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Tiny taco stand in Mexico with just 4 items on its menu wins a Michelin star

This tiny shop in Mexico City, open since 1968, is the first taco stand to earn a Michelin star.

Tiny taco stand in Mexico with just 4 items on its menu wins a Michelin star
Cover Image Source: Griller Jacinto Rodriguez works preparing tacos during a visit to 'El Califa de Leon' on May 16, 2024, in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

A Michelin star is a badge of honor in the culinary world, celebrating exceptional and skillfully crafted dishes. Contrary to the belief that only high-end restaurants receive this prestigious title, it is awarded to chefs or eateries that provide outstanding cuisine. Recently, a small taco shop in Mexico City joined the esteemed list of Michelin-starred restaurants. El Califa de León, serving only four items, became the first Mexican taco stand to get a Michelin star.

Image Source: View of the exterior of the taqueria 'El Califa de Leon' during a visit to 'El Califa de Leon' on May 16, 2024 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Image Source: View of the exterior of the taqueria 'El Califa de Leon' during a visit to 'El Califa de Leon' on May 16, 2024, in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

Nestled in the San Rafael neighborhood of Mexico City, this tiny taqueria is run by Arturo Rivera Martínez, the main chef. This modestly designed place measures just 10 feet by 10 feet, with no seating, only a metal shelf for people to stand and eat.

 Image Source: Customers line up on the street to place their order during a visit to 'El Califa de Leon' on May 16, 2024 in Mexico City, Mexico.
Image Source: Customers line up on the street to place their order during a visit to 'El Califa de Leon' on May 16, 2024, in Mexico City, Mexico.

According to the official Michelin Guide, a star is only awarded for the food on the plate – nothing else. The guide states that five universal criteria are considered before giving the prestigious title. These are - the quality of the ingredients, the harmony of flavors, the mastery of techniques, the chef's personality as expressed through their cuisine, and the consistency across the entire menu over time. 

In business since 1968 and serving nearly a thousand tacos daily, El Califa de León excelled in all these criteria, earning a one-star rating. It joined the list of 16 other restaurants honored in the Michelin Guide's first Mexico edition. Globally, this remarkable taqueria became the second smallest restaurant ever to get a Michelin star, following a street food stand in Bangkok, according to the Associated Press.

The tiny eatery has a menu limited only to four items - all different varieties of tacos. Though each item is made to perfection, the one that fairly stands out is its signature Gaonera taco. According to the Week, the Gaonera taco was created as a tribute to the famed bullfighter Rodolfo Gaona.

Image Source: Gaonera meat as it cooks on the grill during a visit to 'El Califa de Leon' on May 16, 2024, in Mexico City, Mexico. It became the first Mexican 'Taqueria' awarded by the worldwide 'Michelin Guide'  (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Image Source: Gaonera meat as it cooks on the grill during a visit to 'El Califa de Leon' on May 16, 2024, in Mexico City, Mexico. It became the first Mexican 'Taqueria' awarded by the worldwide 'Michelin Guide' (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

The dish was noted by the Michelin inspectors on their multiple visits. They correctly described it: "It’s a skillfully prepared ribeye even more tender than the bistec and served on a thin yellow corn tortilla. The meat is so flavorful it doesn’t need it, but there is an option to add their homemade tomatillo salsa. There is a purity and simplicity to what they are doing here," as per official publication.

Their other three items - Bistec, Chuleta, and Costilla - are also extremely popular. The famous eatery offers one generous taco for around $5 which is quite high by Mexican standards. Yet, locals are often seen lined up in queues outside the outlet to get a taste of these famous tacos. 

In a YouTube video published by Inside Edition, we see Rivera Martinez churning the grill to deliver the taco orders. The chef was asked whether the items in the restaurant had any special ingredient to which he said, "There is no secret. The secret is in the quality of the taco, the meat, the tortilla, everything."



 

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