Fans queue round the block as tiny Mexican taco stand wins Michelin star

Last Updated: June 17, 2024By

The Tiny Taco Stand That Won Big: El Califa de León’s Michelin Star Adventure

El Califa de León, a small taco joint in Mexico City, is just a tiny 3 by 3 meters and can barely fit six people standing close together. Normally, locals only have to wait about 5 minutes to get their tasty tacos.


But everything changed on Wednesday. This little taco stand became the first in Mexico to win a Michelin star, putting it in the same league as fancy restaurants worldwide. Now, it’s attracting huge crowds like never before.

A New Kind of Fame

By Thursday, the line to get a taco stretched all the way down the block. Tourists and trendsetters joined the regulars, many of whom had no idea about the recent Michelin star win.

So, what’s the big deal about these tacos? It starts with a simple corn tortilla filled with juicy meat, topped with onion, coriander, guacamole, lime, and hot sauce. Usually, it’s a quick snack – but not this time.


A Local’s Delight

Laura, a local woman, said she’s been coming here since she was a kid. She was used to waiting no more than five minutes, even at busy times. She was shocked but happy that her neighborhood taco spot got such high praise.

“I took some Chilean friends to a fancy place once, and they gave us knives and forks to eat our tacos,” she said, laughing. “This is the real deal – the real Mexican taco.”

The Star of the Show: The Gaonera Taco

El Califa de León is famous for its Gaonera taco, named after the bullfighter Rodolfo Gaona. This taco has been a hit since the place opened in 1968. It features super tender beef fillet, seasoned with just salt and lime, grilled to perfection, and wrapped in a fresh tortilla. You can top it with green or red salsa.


Michelin’s report praised the Gaonera taco, saying, “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. Thinly sliced beef fillet is expertly cooked to order, seasoned with only salt and a squeeze of lime. The resulting combination is elemental and pure.”

Checking Out the Competition

Rodrigo, who owns another taco restaurant, was in line to see what all the fuss was about. “I’ve never been here before, but I wanted to see why this place got a star,” he said.

“It’s controversial, picking just one taco stand,” he added. “Everyone has their favorite taco – it depends on where they’re from.”


The Variety of Tacos

Mexico is famous for its diverse taco styles like al pastor, carnitas, barbacoa, guisados, and tacos de canasta. Finding the best taco is a national pastime, covered in countless books and TV shows.

Out of the 18 Mexican restaurants awarded Michelin stars this week, El Califa de León stands out for its down-to-earth approach. Arturo Rivera Martínez, one of the chefs, has been serving customers for over 20 years. “The secret is the simplicity of our taco,” Rivera Martínez said. “It has only a tortilla, red or green sauce, and that’s it. Plus, the quality of the meat.”

A Busy Day at the Stand

The stand is located in San Rafael, a somewhat worn middle-class neighborhood. The street is lined with stalls selling phone cases, cheap jewelry, and offering manicures.

David, a street vendor, said he’s eaten at El Califa de León a few times. “It’s good. But the best tacos in the city? I don’t know,” he said. “But I’ve never seen so many foreigners eating here.”

Inside, it’s sweltering, especially with the city in the grip of a heatwave. The four staff members – a chef, a meat cutter, a taco roller, and a cashier – work non-stop, like a well-oiled machine.

Customers take their plastic plates and find any spot to stand and eat, sharing bowls of sauce and wiping greasy fingers with napkins. Every few minutes, a man with two plastic bags of meat pushes through the crowd to restock.

“I’ve no idea how many we’ve made today,” said the cashier, barely pausing between orders. “A ton.”

Enjoying these mouthwatering tacos is no longer a quick snack; it’s an experience worth waiting for.

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