Building a wall between America and these tacos? A crime against humanity finds Washington, DC, food author Nevin Martell as he eats his way through Mexico City.
At the bottom of the café’s menu board, there were two phrases spelled out in white plastic letters: ‘Make coffee great again’ and ‘F*ck you Trump.’
I smiled. These were the boosts I badly needed.
It had been a long day— just a couple hours of sleep, a wakeup in the predawn darkness, a pair of cab rides, and two flights—to get my wife, our four-year-old son, and me from our home base outside Washington, DC, to Mexico City, otherwise known as CDMX. We were staying in a modest hotel in the bustling, boho-meets-Soho Roma Norte neighborhood, just west of the city center. While my family stayed in the room to unpack and unwind, I had headed out in desperate search of caffeine.
The first taco to arrive was an al pastor, sweetened with grilled pineapple. Street tacos are generally served flat and open, so you can add your choice of condiments; I squeezed on fresh lime and spooned on fresh red and green salsas. Folding up the tortilla, I took a bite, not caring that the juices ran between my fingers. The meat was tender and rich, but the acidic components cut through the heaviness.
The encore was a messy bifsteak lavished with a blanket of melted cheese, a flurry of chopped white onion and cilantro sprigs. It was one of the best damn tacos I’ve ever eaten, its super savoriness balanced by the sharp zing of the onions and the fresh cilantro. As I wolfed it down, I unconsciously made guttural noises of sheer pleasure, which earned a smile from the cooks.
“Bueno?” one asked.
“Muy, muy bueno,” I agreed between bites, nodding emphatically.
Building a wall between America and these tacos would be a crime against humanity.
I commandeered a stool at the counter and waited. A few minutes later, another customer came in and sat down. He was dressed sharply, clearly on the way to work. I tried to tell him in broken Spanish the barista wasn’t in yet, but he responded in smooth English, saying that she often ran late and asking where I was from.
“Washington, DC,” I answered, wincing. I felt like I needed to add something to let him know that I wasn’t one of the ‘Make America Great Again’ yahoos, and to express my…what? Chagrin? Sorrow? Embarrassment? Shared fear?
“Sorry about this whole Trump thing,” I added. “Many Americans dislike him as much as I’m sure you all do.”
He waved his hand dismissively. “We try not to listen to him. He’s an idiot. And it’s not like our politicians are much better.”
This was reassuring; though I was depressed I had to start my interaction by basically saying, ‘I am not the enemy.’
I had a longer conversation on the topic two days later while plunging deep into a self-proclaimed ‘taco omakase’ at chef Enrique Olvera’s Pujol, a perennial favorite on ‘best restaurant in the world’ lists, which had recently reopened in gorgeous new modernist digs on Calle Tennyson in the Polanco neighborhood. Sitting alone at the bar, I got to talking to two diners seated to my right: she was a pastry chef at a local hotel, he worked in marketing. Both were Mexican natives, though he had lived in the States for most of his life.
As I sipped Mexican beers and dove into cheffy takes on traditional tacos—pork belly with peppery radish rounds and mustard leaf that packed a bite, avocado purée cradling chunks of lamb dressed up with petite zucchini flowers, and Wagyu beef complemented by epazote (an intense, botanically complex herb), onion, quelite (wild greens), and what I was told were ’herbs guacamole’—our conversation turned to Trump. Again, I apologized up front, still not sure how to express my myriad of feelings about having Trump serve as my representative in any way. Again, my apology was graciously waved away. “We know not all Americans are like Trump,” they told me.