“Barbacoa Don Cuco”
The white rabbit blinks pink eyes and settles deeper into its nest of foil-wrapped lollipops. No, this isn’t a department store Easter display–it’s just another day at a roadside barbacoa restaurant on the highway between San Miguel de Allende and Queretero.
Barbacoa Don Cuco is an airy room furnished with Mexico’s ubiquitous white plastic chairs and tables, a large horno, a sturdy wooden slab where a teenage boy dices meat with a cleaver and an old lady vigorously chops cilantro, and a glass display case of candy where the restaurant’s pet rabbit seems to have taken up residence on the bottom shelf.
A pretty woman in jeans and a sweatshirt shoos the rabbit from the display and approaches our table to rattle out an array of options that I don’t quite understand.
“Uh, we want enough barbacoa for two people,” I say hesitantly. I don’t know much about barbacoa. In fact, I don’t even know what type of meat we are talking about here, but I don’t really care because the smell of the place tells me everything I really need to know: I want to eat whatever they are serving.
100 pesos (8 USD) buys us a slab or roasted maguey piled with steaming barbacoa, served with queso fresco, giant, deliciosu handmade tortillas, and an excellent selection of homemade salsas. Oh, and a large quesadilla and two Victorias. The meat is succulent and dripping with its own juices. I’m assuming it’s sheep, but it’s hard to say–it’s not gamey, nor does it have any noticeable mutton flavor. Pork? Rabbit?
note: Overall, this is one of the best meals we ate on the entire trip.
“El Sabroso y los Molcajetes”
Mexico City is taco central, and I fully expected to find the trip’s best tacos al pastor in one of the giant city’s countless hole-in-the-wall taquerias. And we did eat some damn good tacos during our stay. A lot of damn good tacos. But to my surprise, we discovered the best tacos al pastor of the trip in Atlixco, a colonial town near Puebla.
The well-named taqueria “El Sabroso y los Molcajetes” is dimly lit by ghastly flourescents, but features a promisingly large lunchtime crowd. We soon discover why.
Served with grilled onions and pickled vegetables, my tacos al pastor feature tiny, delicate corn tortillas heaped with juicy pork that hits every flavor mark on the pastor scale of greatness. I sprinkle green salsa on my first taco and red salsa on the next. The green salsa is dynamite–fresh and knock-your-socks off spicy. The smoky red salsa tastes so authentic it could have come straight from a Mexico City market–circa 1496. In fact, both salsas are so good that I have a serious problem deciding how to dress my third taco. This sort of dilemma really begs another plate, doesn’t it?
update: After digging around in the history of tacos al pastor, I discover that the tacos are the legacy of Lebanese immigrants, and that the original stand (or the supposed original stand–as a student of culinary history I am always skeptical about these claims) is in Puebla, so it actually makes sense that we’d find these unsurpassed specimens in Atlixco, in the state of Puebla.
update number 2: According to Nicholas Gilman, author of the excellent blog Good Food in Mexico City, the legacy is even murkier, and tacos el pastor may have originated in DF after all…I knew there wasn’t going to be a simple answer to this…
photos by Gina Dilello and Felisa Rogers