Dispatches From The Road, México: Taco Tripping
Ay, los tacos. Is there really any more perfect food? Compact, convenient, little envelopes of heaven. And, now, apparently an essential part of a well rounded diet. México, for the taco, the world is forever in your debt.
And whereas they are what hamburgers are to Americans across the country as a whole, in DF they are as part of one’s daily routine as breathing. Many famous versions were actually given birth in la gran ciudad, most famous probably being the taco al pastor.
But like freeway navigation in Los Angeles, what taqueria or stall makes the best is a contentious subject that can end up in fistfight if there are enough caguamas, passion and hunger in the equation. In the year I lived here, I sampled many and formed my own pocho opinions, but I thought it might be time to revisit some of the city’s more popular purveyors of tortillas and meat; indigestion and greasy moustache be damned.
It isn’t without some embarrassment that this was the first taquería I went to this time around, but since my friends live in the bougie bubble known as La Condesa, the consensus won and we found ourselves sitting in this palace of modern design and rib eye tacos, seated amongst a sea of pugs toy poodles. The inspiration for SF’s very own Tacolicious, it shares many traits with its spawn, those most predominantly being bien fresa and over-priced.
Don’t get me wrong, the tacos de rib-eye and chuleta are well-made and it is a safe bet for groups with veggies and vegans in the mix. They also have pretty dang sangria, but honestly, you could probably bring a bottle of Padre Kino and Squirt to another cheaper, but just as delicious option and still pay less. Average taco: 20-50 pesos.
When I lived on Michoacan in 2005 and had boozed it up all night with the Graham Green set around the corner at The Black Horse Pub, this where the shit show usually ended up, with a bunch of bleary-eyed, red-nosed foreign correspondents vainly trying the reverse the effects of litres of gin, among other things.
In reality I actually never got to set foot inside the lucha libre monickered establishment this time around, but a very-patient and lovely mesero named Daniel at la Cantina El Centenario actually ferried us over a slew of tacos and alambres when we found out their kitchen was closed and couldn’t be bothered to waddle our fat asses over to get the midnight snacks ourselves. This delight has not faded in its caliber over time. The al pastores are just as tender and pineapple-y as ever and it is definitely the best bargain you’ll get around these parts. The only downside is that whereas they’re open late, they aren’t during the day, which is a bummer. Average taco: 10 pesos.
I think I finally have gotten over a completely unjustified soft spot for this one. It was like our office when my friend and I were on our seemingly endless apartment-hunt saga and were too scared to be adventurous in the digestive department. Plus, it claims to have invented the taco al pastor, but, honestly, it’s not great.
For one, it’s a chain, and two, you’d think that a place that claims to have invented one of the greatest gifts to gastronomy would have a something amazing. Instead the al pastor is bland, mealy and disappointing. They have good chips that come with a cool salsa tray, but so does Chevy’s, so there you go. Average taco: 15 pesos.
Like many, this is one of those places that has some storied family history of tacos and father and sons and probably a sweeping soundtrack, too. It’s also another good spot if you aren’t a carnivore because they actually have super good vegan options. They have all the mainstays, but their claim to fame is their tacos de guisado, which are basically stew tacos. They give you tortilla and then you pick your fillings from a bunch of cazuelas full of such varied offerings as rajas en crema, calabacita, picadillo, tuna and sardines, etc., plus your choice of rice or beans. These things are monsters which atypical so one will do you good, which makes the prices worth it. Average taco: 15 pesos.
I finally escaped my hipper-than-thou confines and skipped over to Tacubaya, which is actually one of my favourite hoods. Maybe its cuz it’s sort of like DF’s armpit and I like armpits? I dunno, it’s cool and one should spend lots of time there, but more on that later.
El Borrego Viudo is kinda false advertisement in the sense that they don’t actually have tacos de Borrego (widowed, or otherwise), but their suadero and lengua are insane. The latter is like eating a mini pot roast and once you get past the fact that you’re putting something on your tongue that once could have licked you back, you won’t be sorry. What really seals the deal, though, is that it’s open 24 hours and has carhop service. When you are all pedo this place will seem like lighthouse in your self-induced storm. Average taco: 8 pesos.
Although, I was now more taco than man, we sallied forth to Calle Lopez in the Centro which is famous for it’s taquerías and fondas serving up everything from paella to chicken soup in the shadow of the enormous TelMex tower. Los Güeros is known for its tacos de cabeza, which I generally avoid due to my fear of mad cow disease. It’s like the ultimate bovine fuck-you- “You wanna eat my brain, human? Fine, it’s gonna eat yours!” These are sheep’s head though, and to be frank I wasn’t a fan. I obviously like putting piquant things in my mouth, but this wasn’t so much gamey as minerally and sort of flavourless apart from that. They also have so-so tacos de carne asada, but over all, the place is kinda meh, which is too bad cuz it has a cool name. Average taco: 10 pesos.
When a place actually has a giant sign outside claiming you don’t have to pay if you’re disappointed, you know that they probably are pretty confident in their product. Plus it has a constant crowd outside stuffing their faces in a dust devil of greasy napkins. They turn and burn campechanos, canastas and even hot dogs all day long.
All I have to say is that whereas 14 pesos is a little steep for these parts, the taco campechano is the best well worth the price. It’s a bomb of beef, potatoes and longaniza, which is sort of like a tangy, less greasy version of chorizo. Get it. Average taco: 10 pesos.
Generally I don’t usually stop at a place based solely on its name. I passed up a puesto in Tacubaya called Tacos “Esteban”, because it looked a little worse for the wear, which seemed appropriate. But since, my friend Tanya and are the epitome of the word, it was hard to say no to “Pocho”. Plus, like Gonzalez, it had a mega crowd outside.
Apparently founded by a fellow gabacho, its al pastor harkens a little to the ‘ol U.S. of A. in that it has a sort of barbecue sauce/ smoky thing going on which works. They also have the ominous cabeza de res as well, if you like a little danger in your taco. Average taco: 10 pesos.
I decided to wrap up my fat boy field trip with a visit to this DF institution and Tony Bourdain favourite. It’s sort of a chain and this one had a weird Friday’s vibe going on inside with a really big menu and some sort club/bar thing upstairs. Where Tizoncito fails, it succeeds though, cuz it’s taco al pastor lives up to the hype. It’s kinda unusual, with it’sorange and green sauce on top and caramelized onions, but it’s addictive and satisfying and you can eat as many as you want from the counter outside without having to commit to the franchise fun indoors. Average Taco: 13 pesos.
Around the point I was beginning to feel that euphoria they say you feel when your about to hit the wall in competitive eating, I thought it was time to stop and give my poor tattered stomach a rest, especially since it had just survived the fertile waters of the tropical coast.
Don’t let that stop you though. This list is just a sliver off the trompo of what is out there in DF. To take this gringo’s recommendations alone would be doing yourself a huge disservice in a city of over twenty million, with probably 100 taco stands to every person. True, you may need start slow in the Tizoncito ranks, but once you get your taco shoes, hit every suadero, canasta, arabe and al pastor joint you see, leaving nothing but pummeled onions and reamed limes in your wake. Love, peace and taco grease, guey.
El Califa (Various Locations)
Altata 22 (@ Alfonso Reyes)
[Hipódromo de la Condesa]
Campeche 374 (@ Ensenada)
Campeche 362 (@ Cholula)
México, D. F.
Amsterdam 173 (@Citlapetl)
El Borrego Viudo
Revolución 241 (@ Viaducto Miguel Alemán)
Calle López 93 (@ Independencia)
Vizcainas 19 (@ López)
Lazaro Cardenas/ Eje Central (@ Victoria)
[Centro Historico/ Barrio Chino]
El Huequito (Various Locations)
Ayuntamiento 21 (@ Aranda)