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Mexican taco stand becomes first in the world to receive a coveted Michelin star – as chef reveals his cooking secrets

Mexico City’s Tacos El Califa de León has been awarded a Michelin star, making it the only taco stand in the world to receive the coveted award from the French gastronomic guide.

Not making a big deal out of the incredible honor, the small restaurant’s head chef, Arturo Rivera Martínez, stood at his grill Wednesday searing meat for a horde of hungry customers, as he has for 20 years.

When asked what he thought about receiving the Michelin star, Rivera Martínez replied “está chido…está padre”, which means: “It’s neat, it’s cool.”

Although Michelin representatives came to present him with his well-deserved white long-sleeved chef’s jacket on Wednesday, he did not put it on. Not out of disrespect, but simply because its cooking area is tiny – 10 feet by 10 feet – and extremely hot.

Diners at the stand can only order tacos, and the meat inside comes from either a rib, loin or fore shank of a cow.

Newly starred chef Arturo Rivera Martínez prepares an order of tacos at Tacos El Califa de León taco stand in Mexico City on Wednesday, May 15, 2024.

Newly starred chef Arturo Rivera Martínez prepares an order of tacos at Tacos El Califa de León taco stand in Mexico City on Wednesday, May 15, 2024.

“The secret is the simplicity of our taco. There’s just a tortilla, a red or green sauce, and that’s it. That and the quality of the meat,” said Rivera Martínez.

Eight-year customer Alberto Muñoz said much the same thing, praising the quality of the meat the taco stand uses.

Unsurprisingly, owner Mario Hernández Alonso won’t reveal where he buys his meat.

“I have never been disappointed. And now I will recommend it with even more reason, now that it has a star,” Muñoz said.

Muñoz’s son Alan, who waited for a beef taco alongside his father, said it was “a historic day for Mexican food, and we are witnessing it.”

An aerial view of the small taco stand.  Customers line up along the side wall as they put salsa on their tacos, while the Michelin star chef continues to serve food.

An aerial view of the small taco stand. Customers line up along the side wall as they put salsa on their tacos, while the Michelin star chef continues to serve food.

And unlike other Michelin-starred chefs who sometimes offer wine pairings to complement their delicious dishes, Rivera Martínez said “a Coke” goes best with his tacos.

El Califa de León is the only taco stand among 16 restaurants in Mexico to receive one star, as well as two restaurants to receive two stars. Most of them are fine dining restaurants serving expensive seafood.

The prices at the taco stand, however, are much more affordable with a huge taco costing almost $5. Customers say the tacos here are the best, if not the cheapest, in town.

El Califa de León has been around since 1968 and does the same things that have made it successful since the beginning.

Thousands of times a day, Rivera Martínez takes a thinly sliced ​​fresh beef tenderloin from a stack and places it on the 680-degree steel grill.

He then pours a pinch of salt over the meat and squeezes half a lime on top before grabbing a soft piece of freshly rolled tortilla dough to warm on the grill.

Less than a minute later — he didn’t say exactly how long because “it’s a secret” — he flips the beef, flips the tortilla and assembles it on the plate for the waiting customer.

Mario Hernández Alonso, the father of Rivera Martínez, current owner of Tacos El Califa de León, inherited the business from his father.  He does not reveal where he buys his meat, which customers love

Mario Hernández Alonso, the father of Rivera Martínez, current owner of Tacos El Califa de León, inherited the business from his father. He does not reveal where he buys his meat, which customers love

A customer gives a thumbs up while eating a taco straight from Rivera Martínez's grill.  The taco stand is the first to receive a Michelin star from the French gastronomic guide

A customer gives a thumbs up while eating a taco straight from Rivera Martínez’s grill. The taco stand is the first to receive a Michelin star from the French gastronomic guide

This proven process that earned El Califa de León a Michelin star is a symbol of how their resistance to change has been beneficial.

And going forward, Hernández Alonso said he will continue to do what works.

A potential way to expand the stand emerged after the coronavirus pandemic, as lawmakers allowed Mexico City restaurants to open street-side canopy seating areas.

But El Califa de León doesn’t even have a sidewalk for customers to eat on because of all the street vendors, so customers now stand side by side among the displays and plastic mannequins.

When asked if he would like them to make room for a street-side seating area, Hernández Alonso expressed an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude.

“As the saying goes, why repair or change something that is going well? You shouldn’t repair anything, he said, pointing to the street vendors. “This is the way God ordained things, and you have to deal with it. »

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