The Thrill of the Chase: Tacos El Parrillón
I wasn’t even hungry. But I needed to find it, that tortería “in business since 1872"--or so the book said. I'd been walking for two hours through the time worn streets of the centro, feet aching, throat parched. I was sure I had written down the right address. But number 304 was nothing but a closed up taller. The old man standing outside knew nothing about a tortería. I gave up. I had such high hopes, because this time there was an actual address. Usually I depended on someone’s vague memory, such as “it’s near the corner of Insurgentes and Revolución, about half a block up.” Then, when you get there, you realize there IS no corner of Insurgentes and Revolución. But this time I had seen it in a book, an obscure underground guide to D.F. published in a tiny edition a few years back.
The search for the undiscovered, the unknown--that’s my sport, my game.
It starts with a tip from a taxi driver, a reference clipped from a magazine, an overheard party conversation. “Oh, thetacos de lengua are to DIE FOR!… you know, the one in Navarte.” I’ll butt in with, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help overhearing, may I ask where, exactly, IS that stand?”
But it’s the one I find myself, with no help from anyone, that’s the true goal. I make a wrong turn driving down some God-forsaken street in Colonia Guerrero, and lo-and-behold, there’s this fonda whose sign proclaims “Open in this spot for 75 years!” It’s all mine: a place famous to locals within a 5-block radius, perhaps, but not beyond.
It all started back in New York where I grew up. My cousin and I found this little dim sum place hidden in a back alley of Chinatown. It was ours. Then New York Magazine wrote it up and it slipped out of our hands, suddenly filled with ‘gringos’ (i.e. non-Chinese). So I found another over on East Broadway. I constantly searched for the hidden hole-in-the-wall I could call my own, before the critics arrived. But New York got too hard. Manhattan was saturated with other players, and I knew nothing about the boroughs. Too much competition. “If you can make it here…” I couldn’t. So I moved to D.F. where I did better.
After giving up on the 1872 torta place I decide to head for the market where Doña Juana does the best comida corridain the city. But I’m a bit mixed up now, having turned up the wrong street, one I’ve never heard of. I turn the corner and there’s a puesto I've never seen before.
“Ricos tacos de carne asada” boasts the sign. A curl of meat-infused smoke wafts by, luring me to the stand where several happy patrons help themselves to kaleidoscopically colored salsas. I order the taco de chorizo español. A crimson disk of charred yet buttery sausage is served on a hand- shaped blue tortilla. I heap on the caramelized onions, finely diced cucumber and pineapple, and the brick-red salsa de guajillo.
I take a bite. The whole thing is perfumed with smoke from the wood fire. It’s all spicy, sweet, tart, umami. This is the finest taco I can remember...a gem...a number 10! I'm feeling at the top of my game. I’ve done it—won. Goal!
El Parrillón, located in Tabacalera not far from Reforma is just such a Holy Grail. It’s a humble but smart grilled meats taco stand that hides between other run-of-the-millpuestos on a non-descript back street. A tempting list of less often seen carnivorous options such as panceta and several kinds of chorizo are made at the owner, Gustavo Trejo’s farm in the State of Hidalgo. They’re grilled to smoky charred perfection, always to order, and served with beautiful roast tomato and chile de arbol salsa, roasted nopales, piña, cucumber and sweated onions. Tortillas are the good kind, hand-formed and resilient. While old-fashioned bisteck is a good place to start, I love the chorizo español: nothing like I ever tasted in Spain, it’s tender and fragrant of garlic and paprika.
Calle Madrid near Paris, colonia Tabacalera, a block from Metrobus Reforma Open Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. View map