In honor of Nicolas Gilman’s recent article on Mexico City street food, I decided to revisit the blog I guest-wrote for my friend Luke’s blog while I was living in D.F. this summer. One of my favorite comedians, Jim Gaffigan, makes the joke that all Mexican food is the same – a tortilla covered with meat, cheese, and a vegetable. While this may be an accurate description of U.S. Mexican restaurants, the food south of the border is actually so much more.
The taqueria is ubiquitous in Mexico City. It is the perfect meal to-go while strolling the streets of Latin America’s biggest metropolis. The warm, fresh tortillas and expertly-made salsas are always on display and the price is always right. It’s typically 20 pesos for three tacos – that’s about $1.50 for a meal that most people can’t even finish.
The most popular is the taco al pastor, which consists of beautifully-marinated cuts of fatty pork sliced into thin strips and stacked together on a spit then fire roasted under a drizzle of pineapple juice to create a tender, succulent, and slightly spicy taco. Once the meat is sliced off the spit it gets thrown on the plancha for a quick sear and loaded onto a fresh tortilla with melted white Oaxaca cheese. The masterpiece is presented on plates covered in plastic wrap (for easy recycling) and the diner can choose from an array of salsas and top it off with a touch of lime before enjoying their meal right there on the street corner.Now I want a taco, but before I go I have to tell you about my favorite neighborhood place, Loncheria Rivera. This mom-and-pop shop is the quintessential Mexican eatery, consisting of about eight small tables in a tiny corner restaurant.
At the entrance, a plancha of gorditas and salsa beckons to passers-by. A real gordita is a leavened tortilla, similar to an English muffin, stuffed with crispy pork skin and gently fried. Be sure to say “hola” to the owner, who you will quickly come to know, before finding a table. Gueros are always served a starter of chips and salsa, and the staff speaks English and can explain all the dishes to you. The establishment serves breakfast and lunch on weekdays only, and its specialties are omelettes, some amazing tortas, tacos, gorditas, beautiful fresh soups, and haurache.
On our weekly trip to our favorite establishment, my wife ordered the consommé de pollo, which is made fresh each day from whole chicken, rice, garbanzo beans, and leeks and garnished with fresh slices of avacado, cilantro, and tomatoes. I enjoyed a small plate of chilaquiles rojo and a hearty helping of haurache con bistek. While nachos are typically only found along the border or at restaurants that serve comida norteña, in the rest of mexico, chilaquiles are the norm, and are often served for breakfast. The tortillas chips are briefly cooked in the salsa of your choice, then topped with fresh cows’ cheese and any meat you desire for a slightly soggy, but still crispy, satisfying snack.
The huarache arrives on a 15-inch oval plate drowning in their version of an open-faced sandwich: an oval corn tortilla topped with a thin layer of refried beans, fresh cows’ cheese, half an onion, grilled cactus paddle, and tender skirt steak. Add a little salsa and enjoy the ‘hungry man’ meal of Mexico. Perhaps this proves Gaffigan’s theory about tortillas covered with meat, cheese, and a vegetable, but good luck finding this at Taco Bell.