Taco Stand in Mexico City Gets Michelin Star

04:38 May 17, 2024

Taco Stand in Mexico City Gets Michelin Star

Mexico City’s Tacos El Califa de León recently became the first Mexican taco stand to get a Michelin star – an award presented by the famous French restaurant guide.

Chef Arturo Rivera Martínez recently stood over a very hot grill when Michelin representatives came to present him with one of the company’s heavy white chef’s coats. But Rivera Martinez did not put the jacket on.

In this very small, 3-meter by 3-meter business space, the heat makes the meat. And the heat is strong.

At El Califa de León there are only four things on the menu -- all of them tacos. The food business has been doing the same four things since opening in 1968.

“The secret is the simplicity of our taco. It has only a tortilla, red or green sauce, and that’s it. That, and the quality of the meat,” said Rivera Martínez. He is also probably the only Michelin-starred chef who, when asked what drink should go with his food, answers “I like a Coke.”

Other than perhaps one street food stand in Bangkok, Thailand, El Califa de León is probably the smallest restaurant ever to get a Michelin star. And half of the small space is taken up by a solid steel plate grill that is hotter than the salsa.

Thousands of times a day, Rivera Martínez gets a fresh, thinly sliced piece of beef and puts it on the hot steel grill.

The heat is one of the few secrets Rivera Martínez would share. The steel grill has to be heated to 360 Celsius.

Asked how it felt to get a Michelin star, he said in classic Mexico City slang, “it’s neat, it’s cool.”

The prices at his stand are quite high by Mexican standards. A single taco costs nearly $5. But many customers are sure it is the best in the city.

“It’s the quality of the meat,” said Alberto Muñoz, who has been coming to the place for about eight years. “I have never been disappointed. And now I’ll recommend it with even more reason, now that it has a star.”

His son, Alan, who was waiting for a beef taco alongside his father, noted “this is a historic day for Mexican cuisine, and we’re witnesses to it.”

It really is about not changing anything — the freshness of the tortillas, the menu, the design of the restaurant. Owner Mario Hernández Alonso will not even tell where he buys the stand’s meat.

By law, following the coronavirus pandemic, Mexico City restaurants have been permitted to open up street-side seating areas. But El Califa de León does not even have a sidewalk where customers could eat because of all the street vendors.

Asked if he would like them to make room for a street-side seating area, Hernández Alonso said pointing to the street vendors, “As the saying goes, why fix or change something that’s alright? You shouldn’t fix anything... It’s the way God ordered things, and you have to deal with it.”

I’m Caty Weaver.

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