Michelin star awarded to Mexican taco stand for first time

The prestigious Michelin Guide star was awarded to a 10-foot by 10-foot (3-meter by 3-meter) taqueria in Mexico City. 

Tacos El Califa de Leon, in the scruffy-bohemian San Rafael neighborhood, is the first such restaurant to receive the prize from the coveted French dining guide.

It is named after the celebrated Mexican bullfighter Rodolfo Gaona, whose nickname in the ring was “El Califa de Leon.”

The parents of current owner Mario Hernandez founded the taqueria over 50 years ago.

“My father said, ‘Do you want me to tell you the secret of the meat? There is no secret,” only “love and effort,” 66-year-old Hernandez said after his taco stand received the Michelin star.

Mario Hernandez Alonso, owner of Tacos El Califa de Leon, speaks with reporters on May 15, 2024
Owner Mario Hernandez Alonso won’t reveal where he buys his meatImage: Fernando Llano/AP Photo/picture alliance

What’s on the menu?

Besides two sauces, the taqueria has only four items on its menu, all tacos, and all of which came from some area around a cow’s rib, loin or foreshank. 

A single taco costs nearly $5 (roughly €4.60). Though the price is high, by Mexican standards, many customers believe it is the best in the city.

“This taqueria may be bare bones with just enough room for a handful of diners to stand at the counter, but its creation, the Gaonera taco, is exceptional,” the Michelin Guide said on its website.

“Thinly sliced beef filet is expertly cooked to order, seasoned with only salt and a squeeze of lime. At the same time, a second cook prepares the excellent corn tortillas alongside. The resulting combination is elemental and pure,” it added.

Chef Arturo Rivera Martinez said the secret “is the simplicity of our taco. It has only a tortilla, red or green sauce, and that’s it. That, and the quality of the meat.”

Most Michelin-starred chefs are likely to answer the question of what beverage would pair well with their food with a wine recommendation. Martinez said, “I like a Coke.” 

Newly minted Michelin-starred chef Arturo Rivera Martinez prepares an order of tacos at the Tacos El Califa de Leon taco stand, in Mexico City, on May 15, 2024
Rivera Martinez serves the taco with a pinch of salt and the juice of half a lime, before customers add the sauce of their choiceImage: Fernando Llano/AP Photo/picture alliance

Mexico goes Michelin 

The Michelin Guide unveiled on Tuesday its first Mexico edition, with 18 restaurants given one or two stars. 

The only two Mexico City restaurants that received two stars were Quintonil and Pujol. 

At Quintonil, “the tasting menu is constantly evolving but may reveal delights such as crab and shards of blue corn tostada arranged with a vivid pipian verde enhanced with untraditional elements like galangal, lemongrass, and makrut lime,” the Michelin Guide said. 

Pujol blends “tradition and invention,” with scallop ceviche with egg salad or grilled Baja coast rockfish with butternut squash puree and sherry foam, it said.

The Michelin Guide was first launched in 1900 by tire-manufacturing brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin. It was initially aimed at encouraging motorists to discover restaurants around France, but has since expanded to dozens of locations around the world. 

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fb/rmt (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)