Coveted Michelin star for humble ‘taquería’

Henry

A modest little taco restaurant in Mexico, almost just a hole in the wall, is one of the first restaurants in this country to win a prestigious Michelin star.

Mario Hernandez, the owner of Taquería El Califa de León, attributes this achievement to “love and diligence”.

The restaurant is one of 18 restaurants that received one or two Michelin stars during Tuesday’s launch of Michelin’s restaurant guide for Mexico.

El Califa de León, a family business that has been around for five decades, specializes in just four types of tacos and only has room for a few customers at a time in the San Rafael district of Mexico City.

“This taquería may appear sparse with only enough room for a handful of customers at its counter, but its creation, the Gaonera taco, is special,” says the Michelin guide on its website.

“Thinly sliced ​​beef fillet is masterfully prepared and seasoned only with salt and a little lime juice. At the same time, a second chef prepares excellent grain tortillas. This combination is pure and fresh.”

The Gaonera, which costs just over $4 (about R73), was created in honor of the celebrated Mexican bullfighter, Rodolfo Gaona, whose nickname in the arena was “El Califa de Leon”.

The restaurant was started by Hernandez’s parents more than 50 years ago.

“My father asked ‘do you want to know the secret of the meat?’ and replied that there is ‘no secret, just love and diligence,'” the 66-year-old Hernandez said outside the restaurant. His voice charged with emotion.

Hernandez says his father always taught him to carefully handle and cherish quality, customer service and prices as “life is like a wheel that offers the good and the bad”.

Journalists and culinary students gathered in large numbers outside the restaurant on Wednesday.

“The tacos are really delicious,” said Hector Lancastre (19), one of these students. He added that the restaurant thoroughly deserves its Michelin star.

Two statelier restaurants in Mexico City, Quintonil and Pujol, each received two Michelin stars.