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Taco Triumverate

I’ve eaten my fair share of tacos, though sadly never on their home turf…until now (well, the week before last). Hours after landing, we hit up El Tizoncito and later in the week we found El Califa and El Farolito (if anyone ever looks for these two, Calle Altata doesn’t seem to be on any maps—look for Alfonso Reyes, the perpendicular street, instead) across the street from each other in a Geno’s/Pat’s fashion. I didn’t sense any rivalry though I like to imagine one exists.

Each eatery had distinctive characteristics and specialties, which I’ll compare below. I couldn’t help but notice descriptions from mainstream media and guidebooks using phrases like “bare bones” or “taco stand” to describe these places. That would only be the case if the writer never saw an actual street stall or fonda which would be nearly impossible since they fill the city. This trio is fast food in nature (at least two are chains—I’m not sure about El Califa) but there are menus and table service.

El Tizoncito
362 Calle Campeche
Mexico City, Mexico
El Califa
22 Calle Altata
Mexico City, Mexico
El Farolito
19 Calle Altata
Mexico City, Mexico
Specialty: al pastor (gyro-style spit-roasted pork cooked and served with pineapple). They claim to have invented it. Specialty: something called a Gaona with a registered trademark symbol. I wasn’t sure what this was so I shied away from it. I’m pretty certain that it’s a carne asada type taco, though I can’t deduce how it differs from the bistec. Specialty: al carbón (charcoal grilled) which quickly becomes apparent when choking gusts of smoke wind through the room and make you tear up.

Despite being a chain, the Condesa location was the original. El Tizoncito has the least amount of seating (and the exposed outdoor seating really gave our “no, gracias” skills a work out, thanks to a hurdy-gurdy man, wooden chair salesman, small girl handing out those give me money cards, Indian guy trying to get back to India, flower pushers and silver jewelry hawker) but they do have a sushi bar type counter where diners can watch their food being prepped. I give them extra points for offering free samples and having a cartoon mascot pork blob with a pineapple hat that I think is named Tiz.

El Califa is vaguely upscale compared to the other two. They’re pricier, a little purist and have subtle décor. I ordered a bistec and a costilla but ended up with two of the grilled beef tacos. There was nothing wrong with this place but it lacked garish oomph.

I kind of liked El Farolito the best because they had the largest amount of seating and menu items (I know, most agree that specialization is key but I possess a Cheesecake Factory mentality) plus a torta joint on the other side and a juice counter. It felt sort of like a diner. Like El Tizoncito, this Condesa location is also the original. We found one the very next day at the Santa Fe mall but it wasn’t the same.

Chips and beans were a nice touch. The pale, creamy green sauce on the far left looked like guacamole but was the hottest thing on the tray. We were concerned by the lone plastic spoon because there was no way to not cross-contaminate each offering.
These were fancy because the came in earth tones and had individual mini wooden spoons.
I thought the green salsa in the foreground would be insane like the one at El Tinzoncito but it was tamer.
Perhaps we seemed clueless because while perusing the menu we were brought samples of the pastor, their specialty. Free food is always a plus.
Bistec tacos. Simple and to the point with high quality meat. Al carbón style.
Costilla (pork rib) taco with chopped bits. Double corn tortilla approach.
Now I am clueless because I couldn't tell you exactly what this is (it's not on their online menu). The mish mash included tacos, grilled onions and melted cheese.
It's hard to resist an al pastor taco. These came adorned with cilantro and onions while the grilled meats showed up naked.
I've had a gringa quesadilla in NYC before but couldn't recall what made it gringa. I was thinking the addition of cheese to the al pastor (despite cheese seeming like an American bastardization, plenty of melted white stuff finds its way onto tacos in D.F.) filling made it so. But I suspect it's the flour tortillas used for these gringa tacos.
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