On his first night as a Wabash College study-abroad student in Spain, Levi Kinney took a seat at his host mom’s table inside a tiny upstairs apartment in Segovia. “She lifts the top off of a plate, and it’s this steaming serving of paella—real Spanish paella,” Kinney recalls. “So I sat there and ate a meal in Spain, looking out at the wall of a fortress that has been around for 400 years, and I was just blown away. Are you kidding me? A kid from a trailer park west of Detroit is in Spain all of a sudden?” That was a life-changing meal for Kinney, who also traveled throughout Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina while playing high school rugby. It’s no wonder he developed a taste for the cuisine that led to September’s debut of his Fishers Test Kitchen walk-up, Gordito’s Rust Belt Tacos & Tortas.
Alongside longtime co-worker Scott Bebee, Kinney (who has worked a series of restaurant jobs, including briefly co-owning SoBro watering hole Moe & Johnny’s and serving as operations director at One Trick Pony) has perfected a Midwest–Mexican hybrid menu that focuses on “juicy” tacos tucked into cheesy tortillas and adobo-buttered tortas, both served with a side of consommé for dunking. It’s a beautiful marriage of two of Kinney’s favorite food groups: French dip sandwiches and Mexican birria tacos. “What we aren’t, though, is a traditional Mexican taqueria,” he says. For starters, instead of the conventional long-stewed goat, he uses hickory-smoked brisket that has been rubbed with black pepper and coffee and beer-braised in the house adobo for 12 hours. He ends up with “kind of a mix of Texas barbecue and a really good Midwestern pot roast.” The final stroke of genius is a full plunge into a dish of rich, oniony au jus that is so delicious that Kinney doesn’t judge those customers he sees sipping the broth straight up.
“In fact,” he says, “sometimes I’ll just have a little cup of it for breakfast.”