Al pastor as good as the Netflix show? Barbacoa that will wake you up on a Saturday morning? We needed to know if it was all as good as it looked.
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Zuzy Martin Lynch, Marissa Daniela, Chris Vázquez, Cray Novick, Karen Vierbuchen and Ken, landing In Mexico City (CDMX)

The day my life changed forever (again) was in pre-COVID-19 times. My recollection of most stuff pre-COVID is fuzzy, especially as time passes and I wear a mask to go about routine tasks. But the Taco Chronicles by Executive Producer, Pablo Cruz? It sticks with me. It’s not fuzzy at all. Crystal clear.

It was around 9 o’clock on a Friday night. I was at home on my sofa and serendipitously came upon the Taco Chronicles series on Netflix. Each episode features a different type of taco that’s popularly consumed in Mexico; incredibly, the episodes are narrated from the first person. Yes, the taco does the talking. 

I called a few friends and got on a plane with them… to Mexico City (a.k.a. CDMX, formerly known as D.F.).

When it ended –six episodes and three hours later– I did what I think any self-respecting journalist would do. (In full disclosure, I’m pretty sure I don’t qualify as a journalist but I’d imagine that a journalist would do what I did next, so hang with me for a second.) I called a few friends and got on a plane with them, headed south of the border to Mexico City (a.k.a. CDMX, formerly known as D.F.). I wanted to see if the tacos were as good as they appear in the series.

Is it as good as it looks in the series? Better.

We were on the ground in Mexico City for three days and ate tacos from morning to night. We would eat some tacos, then sleep from 1am–9am — to make room for more tacos, of course. To get to the point, let me tell you about three experiences we had.

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En Xochimilco con nuestra amiga, Cynthia. Foto: Karen Vierbuchen.

Tacos al Pastor (Episode 1)

Is it as good as it looks in the series? Better.

The taco al pastor is to food what Jason Mamoa (whom I reference because I look like him ) is to Hollywood. It’s a corn tortilla, with razor-thin shavings of a magic pork roasted on a spit and other goodness. Mix in some onions, cilantro, and a Benihana-style-knife sliced pineapple that flings through the air and lands on your taco in a split second and you’re in business. It’s a recipe that was brought to Mexico City by Lebanese immigrants, hence its resemblance to the shawarma.

Al pastor is mostly a night-time taco. It is to Mexico City what late-night pizza is to New York. You can find an al pastor taquero on just about every street in the city during the day, but the best places… They open at night.

I felt a little famous when we went to El Vilsito because we were with Taco Chronicles Executive Producer Isabel Polanco López and Production Manager Rasa Putnaite. 

We went to one of these places at night: El Vilsito. 

So, I have to admit, I felt a little famous when we went to El Vilsito because we were with Taco Chronicles Executive Producer Isabel Polanco López and Production Manager Rasa Putnaite.  “Hola. Mira. Mírame a mí!” Turns out it didn’t matter so much. The trompos (spits) were spinning and the pineapple was flying for everyone, equally. As Isabel says in our video, “It’s truly a democratic food.”

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Isabel Polanco Lopez, executive producer of Netflix’s Taco Chronicles. Photo: Karen Vierbuchen

Word on the street is that El Vilsito is hands down the best taco al pastor in CDMX. And I agree. I’ve really never experienced anything like it. What makes it even more special is that during the daytime, the place is an auto mechanic shop. Like, they actually fix your car there. Need a carburetor tuned up at 11 am? Cool. A taco al pastor at 11 pm? Cool. The walls fold back, the trompos roll out and the crowd lines up on the sidewalk.

Go here. It will change your life.  

taco chronicles el hidalguense Moises Rodriguez Vargas
El Hidalguense owner and barbacoa master, Moises Rodriguez Vargas. Photo: Karen Vierbuchen
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Ken thanks Moises for his barbacoa. Yes. It is that good. Photo: Karen Vierbuchen
WATCH here to see what we discovered in the Ecuadorian Chocó bioregion.

Barbacoa (Episode 5)

Is it as good as it looks in the series? Holy shit, yes. It’s a moving experience.

So we got lucky with this one. On our first full day we got a chance to hang with Pablo Cruz, executive producer of the series. He’s kind of a big deal. To be frank, I didn’t realize the extent of it until we pulled up to meet him on location at the massive movie set that he was shooting at. 

taco chronicles pablo cruz
Pablo Cruz, Kinda A Big Deal (and super nice) Executive Producer of the Taco Chronicles. Foto: Karen Vierbuchen

In our chat with Pablo inside a production trailer, he told us to go to El Hidalguense for breakfast the next day for barbacoa tacos. If Pablo told us to, we were doing it. He put in a call to the place and made arrangements for us to eat what he recommended.  

“I kissed the taquero who made it. I kissed him. That’s how good.”

If you’ve seen the Taco Chronicles, then you know that El Hidalguense is a restaurant in Mexico City. But the place is owned by a family who serves lamb that is raised, slaughtered, and cooked on their own farm in Hidalgo. They drive their goods into the city each weekend for diners — it’s only open Friday through Sunday. Period.

Related Post: We Had Our Minds Blown in Ecuador’s (Beautiful) Cloud Forest

To sum it up, barbacoa is not steak. Taco places in the States try to pass grilled steak off as barbacoa. I think that’s because to truly make barbacoa is an art. It’s lamb, roasted underground, overnight. I can’t imagine how it would be done here in the US. It’s a breakfast taco and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever tasted before. We had this with escamoles (ant larvae), chinicuiles (agave worms) and lamb feet.  

Go here. If your life wasn’t changed by the al pastor, it will be by the barbacoa. 

Suadero (No Episode)

Suadero tacos weren’t on our list because there wasn’t an episode about it on the Taco Chronicles. But Pablo was adamant that we try them. His eyes got so big explaining it to us that we knew we’d be remiss if we didn’t put it on our agenda. So, after we wrapped our interview with him, we found a suadero stand staring us in the face, about two blocks away in Colonia Guerrero. Historically Guerrero is not the best neighborhood.  Apparently there were a bunch of gang-style executions there in 2010. We didn’t know this until we got home. Ignorance is bliss. 

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We found suadero on the street. Photo: Karen Vierbuchen

Holy fuck. Imagine a sausage. Now imagine that sausage being the best sausage you’ve ever had. Cut it up. Let it soak in its own juices for a long time. Then let it soak some more until a bald guy (me) walks over and asks to eat it, gathered in a tortilla by a dude who does this hundreds of times a day. 

How good was it? 

I kissed the taquero who made it. I kissed him. That’s how good. I think he was a bit pissed — you know, machismo and stuff. Oh, and my wife was kind of like, “what the fuck is wrong with you?” I was just so moved, emotionally, by what he just put in my mouth. It just happened — a big kiss.

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For real. I kissed the taquero. It was that good. Photo: Karen Vierbuchen

I don’t have a specific spot that I’d recommend for suadero. If you know of one, let us know in the comments. We’ll check it out. We found ours on the street. But it was delicious, so if you do see suadero on the street, eat it. 

If your life wasn’t changed by al pastor or barbacoa, go see a shrink. And then definitely go eat suadero.

So now, as we all sit and wait out COVID-19 until our next international journey, I suggest you watch the Taco Chronicles on Netflix. It will kinda suck because you’re going to likely go nuts afterwards, stuck at home drooling without being able to eat tacos. But you’ll enjoy it, it’s some seriously good entertainment and you’ll know where to go next once we get our Coronavirus shit together.

Tell us what you think in the comments. We’ll make sure the producers see it.

Updated 12:17 PM ET, Wed December 23, 2020

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Ken Deckinger is the co-founder and CEO of Startup Cuba and the executive producer and host of its namesake docuseries. A native of South Florida, Ken has been an entrepreneur for his entire professional career. Previously he was co-founder and CEO of HurryDate, pioneering the global concept of speed dating to 45 cities throughout the US, UK and Canada. HurryDate eventually evolved into online dating and was acquired by Spark Networks, the parent company of ChristianMingle.com and JDate.com. Ken is a graduate of Boston College and the University of Florida, where he was honored with the University’s Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year Under 40 award and sits on the Board for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He actively advises entrepreneurs and is a two-time protagonist of a Harvard Business School case study. Ken’s filmmaking and journalistic journey is inspired by a love of travel and authentic connections with other cultures. He believes that the more we know about each other, through stories, the closer we can become — thus the mission of Startup Cuba: to amplify the voices of the people sharing stories in the Latinx space. After living in New York City for 15 years, he encouraged his wife to move their family to Miami to get back to his South Florida roots. Needless to say, it was a short discussion and he and his family now call Boston, where his wife grew up, their home.

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