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How a taco stand won a Michelin Star

Taco stand gets top honor

Cilantro in tacos
Jeswin Thomas / Unsplash

Michelin Stars are not just for white table cloth restaurants and dishes plated by careful tweezers. As of now, taco stands are in the mix, as one popular Mexico City place just revealed.

Tauería El Califa León is the first restaurant of its kind to garner such honors. Call it another nod to amazing Mexican cuisine or a long-overdue celebration of street food. Whatever the rationale, the formality is significant for a restaurant hocking $5 dishes and operating out of a cart.

The cash-only, reservation-free spot does not have a website. The place has been in business for more than 50 years and does magic with house-made corn tortillas and incredible beef. The meat is cooked expertly and while there are a few condiments in the picture (like some spicy house-made salsas), going as-is works just fine as the beef is ideal, treated to a bit of lime and salt. In addition to the popular Gaonera taco, there are options made with beef rib and pork.

Apparently, the award came as a surprise to the owners and they’re humbled by the honor. The move by Michelin is an exciting one, as it opens the doors for more restaurants like this to get the credit they deserve. Obviously, you don’t have to be sitting at a table perusing an ever-changing food menu and 1,000-bottle wine list to have a top culinary experience. You can be crammed like sardines around a stand, wolfing down tacos while standing in the street (the taco stand has no tables, by the way).

Celebrating street food

Mexico City skyline Guadalupe Basilica Church
Stockcam/Getty Images / Getty

The stand is a mere 100-square-feet, just enough room for staff to grill the beloved meat and tortillas. The quality of the beef is often mentioned as the eatery’s best feature, along with impeccable timing. Both of those key ingredients come off the grill at the perfect time, leading to ideal flavor and texture.

Putting in all that work over the years has paid off. The restaurant routinely draws long lines and while perhaps once a locals’ secret, the word spread. Now, with a Michelin Star to its name, El Califa León will only draw more eaters. The award is yet another feather in Mexico City’s cap — a town know for its robust culinary scene.

Will El Califa León become a brick-and-mortar spot and raise its prices? Unlikely, as the place hasn’t really changed since it was founded in the 60s. But this kind of notoriety has been known to change the course of restaurants, so we’ll have to wait and see. For now, let’s bask in taco glory and the beauty of simple yet wondrous dishes.

Hungry for more on the topic? Check out our Mexico City guide and how to make better tacos at home. Wash it all down with a great Mexican beer.

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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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