate in sauces, called mole (pronounced mole-a).
Karina and Francisco Andrade have owned El Charrito Restaurant and Market at 7638 Monterey St. for a decade and have carried on that tradition, with recipes supplied by a former cook, a Oaxacan woman. Their current chef, Teresa Perez, maintains the tradition.
The market has been in GIlroy for 75 years under two other owners, before being bought by Andrade, a former truck driver, in 2007.
Last year, they added a restaurant to the popular market with some very rare southern dishes.
One of them is cesina, a thinly sliced, salted, partially dried sheets or strips of beef or pork made by the Mexican equivalent of sushi chefs, because it requires great skill and patience and an extremely sharp knife. an extremely sharp knife and considerable skill and patience. A largish piece of boneless beef of beef is turned into a continuous roll of thin slices by deft cutting, back and forth.
Another specialty is called chapulinas, or in English, toasted grasshoppers, seasoned hot and spicy. Vendors walk the streets of Oaxaca selling them by the cup or quart, like potato chips with more protein. That’s one of the more exotic items on a menu of 30 specialties, some common to other Mexican restaurants, some not.
They are at the cash register at El Charrito in a big box. Oaxacan expatriots stop by to munch them daily.
Then there is the mole, which is to Oaxaca what pesto is to Italy and curry to India. On Fridays people walk through the city’s center mole tasting, sampling various moles at dozens of shops and restaurants. Whether skewing sweet or spicy, every owner says theirs is the best. El Charrito has three types, sweet, hot and one they call authentic Oaxacan.
They also serve Oaxacan cheese, a white, mozzarella-like semi-hard cheese with a flavor that people drive miles to taste and squash blossom flour quesadillas  and Huitlacoche style quesadillas that are hand-made flour quesadillas, deep fried, prepared with any meat or plain with cheese. Not many restaurants in Gilroy sell Huitlacoche style quesadillas.
Tlayudas’ is another unique food on their menu, which is a oaxacan, handmade dish, similar to a giant tostada, but is a giant toasted homemade tortilla with the same ingredients to a tostada, beans, chicken, lettuce, salsa.
Everyday there is a new food special like Mojarras a $9.99 plate consisting of a whole fish that is battered in flour, salt, and pepper and fried. It’s served with rice and a side of salad.
“It was like an adventure, this business was offered to us,” said Karina, who used to own a downtown party store.
The restaurant has a small cart outside with a sign announcing specials.
The Andrades had made El Charrito with their own taste by adding organic groceries and a variety of imported goods such as Oaxacan chocolate. The restaurant has a display of art including paintings by Diego Rivera. Karina Andrade a big fan of his artwork, which adds a touch of home for people from the south and a touch of culture for Americans seeking authenticity.
They make their own tortillas and have a free delivery service is offered for orders of $50 or more.
They are busiest on weekends.
 “There is a lot of competition here in Gilroy of markets and food,” said Karina. “There’s not much authentic Mexican food. There’s Tex-Mex like Chevy’s.”
On Yelp, Cori W from Livermore, CA gave it a five star review.
 “We stopped in randomly after seeing the tamales sign from the road. If I could give this place ten stars I would!!!! I got pork tamales and jalapeño with cheese tamales and they were both out of this world. The salsa that was given to put on the tamales was perfectly seasoned and spiced. The market was very clean and stocked full of homemade treats. Three different women helped us and they were all  very friendly and welcoming. I wish we lived closer so we could make this a regular stop.”