As comfortable as I am dining solo now, I still experience a couple of minutes of unease before every approach to the host stand. Nerves, self-consciousness, and insecurities manifest as pinpricks on my skin and slight shakes in my hands. It all dissipates quickly once I’m seated and the experience has begun, but I can’t deny that I still allow the stigma of solo dining to affect me. A foreign country can increase a couple to a few, as can dining at a place where I won’t be seated at a table and have its support to steady myself.
The only salve I would have for my nerves in visiting Tacos El Vilsito* in the Narvarte neighbourhood of Mexico City was the calmness of the Uber ride over. Once I had confirmed with the driver, that yes, this was my destination, I was on my own to navigate the space that is an auto body repair shop by day, and a lauded taqueria by night.
Tacos al pastor are not the only type of taco they offer, but as their specialty, and as Mexico City’s most famous local style, that’s why I came. There were at least three trompos of the marinated pork being manned when I arrived around 9:30 pm on a Friday. For a place that stays open into the wee hours of the morning, I essentially arrived almost with what would be a stroller crowd. But it was plenty busy. I think there was a counter for placing orders, but I chose to do like the others milling about out front and caught one of the aproned boys darting through the crowd writing down and serving orders. That’s when the anxiety set back in. A language barrier, ignorance regarding the ordering system, and the self-consciousness of being the only pasty-skinned gringa meant I needed a few extra minutes of courage. I’m hoping I fooled people with my fake menu reading.
Having had a substantial lunch at Contramar, I was a little conservative in my ordering. Two tacos al pastor, a gringa (how could I not?) al pastor, and an order of the cebollitas. While there are some stools and a counter, most people just stand out front and eat. Food comes out as it’s ready, which is fine until you’re holding a plate with two tacos and another with the gringa. I swear my little server couldn’t have been more than 13 years old, but his deftness at getting my meal onto one plate demonstrated experience incongruous with his cherubic complexion. But then came the onions. He quickly guided me through the crowd to a stool where I could manage my two plates and finally tuck in. Everyone was watching the Euro 2016 match blasting from the TVs, so, as always, my self-consciousness was not justified.
The tacos come loaded with pork shaved from the trompo, pineapple, and onions and cilantro when ordered “con todos.” A gringa is the same filling but on a slightly larger flour tortilla and with a layer of melted cheese. There is no way even the most experienced taco eater would be able to eat an El Vilsito taco without losing a good portion of the filling. While I was waiting for my food, I observed a tactic I’d never seen before. Instead of attacking the full taco and eating what’s lost after, many people were picking at the filling with their fingers prior to picking up the taco. This was especially easy with the thin slices of pork and pineapple. Al pastor is a fundamental sweet and salty combo that all must try, especially if you’re a fan of its distant cousin, the Hawaiian pizza.
I have nostalgia for flour tortillas from the Tex-Mex homemade and restaurant dinners of my childhood, but the a gringa al pastor was not the right move. The flavour of the cheese was outshone by the marinade, as was the mildness of the flour tortilla. I should have maybe tried a gringa with one of their beef offerings. The cheese did, however, hold the filling more in place. Points for structural integrity.
And those cebollitas. I had read that they were a side item not to be missed. When I was ordering, my served asked, “con Maggi?” and the “si” fell from my lips without much thought. But what an umami bomb I had agreed to. I only really think of Maggi sauce as a banh mi condiment, and I had no idea it was used as one in Mexican cooking. The small, sweet grilled onions doused in the salty liquid was one of the best things I’ve eaten this year. Hashtag I love salt.
*The link takes you to the El Vilsito Foursquare page. I learned that Mexicans use Foursquare for information and reviews far more often than Yelp.