Tag Archives: tacos

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.

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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.

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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”)

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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).

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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):

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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:

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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…

Making Carnitas Tacos

21 Jul

For 4th of July this year, carnitas tacos:

Starting the afternoon before with an 8-pound bone-in pork shoulder (and some pork belly for good measure):

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Packed together to tightly fill a dutch oven, with onions, garlic, fennel, cilantro, and sliced oranges, then added just enough milk to fill in the cracks for braising (after wedging strips of pork belly in every open crevice to keep this tightly enough packed to render out the copious amounts of pork fat and allow the pork to almost confit, inspired by this Serious Eats carnitas article):

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After braising, covered, in the oven at 275 for about six hours (flipping the shoulder about once an hour):

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The next day, after trimming off the largest chunks of fat, shredding the pork, spreading it in a thin layer over a baking sheet, salting it, and putting it under the broiler for about 5 minutes on each side it crisped up nicely. Carnitas!

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If I’m going to go to all that effort on the pork, I have to make tortillas (probably 60 or 70 of them):

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Part of a bountiful back yard party spread:

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Smoking Brisket (on a small charcoal grill)

9 May

Two Hour Tacos? Why not Ten Hour Tacos, with a slow-smoked brisket, hand made tortillas, pickles, and a creamy BBQ sauce?

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We threw a dinner party inspired by a weekend trip to Far West Texas, and this is the story of the brisket.

I’d never actually smoked meat before, though I knew the general principle of indirect heat / “slow and low”. It became clear it wouldn’t just be a “set and forget it for 8 hours” process, and that there was a whole range of intuition, tweaking of the fire, and experience needed to get a good smoke. Well, there’s no real way to learn but by doing… so after browsing various online forums and getting pointed at this Saveur article, I had a general plan.

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I’d use a charcoal grill with the coals on one side and a pan of water on the other, a whole 5lb brisket with the fat still on, with lid vents above the meat to draw smoke across it, while adjusting temperature primarily with the bottom vents to try to keep the smoker between 200 and 250F. Since I didn’t have good intuition (or experience with the grill I was going to be using), I splurged on a dual probe wireless thermometer where I could leave one probe in the brisket itself and another in the air within the grill/smoker, to let me know when the temperature was getting too high or low:

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I also spent a few evenings before the weekend  getting sucked into web sites discussing the pros and cons of different styles and types of wood (for example: “Amazing Ribs: The Zen of Wood“) and even the Wikipedia page on charcoal itself. I settled on a common approach of using charcoal for the steady heat (since the porosity and composition of charcoal makes it much easier to adjust burn temperature by modulating airflow, compared to wood which would burn hot and fast), combined with a handful of wood chunks to produce the smoke (not chips which would require too frequent replenishment over what I expected to be an all-day affair). For the wood I chose a mix of mesquite for traditional flavor, cut a bit with milder hickory and sweeter applewood as there seems to be active debate whether an all-mesquite-wood smoke imparts too much bitterness over a long slow smoke like a brisket.

Many hardware stores only carried charcoal and wood chips, but I found chunks of mesquite at the Cole Hardware on Mission St, and the OSH in Berkeley had an impressive entire aisle of wood chunks and chips of various types. For future smokes– I also read about BBQ Galore in San Rafael and Lazarri’s in Bayview (SF), though Lazarri’s is only open weekdays and I didn’t have time to make it over.

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The night before the smoke, I made a dry rub for the brisket (I considered keeping it salt-and-pepper-simple for my first time, but ended up with a light rub mostly from that Saveur article– salt, pepper, paprika, brown sugar, mustard, cumin, coriander, and thyme):

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The next morning, I was ready to go. After a few hours letting coals burn down and fiddling with the fire (the inlet vents on the old Weber were rusted open, making it hard to restrict oxygen flow enough to get the temperature down below 300F, which would have been disastrous for slow-cooling– eventually I wedged sheets of foil into each inlet vent which I could move side to side with a chopstick to control airflow) I was able to toss on wood chunks and the brisket and start the smoke. A few hours from the course of the next 6 hours as I fiddled with airflow and added wood whenever the smoke died down:

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Out of curiosity, I kept notes on the temperatures of the smoker and the internal brisket temperature over most of the day–  here’s a graph of those notebook scribbles:

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Once the brisket hit an internal temperature of 160F, I took it out, poured half a beer over it, and wrapped it in thick aluminum foil before tossing it back onto the smoker. This helped it cook the rest of the way through and form a nice crust around the edge:

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Finally, after 8 hours outdoors in the mild sunny Bay Area weather tending meat with a beer on hand, it was done. I let the brisket rest an hour still wrapped to reabsorb its juices, then opened up the foil and diced it into cubes for the tacos.

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Moderate success! It tasted great, with a strong but not overpowering or bitter smokiness, and when paired with some handmade tortillas, onion, cilantro, and barbecue sauce it was an excellent part of the meal:

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The texture was certainly “chewy”– not unreasonably so, but not as tender as I’d imagined, so I still have plenty to learn…

Side note– the barbecue sauce I made was a hit, so I’ll jot the recipe down here. As a Northerner I claim no authenticity, but it was loosely based on a few online recipes for Texas BBQ sauce that highlighted tomato + vinegar + sugar as the base:

  1. Saute half a diced onion in a substantial amount of butter (maybe 3 Tbsp)
  2. Add a bottle of ketchup, plus perhaps half a cup of cider vinegar, salt, pepper, cayenne, smoked paprika, cumin, and marash chili flake
  3. Puree with an immersion blender

I don’t have quantities as the spicing was done to taste, but the vinegar, paprika, marash chili, and butter in particular came together to make an interesting, rich sauce with a background of slow-burn smokiness.