The Jetsetter Series is Victorinox Travel Gear’s ongoing conversation with some of the world’s most fascinating people where we discuss our favorite subject: travel. This month we had a chance to catch up with Food Writer Jordana Rothman. Read on as she takes on a culinary journey to the best taquerias of Mexico City:
The view out the airplane window as you descend into Mexico City has a stupefying effect. It’s not the landscape you notice first, it’s the population—or, rather, the evidence of it that can be observed from thousands of feet in the air. There are more than 20 million people living in the Greater Mexico City area, and D.F. proper accounts for less than half of that figure. A city that size is a staggering thing to behold, even from an airborne 737. From that vantage point you can see the dense, outlying settlements that creep up the mountainsides, and the pollution that shrouds Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl (the twin volcanoes that frame Mexico City) in thick ripples of smog. By the time you touch down at Benito Juárez airport you get it: this place is huge.
Too huge, certainly, to get any sense of it in 48 hours. But when you’re a food writer with a looming deadline, you do what you have to do. My last visit to Mexico City was exactly that brisk. It was a research trip for Tacos: Recipes + Provocations (Clarkson Potter, Fall 2015), a cookbook I co-authored with the very brilliant chef Alex Stupak of New York’s Empellón restaurants. The book explores the cuisine of Mexico and the American perception of it via a deep-dive into the subject of tacos. To do right by it, we had to conduct some on-the-ground R&D, especially when it came to tacos al pastor—spice-rubbed pork shaved from a trompo (a vertical spit), then piled on a tortilla with warm pineapple, cilantro, onion and lime juice, plus bright pools of salsa roja and salsa verde. Mexico City is the ancestral home of al pastor, and if the spinning trompos you’ll see there remind you of Middle Eastern shawarma then you’re on the right track: There’s evidence to suggest that al pastor evolved from the traditions of Mexico’s Lebanese immigrant population. There’s even a variation of al pastor called tacos árabes, which swaps the tortilla for a pita-like flatbread.
In the 48 hours Alex and I spent looking for the city’s best al pastor, we found endless variations and had more come-to-Jesus food moments than an atheist chef and a Jewish food writer have any right to expect. We channeled our findings into the cookbook—look for it on shelves this Fall—and Alex went on to open Empellón Al Pastor, an entire restaurant dedicated to the distinctive taco. If you’re in New York you should certainly pay him a visit, but should you find yourself in Mexico City with an appetite for tacos and a day or two to spare, I suggest you make your way to one of these taquerias—a few of our favorite discoveries from that great, teeming city in the Valley of Mexico.
This auto body shop transforms into a taqueria at night, and the atmosphere is absolutely electric. It’s mesmerizing to watch the staff maneuver around the gigantic al pastor trompos, delivering colorful plates loaded with tacos to a standing-room-only crowd. The entire menu is worth exploring here: In addition to the al pastor, I love the “volcan” (like a beef tostada) and “choriqueso” which, as you might have deduced, is a melty mess of cheese and crumbled chorizo sausage.
Calle Ayuntamiento 21
This sidewalk stall has done brisk business in Mexico City’s Centro Histórico since 1959 and in that time they’ve perfected the art of al pastor. Diced onions are piled at the base of the trompo to absorb dripping pork fat and the shaved meat is packed into fragrant rolled tortillas instead of the more common flat, folded style. Place your order on the street and grab a seat in the adjoining bar where you can drink perfect micheladas and dress your taco from a carousel of vibrant table salsas.
El Rey del Taco
Avenida División del Norte 2693
Col. Del Carmen
The Taco King does some excellent al pastor, but I also love the griddle tacos available at this bright “comida corrida” stand in Coyoacán. Try the “burger taco”—basically a hamburger queso fundido piled on a flour tortilla with mayonnaise, avocado and tomato. It’s a funny example of the American influence on global food culture, but it’s hard to argue with the virtues of caramelized beef and gooey cheese.
El Borrego Viudo
Avenida Revolución 241
This 24-hour taqueria is a beloved last stop for Mexico City party people who come to sober up over al pastor tacos and cups of tepache—fermented pineapple juice. While you’re here, you should also check out the beef-head cabeza tacos and the suadero—chopped beef cooked in a drum-shaped pan filled with simmering lard. Eat inside the fluorescent-lit dining room, or park in the lot and order your food drive-in–style, from fleet-footed servers in folded paper hats.
Jordana Rothman is a veteran of Time Out New York, where she held the reins as the magazine’s Food & Drink editor for six years. She’s a respected member of the national food writing community and a frequent contributor to print and digital publications such as Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, New York Magazine, Cherry Bombe, Complex, MadFeed, Grub Street and Conde Nast Traveler. She is a seasoned speaker and panelist at food conferences including Taste Talks and Lee Schrager’s NYC Wine & Food Festival. In 2012 she was a Best Cocktail Writing nominee at the Tales of the Cocktail “Spirited Awards;” in 2013 TIME magazine named Jordana’s Twitter feed (@jordanarothman) one of the year’s best.
Most recently Jordana co-authored her first book with Chef Alex Stupak of New York’s Empellón restaurants. Tacos: Recipes + Provocations will be released Fall 2015 under Clarkson Potter.
Jordana also once challenged competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi to a hot dog eating contest. She lost.