First Mexican Taco Stand To Win A Michelin Star

I had to stop and read the story as it scrolled past me on the food newswire list. A taco stand getting a Michelin star? There had to be some catch, some twisty ending. But, no! El Califa de León in Mexico City really is an international dining treasure!

Michelin Taco Stand - © 2024 - Fernando Llano via APChef Arturo Rivera Martínez, at his post, searing the meat at El Califa de León…

It’s right on the street, in the San Rafael district – described in an AP dispatch as a ‘scuffy-bohemian neighbourhood’. And it serves only 4 items. But it does them better than any other taqueria in the land.

Chef, owner and recipe creator Arturo Rivera Martínez paused in his busy morning routine, searing off his taco meats and prepping his sauces, to accept the award. And then he went right back to work. That’s one of the secrets to his success: hard work. The second is that he insists on the highest quality meat.

The third, he’ll confide, is simplicity. El Califa de León serves only 4 kinds of taco. Each features a different succulent meat: Gaonera (sliced beef filet), Bistec (beef steak), Chuleta (pork chop), and Costilla (beef rib). The only toppings are traditional red or green sauce. And a squeeze of lime.

And Rivera Martínez insists that Coca Cola is the ideal beverage to accompany his creations.

Fittingly, the restaurant’s official write-up in the Michelin Guide is brief, but rich.

Tiny footprint

The tiny shop is full all day. It only seats 10, but the takeout traffic is prodigious. And while Riveria Martinez cooks the meat and assembles the tacos, another cook is kept busy, non-stop, making fresh corn tortillas.

My take

It’s only been in recent years that the formerly stuffy, snooty Michelin Guide has begun to take notice of really great, authentic restaurants – be they ever co humble – that are icons of their kind and culture.

That’s a good sign for culinary as a whole. The grande dame of resto ratings has finally come – be it every so grudgingly – into the 21st. Century!

~ Maggie J.