The First Mexican Taco Stand to Receive a Michelin Star is a Small Shop Where the Heat Makes the Meat - Latest Global News

The First Mexican Taco Stand to Receive a Michelin Star is a Small Shop Where the Heat Makes the Meat

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Newly crowned Michelin-starred chef Arturo Rivera Martinez stood in front of an insanely hot grill Wednesday at the first-ever Mexican taco stand to receive a coveted star from the French restaurant guide and did exactly the same thing he did had 20 years: sear meat.

Although Michelin representatives stopped by on Wednesday to present him with one of the company’s heavy, full-sleeved, pristine white chef’s jackets, he didn’t put it on: in this tiny, 10-foot-by-10-foot (3-meter-by-3-meter) jacket ) Business, the heat makes the meat. And the heat is intense.

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At Tacos El Califa de Leon in Mexico City, there are just four items on the menu, all tacos, all made from the rib, loin, or foreleg of a cow.

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

It’s actually more complicated than that. El Califa de Leon is the only taco stand among the 16 one-star Mexican restaurants, as well as two two-star restaurants. Almost all of the others are pretty darn posh establishments (note: a lot of expensive seafood is served in pretty shells on bespoke plates).

In fact, aside from perhaps a single street food stall in Bangkok, Thailand, El Califa de Leon is probably the smallest restaurant to ever receive a Michelin star: half of the 100 square foot (9.29 square meter) space is occupied by one ingested solid steel plate grill that is hotter than the salsa.

The other half is packed with standing customers clutching plastic plates and scooping salsa and the female assistant constantly rolling out rounds of tortilla dough.

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In a way, El Califa de Leon is a tribute to resistance to change. It achieved this goal by doing exactly the same four things it had been doing since 1968.

Thousands of times a day, Rivera Martinez takes a fresh, thinly sliced ​​beef tenderloin from a stack and places it on the super-hot steel grill. it crackles violently.

He sprinkles a pinch of salt on top, squeezes half a lime over it, and places a soft, round, freshly rolled tortilla dough on the solid metal plate to rise.

After less than a minute—he won’t say exactly how long because “it’s a secret”—he flips the beef with a spatula, flips the tortilla over, and very quickly scoops the cooked, fresh tortilla onto a plastic plate and places it Place beef on top and call out the name of the customer who ordered it.

Any sauces – fiery red or equally atomic green – are added by the customer. There is no place to sit and, at some times of the day, no place to stand because the sidewalk in front of the store was occupied years ago by street vendors hawking socks, batteries and cell phone accessories.

Not that you’d really want to eat at the tiny taco restaurant. The heat on a spring day is overwhelming.

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The Heat is one of the few secrets Rivera would share with Martinez. The steel grill needs to be heated to a whopping 680 degrees (360 degrees Celsius). When asked how it felt to get a Michelin star, he replied in classic Mexico City slang: “esta chido… esta padre,” or “it’s neat, it’s cool.”

The prices are quite high by Mexican standards. A single, generous but not huge taco costs almost $5. However, many customers are convinced that it is the best, if not the cheapest, in the city.

“It’s the quality of the meat,” says Alberto Munoz, who has been coming here for about eight years. “I have never been disappointed. And now I come with even more reason as it now has a Michelin star.”

Munoz’s son Alan, waiting next to his father for a beef taco, remarked, “This is a historic day for Mexican cuisine, and we are witnessing it.”

It’s really about not changing anything – the freshness of the tortillas, the menu, the design of the restaurant. Owner Mario Hernandez Alonso doesn’t even reveal where he buys his meat.

However, times have changed. El Califa de Leon’s most loyal customer base originally consisted of politicians from the old ruling party, PRI, whose headquarters are about five blocks away. But the party lost the presidency in 2018 and experienced a steady decline, and now it’s rare to see anyone here in a suit.

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And Hernandez Alonso noted that his father, Juan, who founded the company, never bothered to trademark the Califa name, and so a well-financed, elegant taco chain has about 15 bright upscale restaurants under that name quarters opened. Hernandez Alonso has toyed with the idea of ​​taking the business to social media, but that’s up to his grandchildren.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants in Mexico City are allowed by law to open covered curbside seating areas. But because of the many street vendors, El Califa de Leon doesn’t even have a sidewalk for customers to eat on, so customers are now lined up with stalls and plastic mannequins.

When asked if he would like to make room for a curbside seating area, Hernandez Alonso expressed the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude.

“As the saying goes, why fix or change something that is fine? “You shouldn’t fix anything,” he said, pointing to the street vendors. “It’s the way God ordered things and you have to deal with it.”

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