Archive | favorites RSS feed for this section

Tacos, Tlacoyos, and other street food of Mexico City

22 Jan

In late 2015 I took a week-long vacation to Mexico City, and spent much of that time eating tacos, tlacoyos, and other food around the city (whether in restaurants or at street stalls).

I’d done some initial reading on others’ experiences with the tacos of Mexico city (e.g. Serious Eats 2014, Thrillist 2015, The Mija Chronicles) which gave me a list to start from, and I also spent a day just biking around the city looking for street food carts and taquerias. I can’t claim any deep Mexico City or Mexican culinary expertise as a one-week tourist with very poor Spanish, but I had a great experience and jotted down a lot of notes, for future trips or friends. A year later (when feeling under the weather at home one evening) I’m finally transcribing a few.

A quick summary of my favorites:

  • El Vilsito must-east al pastor tacos (evening/night only, Avenida Universidad in Narvarte)
  • El Jarocho tacos guisados (stew) on Tapachula at Manzanillo in Roma
  • A blue corn tlacoyo pop-up street stand I found on Av. Álvaro Obregón just West of Jalapa
  • Pop-up stall La Esquina del Chilaquil (or the corner of Alfonso Reyes and Tamaulipas) selling a “chilaquiles sandwich” (time it right– a line forms before 11AM and they will sell out)
  • Tacos Gus for more unusual tacos guisados (huitlacoche, chile relleno, etc) in Condesa / Hipódromo
  • El Califa bistec tacos and nopales (afternoon/evening, Condesa / Hipódromo)

THE VERY BEST

El Vilsito (neighborhood: Narvarte)

A++, best al pastor I’ve ever had (it’s not even close), beating my distant memory of the transformative first-amazing-al-pastor in Mexico a decade ago.

IMG_4956.JPG

Such crispy-edged, delicious pork. A nice piece of pineapple. A thin red salsa that covers it with a bit of heat and keeps it moist. M$14/taco (about US$1).

El Vilsito is only open in the evenings (and open until late)– they’re located in what by day appears to be a large auto garage / repair shop. It took a taxi to get here as it was a bit out of the way, on a strip that seemed mostly dark / closed other than it, but even at 11:30pm there were about 50 people milling about, ordering tacos from the three men working the spits, and more people arriving every minute by car, bus, foot– very bustling.

IMG_4954.JPG

IMG_4962.JPG

Blue corn tlacoyo street stall (unknown name, Roma neighborhood)

I’d read a travel diary that included eating excellent made-to-order blue corn tortillas at a street stall in this area, but I couldn’t find any photos or a name or map, so I biked back and forth over a 5-block grid looking for something that matched the description.

At the intersection of Av. Álvaro Obregón and Jalapa I saw a stand that looked promising, with a woman scooping balls of blue corn masa out of a bowl into a tortilla press… (specifically, here, on Av. Álvaro Obregón just West of the intersection, in front of a sign that said “Salon Mercurio”)

IMG_4832.JPG

IMG_4823.JPGI give this a strong A grade. They were making a few different things based on blue corn including tlacoyos, but I had trouble understanding the options so pointed and got something like a quesadilla with “chicharrones” (in this case meaning pork sausage and chunks of potato) that was delicious– the toasted blue corn really stood out (the cheese was overkill– next time I’d skip it).

IMG_4828.JPG

This was a busy but social stand, with people dropping by, ordering food and eating standing up, all while laughing, chatting, making jokes with each other. A number of people bought one to eat on the spot and then another 2-4 to go for friends or coworkers.

Taqueria El Jarocho (Roma neighborhood, on Tapachula at Manzanillo)

I gave this an A+ in my taco notebook (doesn’t everyone have a ‘taco notebook’?). They primarily serve tacos guisados (filled with stews), with enough filling that they give you  a second tortilla on top of it.

IMG_4798.JPG

I got three of them for M$36 each, but they were big– I could have easily only ordered one or two. The sausage and egg taco was good, but the other two were the stars of the show.

The chuleta y papa special was amazing– hearty chunks of slightly chili-spiced pork with chunks of potato. So good.

And the Mole Verde was an A+, with chunks of tender pork starting to come apart into fibers, potatoes, and a savory green sauce (with I think tomatillos, some ground nuts or seeds, and some flavorful but not very hot chiles).

The salsas were also excellent– the red was tomato-based and not very hot, but the green was a perfect instance of a bright green, very fresh/uncooked-tasting hot salsa– I wonder if it was as simple as pureed fresh jalapenos, onions, and a little oil?

VERY GOOD

Still some of the best tacos or street food I’ve eaten.

La Esquina del Chilaquil (“the corner of chilaquiles”, Condesa / Hipódromo)

This pop-up stand (when I visited, located on the South corner of Alfonso Reyes and Tamaulipas) sells a remarkable chilaquiles sandwich.

IMG_4916.JPG

But wait, you ask, aren’t chilaquiles already tortillas fried in sauce? They put that in a roll?

Even better– it starts with a soft roll with a crusty outside. Then they line it with a chicken breast pounded very thin, breaded, fried, and folded into a U, fill that with chilaquiles (very soft, tender chips soaked in either red or green sauce), and top it with cheese.

The chicken acts as a barrier between the sauce and the roll, keeping the bread from getting soggy and making this a very portable lunch. All for M$30. I preferred the red version but both were good.

Even before they arrive and set up a stall (around 11AM?) people start lining up down the block in anticipation since it can sell out. We got there just as they were arriving and waited about 40 minutes in line.

img_4906

El Califa (neighborhood: Condesa / Hipódromo, on Alfonso Reyes)

The bistec taco I ordered wasn’t messing around– just a thin, well salted, delicious piece of steak on a tortilla. It didn’t even need any toppings.

I ordered nopales (cactus paddles) and avocado to go with it not realizing I was ordering a plate of each…

IMG_4803 (1).JPG

Tacos Gus (Condesa / Hipódromo)

Tacos Gus had a long bar of more unusual guisados (stews) for tacos, including chile relleno poblano (a chile stuffed with cheese, topped with guacamole and cheese) and huitlacoche (corn fungus) that was very savory and musky. I’ve give these both an ‘A’.

IMG_4548.JPG

GOOD

Tacos La Cazuelas (La Juárez neighborhood)

This was at the intersection of Havre and Londres, roughly here— there were two taco stands adjacent to each other,  but the one I ate at was closest to the corner with Londres.

At 4pm they were almost out of meat, so I got the chorizo, which was excellent– not too fatty, just a nice smoky red sausage.

IMG_4853.JPG

El Tizoncito Tamaulipas (neighborhood: Condesa / Hipódromo)

There are multiple El Tizincito locations within a few blocks of each other, but this specific one was recommended by our B&B host as the best of them. Looking back at my scribbled map and the geotag on some photos I took, I’m pretty sure it’s the one here, on the corner of Tamaulipas and Campeche, with a blue awning, (on the same side of the street and just 1 block west of El Kaliman).

I had a late night snack, with a good al pastor and a michelada (which came with ice, but I took the risk). Overall I’d say good tacos with a good salsa array. I spent M$120 total on dinner including the michelada.

IMG_4481.JPG

El Kaliman (neighborhood: Condesa / Hipódromo)

This is on Campeche at Ensenada, about here, with an orange awning and orange chairs. It was decent– I’d give it a B+ on the pastor (I didn’t think the beef adobado was as good). A nice casual inexpensive place for al pastor… and you can get any of their beers as a michelada.

img_4284

Another unknown-name pop-up street food stand on Av Moliere at Avenida Homero in Polanco (roughly here):

img_4678

There seemed to be a line of regulars waiting for them to set up, so we stopped and got a fried tortilla filled with pork and topped with cheese and a hot fresh green salsa. It was a decent midday snack.

NOT RECOMMENDED

El Farolito (Roma neighborhood on Alfonso Reyes)

At 2:30 pm no customers were inside, and employees were sitting idle, while a nearby taqueria was busy– this seemed like a bad sign so I skipped it.

Tacos Alvero Obrega (Roma)– I had a bad, flavorless al pastor taco and the stand felt dirty (and they weren’t wrapping everything in plastic bags the way they did at most stands).

IMG_4842.JPG

Overall, this was a great trip for tacos and street food…

Still to be posted: Mexico City Food Pt 2 (I wrote up notes a year ago but still need to dig up a few photos for it).

BBQ pork tacos with smoked salsas

1 Jan

For a small New Year’s Eve party, a meal cooked primarily in the smoker (tacos with pulled pork, homemade tortillas, and salsas made from smoked tomatillos and pineapples):

img_20161230_153839img_20161231_200607

23-hour slow-smoked pork shoulder:

  • A roughly 7lb chunk of pork shoulder (a.k.a. pork butt) from Niman Ranch
  • Dry rubbed with copious amounts of salt and mustard, smoked paprika, and black pepper and let rest in the fridge for 4-5 hours
  • Smoked very low-and-slow at 215-225F for 23 hours over lump charcoal with some fist-sized chunks of apple and pecan wood for smoke, until the internal temperature was in the 195-200 range (for overnight smokes I have a ‘baby monitor’-style wireless temperature probe I rest on the bedside so an alarm will ring and wake me up if the pit temperature gets too high or low and I can adjust the airflow or add fuel)
  • No intermediate basting, mopping, foiling, etc– just keeping it simple
  • Wrapped in foil and let rest for 45 minutes
  • It was so tender I could pull off strands by hand, and with a nice ‘bark’ and smoke ring…

img_20161231_134805It didn’t even need any sauce– I just squeezed a few limes over it.

Smoked tomatillo salsa, a puree of both smoked and raw ingredients:

  • 8 large tomatillos, smoked/roasted at about 225F for two hours
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 whole jalapeno
  • 1/4 of a large white onion
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • Salt and minced cilantro to taste

I’ve tried a few ways of using smoked tomatillos and this is the highlight for me– I’ve even frozen excess in ice cube trays to save for later:

IMG_20161217_102407.jpg

Smoked pineapple salsa:

My friend judit turned me on to how well smoking treats pineapple– the low slow cook caramelizes it, and this sweetness helps balance the woody smoke.

I started by slicing two pineapples into discs and smoking / roasting them at 225F for two hours (at the same time as the tomatillos and pork– in the initial, smokier two hours). I pureed:

  • One of the pineapples
  • 4 cloves roasted garlic
  • juice of 1 lime

And then added for texture/contrast:

  • The other pineapple, somewhat coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 of a red onion, finely chopped
  • salt to taste

The meal turned out really well, if I may say so myself.

Plus, we had a lot of tomatillo salsa and pulled pork left over the next day for breakfast…

Backyard Garden Bowl

10 Nov

From earlier this summer, a bowl mostly picked from our little urban raised-bed garden: Armenian cucumber, tomatoes, blistered Padron peppers, sliced jalapeno (along with a soft-boiled egg and some sardines).

I wish I ate like this all the time.

img_1769

“Caesar Salad” Popcorn

30 Oct

I had this once at The Dock in West Oakland as a snack– popcorn dressed with flavors similar to a Caesar salad– oil, anchovies, garlic, citrus, and parmesan. And I’ve been wanting to make something along these lines ever since.

I found a recipe shared by the chef who created it and generally followed that– utilizing coarse crushed garlic (a smoky, powerful heirloom variety grown by my father), anchovy fillets or paste, and the recipe’s tip to try a little citric acid in place of lemon juice (to get the tartness of lemon juice without making the popcorn soggy)– and it was an addictively delicious savory addition to our Halloween party spread.

I really can’t stop eating it. This will have to join the rotation for any future “movie night” we host.

IMG_3607.JPG

The recipe I follow for about a gallon of popcorn, in case the above link breaks:

Blend together in a blender / cuisinart:

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled (a flavorful heirloom garlic is ideal)
  • 4 anchovy filets and a little anchovy oil from the container
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup oil (I do either all extra-virgin olive oil or 50/50 olive oil and canola oil)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • zest of one lemon
  • a pinch of citric acid if available (or juice of half a lemon)

Then make popcorn: Heat oil over medium-high heat with a few “test kernels”, put a layer of kernels into it, cover the pot, and periodically swirl/shake especially once the kernels start to pop to prevent the ones on the bottom from burning.  When the rate of popping slows to a crawl take it off the heat, shake the pot to help the unpopped kernels fall to the bottom, then scoop out the popcorn into a bowl rather than pouring it out– again to leave any unpopped or stuck-to-the-bottom kernels in the pot.

Toss the popcorn in the above dressing, then add:

  • Minced parsley
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt to taste
  • If you want it to be more tart, some lemon juice (beware of sogginess)

 

Buenos Aires lunch “You Eat What I Cook”: Don Carlos

12 Mar

Looking back on our Buenos Aires trip a year ago (a few days after La Huella), the most memorable lunch was at Don Carlos.

After catching a cab across the city, we walked in to what felt like a casual family neighborhood cafe, empty except for two tables of older gentlemen chatting over food.

The grey-haired owner strode over to our table and brusquely said in English “You Eat What I Cook?”

It was half question, half order. We nodded, and without ordering over the next hour or so he and family members brought out dish after dish– excellent meatballs, a caprese-like salad, shrimp, steaks, pork chops, empanadas, bread, and for dessert dishes by his wife, including a flan that made me a believer.

IMG_20141114_135837652_HDR IMG_20141114_141309083_HDR IMG_20141114_143803596_HDR IMG_20141114_144625773 IMG_20141114_144640091_HDR

It was a hearty, cheerful lunch to sit and talk with friends over while passing plates around. And at the end of the meal he insisted on showing us the guest book of past visitors (including Francis Ford Coppola) and we took a photo with Don Carlito himself. Thank you for a great afternoon!

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 11.28.59 PM

Homebrew #29: Yarrow Farmhouse Ale

17 Aug

The result:

IMG_2855

Before hops became a key component of beer around the 14th century, beers were brewed with a range of herbs serving the roles of bittering agents and source of antibacterial / preservative compounds (a broad style, “gruit”, which has been enjoying a very minor revival).

Inspired by a chapter in The Brewer’s Tale, I picked up Stephen Buhner’s book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, which touches on brewing with herbs of various potencies and effects, which in turn inspired me to look for bitter herbs growing wild along local trails (such as mugwort and yarrow pointed out by H). Time to brew a few very small batches with individual local herbs in lieu of hops (whether or not the result was a pleasant beer– I’d be happy with “interesting”…)

IMG_0360

First up was a rustic all-grain light table beer (a mix of pilsner (barley) malt, wheat, and rye, with a target OG of 1.040 for a roughly 4% ABV beer) made with yarrow picked on a hike in the coastal hills North of Santa Cruz:

IMG_0549

IMG_0361

Drying and then weighing yarrow flowers for dose:

IMG_0903

I tried using them like hops– with 0.3 oz / gallon 60 minutes for bitterness, plus a similar amount for “dry yarrowing” (e.g. thrown in the primary fermenter after cooling for more flavor/aroma than bitterness).

IMG_0926

The wort going into fermentation wasn’t terrible– a bit tart/herbal from the yarrow, a nice smell — this might not be a total disaster.

About 6 weeks later, after fermenting, cold crashing, bottle-conditioning, and the obligatory label-making (see above), I poured a small glass of the dark straw-colored, very effervescent beer, with a very distinctive woody, spicy smell (like sage? really, something of its own) and a complex herbal, slightly bitter, tart taste– almost like a pile of dry leaves and lemon peel. Fascinating! More than that– I’d even say I like this beer and wouldn’t be disappointed to pay for it. That’s an unexpected success– too bad I only brewed about 9 bottles of it.

 

Remarkable Dinner at the Willows Inn (Lummi Island, WA)

19 Jul

Since reading about Blaine Wetzel at The Willows Inn a few years ago (a good article, from earlier in its existence before he’d won the James Beard award), I’ve always wanted to eat there, but getting to a restaurant on a small island a three hour drive and ferry ride north of Seattle was always logistically tricky.

Last week I finally made it happen… and it’s up there in my list of memorable meals and dining experiences. A dinner of 15+ small courses, each based around a few incredibly fresh ingredients, almost all caught, foraged, or grown on the island and prepared with care. I’ve never tasted squid so tender and tart (raw, fresh from the ocean, with oil and bright, intense flowers picked off herbs), such smooth and buttery cabbage and razor clams almost the same texture, squash blossoms so delicate (with a grassy green sauce from the stems), or anything like some of the drink pairings (an earthy mushroom-infused vermouth, a fermented rhubarb juice).

And eating those and more while the sun set across the ocean, highlighting green in the water and the shadows of the San Juan islands, with the hint of smoke from the outdoor grill, the sound of the waves, a large eagle flying by like that’s nothing unusual, and a great dining companion… these too made a difference.

A few photos (click to enlarge):

WillowsDinner1

IMG_1310

IMG_1222

IMG_1275

IMG_1276

IMG_1287

After many courses, a break for some soothing, relaxing tea made from birch branches:

IMG_1291

The breakfast the next morning was also remarkable– with a toothy, coarse porridge of various whole grains, a salmon cured in fennel, brown butter brioche, even cheese from a “dairy with a mere 9 goats” on a nearby island:

IMG_1617

And in a weekend on the island arranged around this dinner, there were hints of the source everywhere, from the dense, biointensive garden grown just for the restaurant nearby (talking to the farmer, she meets with the chefs every fall to plan out what plants, leaves, fruit, roots, and flowers they want to cook with the next year), to the restaurant pantry packed with dried, preserved, and fermented ingredients from across the island (cured venison heart, smoked egg yolk, bundles of birch branches, fermenting garlic, berry syrups), to seeing several of the chefs walking that corner of the island before dinner the next day (whether scooping up buckets of water from the ocean to lug uphill or picking flowers and leaves and tucking them away in an array of little plastic bins to bring back to the kitchen)…

IMG_1317

IMG_1372 (1)

IMG_1237

…to even the breadth of berry foraging available when we took a walk in the woods– picking up thimbleberries, blackberries and relatives, huckleberries, salmonberries, and salal berries for dessert in our apartment the next night:

berries