A Piece of Mexico City in the Heart of Hillcrest
All Tacos Are NOT Created Equal
The great taco debate is one of much conflict in Southern California but especially in San Diego. When your town borders the country of origin for tacos, the subject matter can elicit quite a variety of emotionally-heated opinions.
Even within Mexico, all tacos are not made the same. This is a whole other arm of the taco debate. Don’t get me wrong. I do love my TJ tacos, but my first experience of real Mexican tacos began in the capital, Mexico City. When I lived in Mexico City during college, I discovered the differences between street food in DF and my Northern Baja California food.
Two of my most memorable tacos in Mexico City are rarely found in these parts and in ALL these past 20 years I can only remember ONE place that was actually similar to my taste bud’s memories and that place has been gone for years.
Tacos al Pastor… you may have seen it on taco shop menus but most times here it is called Adobado. You will recognize these tacos as the one on the trompo, or rotating vertical spit, that continues to churn the hunks of meat. Sometimes there will be a pineapple on the top of the trompo. The defining factor of the Tacos al Pastor in DF is they are always served with fresh pineapple slices.
Here in the north, this is not the standard and usually when I ask for it, I get a solid NO even if there is a small slice atop the trompo basting the pork adobado. This may not seem like a big deal, but believe me. It adds an additional complexity to the flavor of the taco because not only does the acid cut through some of the fat of the pork but the sweet, tartness of the pineapple complements the salty adobado marinade.
Great Tacos al Pastor
I was headed to see Chef DJ Tangalin earlier in the week to get a sneak peek of his new North Park project, Bivouac Cider on 30th when I realized it was 3pm and I hadn’t eaten a thing all day. I was off 5th Avenue in Hillcrest and saw a rare opportunity to grab a parking spot and took it. I happened to be right in front of a Mexican restaurant I had never noticed before, La Vecindad. La Vecindad translates into The Neighborhood.
I ordered two tacos, the Tacos al Pastor and their Monday Taco Special, which was a fish taco. The fish taco was good but the Taco al Pastor was stellar! I struck up a conversation with the owner as I sat at the bar and found out that he does indeed hail from Mexico City, which explained it all.
The seasoning and pineapple were just right but what was a perfect complement were the superb hand-made, fresh fluffy corn tortillas. They were moist and a hefty size that held a generous amount of sustenance. They were of such good quality that only one tortilla was necessary to hold up to the juiciness of the pastor.
These are not quick-service tacos, so make sure you have a bit of time. Each taco was approximate $4 and well worth the wait. The full bar has a plentiful selection of tequila (not so much of the mezcal, though) and some fun variations on the Michelada. I definitely recommend a stop over.
The last of my searches for Mexico City flavors is a taco/quesadilla I would get from the abuelita on the corner of my Del Valle neighborhood. The elder woman sat on my corner each day with a humble setup of a steel pan filled with oil. She would pat and fill a handmade corn tortilla with a soft cheese and huitlacoche, fold it over and pinch the edges creating a pocket then drop it whole into the oil. In moments, she would scoop out my fried tacos, wrap them in a napkin and collect my few coins as I raced to catch a cab to school. If anyone knows where I can find these in San Diego or Tijuana, PLEASE leave it in the comments section.
Searching for the next best bite,