A ONE-NIGHT STAND IN MEXICO
What’s your most delicious tryst of late? Ditch the intimate fine-dining surface of white sheets, mood lighting and soft music and have a rendezvouz instead in the busy streets of the taco capital of the world.
The radishes, limes and salsa laid out on plastic plates or to be scooped out from inside stainlesssteel bowls looked desirably appetizing and remarkably fresh, despite the string of harsh white lights illuminating them. They were begging to be ladled over the warm and crispyedged handfuls of suadero (braised and seared beef from between the belly and the leg) that were being gingerly held in place by two soft corn tortillas that I was holding in my hand. After a week in Mexico City, sitting down to much lauded and spectacled dinners at the Quintonils and Pujols of this world, standing on a street-side wolfing down tacos of tripa (tripe) cooked in chorizo-laden fat and melt-in-yourmouth mollejas (sweetbreads) was at once both a calming and invigorating final act. Right then and there, Los Cocuyos became the offal-loving late-night taco stand of my dreams. To be honest, it was my last night in the city and I was crushed that I had not yet stumbled upon the revelatory one-off taco bite that would blow my mind. I needed one that could firmly establish a sense of order in my flavor memory bank for where tacos could now reside vis-à-vis everything else I’d encountered in my life. I had tried countless versions over the course of the week. I had gone to every recommendation from every Mexican friend of a friend and concierge that I could. Some were good, some were very good, and some were downright uneventful. But nothing had made me sing. From the get-go, Los Cocuyos’ visual cues get it right. There are no seats and you stand on the street-side jostling for an order. The fluorescent white lights mean business and seem to project that the proprietors don’t care to hide behind flattering façades because they have big enough cojones not to need to. Then there is the overused hunk of a chopping block and the giant cauldron holding every part of the cow and pig you have ever heard of, and also those that you hadn’t. I glance at the menu, tacked to the side of the tiny shop’s façade, and am overcome with a sense of optimism. And though I get nary a smile from Camarino and Rigoberto as I make my first order, I realize as it plops down on my plate that they do care about you. And that they have thought this through because this taco was the perfect size. Revelatory in its fleetingness, it is gone in three bites to be replaced by swabs of napkins to wipe down your tomatillo-salsa-riddled fingers and the lust-driven desire to order your second. They have made it just the right size so that, should you wish, you can try them all. And that I did, from the lengua to the longaniza, the cabeza (pig’s head) to the sesos (cow brains), to the campechano, which does have it all (everything on the menu, that is). And after that inaugural round, I went back to have seconds of my favorite ones—the tripa, the suadero, the mollejas, with salsa, with verduras (vegetables), without, just lime, plain—trying to discover which bite moved me the most. At the end of the day, or night, rather, your perfect bite will be different from mine. Taco eating is a very personal thing in that way and half the fun is in the discovery. With my plates stacked higher than most, I give up my spot to make way for other street-side eaters ready to eat these tacos their way. And waving goodbye, I finally get that smile. Calle de Bolívar 54-56, Cuauhtémoc, Centro Histórico, Mexico City; tel. no. 52 5518 4231