Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Chiquito pero Peligroso":El Tizoncito, DF, the birth place of tacos al pastor

After a long hike from the subway stop at Chapultepec to Condessa looking for a little nightlife in DF I happened upon El Tizoncito, Los creadores del taco al pastor(the creators of tacos al pastor).Mexico City really goes to sleep on Sunday night.I found only a few popular bars open in which to libate before running into the original El Tizoncito.Sort of knew where I was going but was on foot.It was a goal on this DF trip to check out some al pastor, good friend Kaire Raisu was down for the count on this Sunday in Mexico City and wouldn't be able to get a taste 'til the next day.

I hadn't had much luck with al pastor over the years, ususally dissapointed with the underwhelming favorites in LA,and not always having luck in other parts of Mexico either.My previous best had been in Cananea, Sonora.I stood by and excitedly watched a guy load his trompo(spit) during one afternoon at the fair in Leon,Guanajuato, only to come back later that evening only to taste some very average tacos.But, this is El Tizoncito, the creators of one of the top two tacos in all of Mexico, and one of the most loved tacos worldwide.

As I eagerly awaited my first crack at these things I ordered a Montejo beer, and struck up a conversation with the non-pastor taquero named Natividad. He spoke proudly of their prized tacos de pastor, only occasionally distracted by the film "Chiquito pero Peligroso"(Little Man from the Wayan's Brothers)playing in the background.I love the over the top translations.This movie completely blows, but the taqueros and meseros didn't mind a little potty humor and physical comedy while they tacoed away.Just like that pint-sized criminal posing as a baby in the Wayan's Brothers movie, the tacos at El Tizoncito are small but dangerous, in a tasty way.

The El Tizoncito in Condessa was started by Dona Conchita in 1966 along with her sons. The vertical spit had been brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants for cooking shwarma, and at some point Mexicans adopted the cooking device for their own purposes. This evolution took place in the part of Mexico where the Lebanese settled, in DF, Puebla, and the Yucatan, and probably involved several phases, but El Tizoncito was the first to put tacos al pastor in their current form on the map.Not to be confused with the original cabrito al pastor from Nuevo Leon(whole butterflied roasted kid),tacos al pastor are made with pork marinaded in a rub of chiles, spices, and citrus.

Well, I was a captive audience watching these tacos go down. First, El Tizoncito uses only quality lomo(loin) for their pastor, and the marinade is all from scratch.On the trompo there are always three whole onions to form the base of support for the meat.A pineapple attached atop the spit is gracefully flicked by the knife of the taquero where its circus like journey is the grand finale.

The tortillas are the mini sized, which allows for a few slices of succulent al pastor, revealing their beautiful lines and contours.The tender pork is sliced thin leaving a well manicured round of meat.Onions and cilantro are generously applied, and that al pastor is supple to the touch. I've had it thin sliced before but usually dry, or flavorless.The al pastor meat is carved directly vertical rows made by the taquero directly into the taco.

Al Pastor is almost universally served with pineapple in Mexico City, but al pastor is done in all 32 states in Mexico, as well as the capital. It has another regional name used in some northern states where it is known as adobada, which is the same thing. There is also a practice in other parts of Mexico where the al pastor, or adobada is griddled off the spit because the customers prefer a more crispy texture. The use of pineapple also varies from region to region, and even within a city, depending on who's doing the cooking.

Tacos al Pastor, El Tizoncito

Al pastor taqueros must be specialists, and the ones here at El Tizoncito are real pros. Knives are sharpened constantly and the trimming of the trompo is meticulous, the mark of a competent master.They marinate, load the trompo,cook their pork, and plate their tacos with impressive speed and accuracy.

Sorry, forgot I can't shoot video sideways, but you'll get over the crick in your neck after watching this marvelous display.

The salsas served from an attractive tower were excellent, best of all the frijoles.

El Tizoncito isn't the best taco al pastor in DF, a city so densely packed with stands, taquerias, and every other delivery method imaginable.But, they are a benchmark that all who love tacos al pastor should know.It's impossible with so many al pastor choices in DF to really know.The two others I had in DF, one in Xochimilco which was solid,and another near Mercado Sonora which was just average, were far better than what I've come across in LA.Every neighborhood has their favorites, and someone knows of someplace around the corner which you can't seem to find(this actually happened), and there are places that disappear and surface elsewhere.I'm ready to find better and equivalents but now have a standard by which all future tacos al pastor that come my way shall be evaluated. You could go mad searching for the best, but have a couple of these small but distinctively flavored tacos al pastor.Order a beer, watch the pineapple chunks fly, and discover why los tacos El Tizoncito son chiquitos pero peligrosos!

El Tizoncito
Condessa,D.F(original location at Tamaulipas and Campeche)
At various locations in DF, Chiapas,Estado de Mexico, Jalisco,Morelos, Nuevo Leon,Queretaro,Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosi,and Yucatan.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Las Gueritas-A Baja tradition:quail and hospitality in the Valle de Guadalupe

Artist and friends, Casa Vieja, Valle de Guadalupe

What's wrong with this picture?These women are alone in Baja? They're smiling, drinking wine, and looking at art?How could this be?

While the media beats the drums of fear about travel in Mexico,close to a million Americans are living in Mexico, home to the largest expatriate American community in the world.Although these well organized groups of Americans have been very vocal in their support of Mexico, along with us regular travelers to Mexico, our voices aren't the stuff of front page news.Like these content women sipping sangria while enjoying the paintings of a local artist, the parrilla of an Argentine cook, and the splendor of the mediterranean climate.I encountered them making my rounds through the Valle de Guadalupe on a recent trip. Casa Vieja, run by Colleen and Humberto Toscano, is about the most beautiful and comfortable places to hang in San Antonio de La Minas. They have the original wines of Baja, palomino and mision, if you would care to sample a glass of history.It's a chance to taste wine the way it was when it was first planted by spanish missionaries when they first arrived in what is now Mexico. These were the grapes for wine and brandy until european cuttings arrived in the 20th century.The house is charming, they have great local foods for sell, and have added a couple of Argentine grill men on the weekends.The chorizo and chimichurri were mouth-watering.

When I saw those women just having the time of their lives I just had to laugh to myself about all the frightened folks north of the border missing out on the fun.But, these aren't the gueritas in question.A stop at Lucilla's roadside quail stand, Las Gueritas, completely amazed me this trip.

More on Americans in Mexico,1,2175635.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

Beautiful gardens at Casa Vieja

An artist's life in Baja

Mision and palomino wines at the Casa Vieja

Las Gueritas gourmet carreta , Francisco Zarco

Not too long ago, I had discovered Lucilla's stand and had her perfectly grilled quail and some of their cochinita.I couldn't wait to have more, but this trip I had been sampling way too much that day and still had dinner plans.That was until Lucilla told me that she had made an estofado de cordorniz(quail stew)!!Alright, so much for discipline, let's eat.The sauce was gorgeous, and she generously doused my serving of rice with more of it.They have different foods from time to time and sometimes don't have quail, but Lucilla is a brilliant cook. I would eat anything from her stand.They also make their own wine.

Lucilla's cochinita

The rich and savory estofado de cordorniz

the fabled Baja grilled quail, cooked to perfection

The nursery on the family property

After scarfing the quail like a fiend, Lucilla's husband showed me their property behind the stand.They have a huge plot of land, mostly undeveloped and disorganized.Lucilla, her husband, and las gueritas(their fair-skinned daughters)live in a trailer just behind the road.Her parent live in the main house next to the stand. In a nursery are wine grapes in pots from which they make some homemade wine, alonside other plants and flowers.A large open area in between the road and nursery is a future location for hand crafted palapas that will serve as the restaurant they are planning.They are being made one at a time.

The first time I went to the stand they made up the name when I asked what their stand was called."Uh......somos.......las gueritas!" "Porque las hijas son mis gueritas." So, now they're sticking with it. These are natives to the Valle de Guadalupe, farmers, wine makers, and cooks. You can bring a bottle of wine, buy some of theirs when available, or purchase a beer from their cooler.

Roadside quail and hospitality are Baja traditions. Colleen and Humberto Toscano, and Lucilla's family are gaurdians of wine, history, and cuisine.Bring your friends for a relaxing day at Casa Vieja, and stop for lunch at Las Gueritas and discover what those women I came across know. Baja is a place not to be missed, certainly not for any tabloid stories and fear mongering.If they can brave the wine,charm, delicacy, and relaxation of the Valle de Guadalupe, so can you.

Grapes for some homemade wine

Sizzling quail on the roadside

Don't miss this stand, Las Gueritas

Las Gueritas
located on the south side of Highway 1
just before the left turn into col.Francisco Zarco
in the Valle de Guadalupe
mornings 'til about 5PM

La Casa Vieja
(wine tasting daily and Argentine grill on the weekends)
San Antonio de Las Minas, on Highway 1
next door to Casa de Piedra
9-sunset, Tuesday through Sunday