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Adventures in Adobada: Melancholy in Mexico City

Losing faith at al pastor Mecca.

El Tizoncito, the home of the taco al pastor taco since 1966 - located on a corner in the trendy Condesa neighborhood.
El Tizoncito, the home of the taco al pastor taco since 1966 - located on a corner in the trendy Condesa neighborhood.

Friends in Tijuana often talk about Mexico City as if it were the mythical land of Oz, and for good reason. With a population approaching 9 million, the sprawling capital, also known as Distrito Federal (or DF), oozes history, teems with cosmopolitan vibrancy, and is the birthplace of the adobada (or “al pastor”) taco.

Tizoncito's bola glows orange from powdered milk and a super secret recipe.

Elaborating on the lamb shawarma “tacos arabes” made popular by Lebanese immigrants decades earlier, Colonia Condesa’s El Tizoncito (Tamaulipas 122, Colonia Condesa, DF) premiered the taco al pastor in 1966 and is now a nationwide chain of 24 locations, including one in Ensenada.

Tizoncito’s trompo (or “bola”) is mounted atop three whole onions, capped with pineapple, and gives off a safety orange hue unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Baja. The taquero told me that the meat’s marinade arrives pre-made from HQ in a recipe so secret that even he didn’t know its true contents. He did, however, know that it involved powdered milk and vinegar, which might explain how traditional adobo spices such as paprika and achiote could be made to give off an almost neon carroty glow.

The few shavings of pork don't compare to the robust, succulent street tacos of Tijuana.

12.5 pesos got me an offputtingly scant serving of lomo shavings served on a dry, premade tortilla and garnished with cilantro, onion, and a splash of salsa picante. I wanted to like it — this was, after all, Mecca – but the taco fell totally flat on my palate. The pork had no character, and the absence of fresh-pressed masa only underscored its anticlimax.

The gringa comes with cheese on a flour tortilla and far outshines the classic taco al pastor.

To Tizoncito’s credit, the taco came topped with a sliver of lightly toasted pineapple — an exceptional luxury in borderlandia — and never once hit the plancha to compensate for insufficient time on the spit.

Of course, this is just one glimpse at what Oz has to offer, but, with more than a hint of melancholy, I can only feel as though I’ve pulled back the curtain behind the fabled wizard to find a frail old coot whose reputation far outshines his reality.

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El Tizoncito, the home of the taco al pastor taco since 1966 - located on a corner in the trendy Condesa neighborhood.
El Tizoncito, the home of the taco al pastor taco since 1966 - located on a corner in the trendy Condesa neighborhood.

Friends in Tijuana often talk about Mexico City as if it were the mythical land of Oz, and for good reason. With a population approaching 9 million, the sprawling capital, also known as Distrito Federal (or DF), oozes history, teems with cosmopolitan vibrancy, and is the birthplace of the adobada (or “al pastor”) taco.

Tizoncito's bola glows orange from powdered milk and a super secret recipe.

Elaborating on the lamb shawarma “tacos arabes” made popular by Lebanese immigrants decades earlier, Colonia Condesa’s El Tizoncito (Tamaulipas 122, Colonia Condesa, DF) premiered the taco al pastor in 1966 and is now a nationwide chain of 24 locations, including one in Ensenada.

Tizoncito’s trompo (or “bola”) is mounted atop three whole onions, capped with pineapple, and gives off a safety orange hue unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Baja. The taquero told me that the meat’s marinade arrives pre-made from HQ in a recipe so secret that even he didn’t know its true contents. He did, however, know that it involved powdered milk and vinegar, which might explain how traditional adobo spices such as paprika and achiote could be made to give off an almost neon carroty glow.

The few shavings of pork don't compare to the robust, succulent street tacos of Tijuana.

12.5 pesos got me an offputtingly scant serving of lomo shavings served on a dry, premade tortilla and garnished with cilantro, onion, and a splash of salsa picante. I wanted to like it — this was, after all, Mecca – but the taco fell totally flat on my palate. The pork had no character, and the absence of fresh-pressed masa only underscored its anticlimax.

The gringa comes with cheese on a flour tortilla and far outshines the classic taco al pastor.

To Tizoncito’s credit, the taco came topped with a sliver of lightly toasted pineapple — an exceptional luxury in borderlandia — and never once hit the plancha to compensate for insufficient time on the spit.

Of course, this is just one glimpse at what Oz has to offer, but, with more than a hint of melancholy, I can only feel as though I’ve pulled back the curtain behind the fabled wizard to find a frail old coot whose reputation far outshines his reality.

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1

As a follow up, I had plenty of excellent al pastor in DF - on late night tortas, street-side hamburgers, and of course, tacos. And maybe I just caught them on an off night, but the self-proclaimed "creators of tacos al pastor" really were a let down. Something in their secret formula seems to have dissipated over the years. Or maybe it was never there in the first place. Either way, their offerings were about as appetizing as the Subway I got at Benito Juárez International Airport - and only because my sandwich technician misheard "Italiano" for a well-intentioned "Vegetariano." I'll also go ahead and credit Subway for carrying on Montezuma's enchanting tradition of revenge. Consider yourself avenged, old sport!

April 10, 2014

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