Taco Tuesday: Mexico City

Salsas awaiting their tacos

Eric and I arrived in Mexico City yesterday afternoon. In our first 24 hours in the city, we consumed tacos al pastor; de arrachera; de costillas con nopales…not to mention tostadas topped with a startling variety of sea creatures.

All in the interest of research, of course.

Here, then, are some taco highlights.

Our starting point was El Califa, an iconic taqueria that, as it happens, is practically around the corner from our hotel. When I say El Califa is ”iconic,” I’m lifting the description you’ll find in various guidebooks, Netflix food shows, and travel blogs. It hasn’t actually been around that long (only since 1994, which is nothing in Mexico City years), but it’s indubitably popular with Chilangos…and now, thanks to its iconic status, with tourists like us.

I ordered two tacos al pastor, and Eric two arrachera tacos, which we then traded off. The arrachera tacos were good, in the way that grilled steak with fresh lime and quality salsas always is. The al pastor, in contrast, was amazing. Was it just dumb luck that gave us a high ratio of charred crust to flavorful meat? Or is there something special about El Califa’s spit, its spit master, or its recipe? Or all three?

A second round (al pastor only this time) was just as good as the first, lending support to the ”they really know their al pastor” theory.

Now, I have in the past defended my hometown al pastor against the ignorant maligners of NYC Mexican food, and I’ll continue to assert that the version from Tacos El Bronco is as good or better than the Mexico City standard. But it’s not as good as El Califa’s. These were, quite simply, the best tacos al pastor I’ve ever had.

The al pastor champion

Today I made my way – solo, as Eric was feeling the effects of too little sleep and too much altitude – to another iconic spot, Tacos Don Juan. They began as s butcher shop, so you know their meat is going to be good, and my sliced beef ribs most definitely were. But the generous slices of grilled nopales that topped them were far from an afterthought. Squeeze some lime, ladle on some chunky avocado salsa, and finish with chile salsa, and you’ve got a perfect noontime snack.

Costilla de res con nopales
Taco maestro
They started as a butcher shop, and in the adjoining storefront, they still are

The thing about Mexico City is, there’s something delicious to eat every ten feet, and much of that deliciousness comes wrapped in soft corn tortillas.


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