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Tiny Mexican taco stand makes history by wining a Michelin star

Newly minted Michelin-starred chef Arturo Rivera Martínez prepares an order of tacos at the Tacos El Califa de León taco stand, in Mexico City, Wednesday, May 15, 2024.
Newly minted Michelin-starred chef Arturo Rivera Martínez prepares an order of tacos at the Tacos El Califa de León taco stand, in Mexico City, Wednesday, May 15, 2024. Copyright AP Photo/Fernando Llano
Copyright AP Photo/Fernando Llano
By Ines Trindade Pereira
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A small restaurant in Mexico, measuring just three square metres, has been granted the first-ever Michelin star, breaking records for being the only taco shop among the 18 Mexican businesses to win the prestigious prize.

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A taco shop in Mexico City has become the first to win a Michelin star. 

El Califa de León is the only taco shop among the 18 restaurants that earned coveted stars after the esteemed guide included Mexico for the first time.

Although Michelin representatives visited head chef Arturo Rivera Martínez to hand over one of the company's heavy, full-sleeved, pristine white chef’s jackets, he didn't put it on. 

From his tiny, three-metre square kitchen, newly minted Michelin-starred chef Rivera Martínez has been doing the exact same thing for the past 20 years: searing meat.

At Mexico City’s Tacos El Califa de León, there are only four things on the menu. All four are beef tacos, with the meat coming from the cow’s rib, loin or foreshank.

The chef claims the restaurant's key success is the quality of the ingredients.

"There is no secret, there is nothing special. The secret is in the quality of the taco, the meat, the tortilla, everything. There is no secret," Rivera Martínez says.

Other than perhaps one street food stand in Bangkok, Thailand, El Califa de León is likely the smallest restaurant ever to get a Michelin star. 

The prices are quite high by Mexican standards with a single taco costing nearly $5 (€4.60).

But that doesn't stop this taco shop from being packed with standing customers clutching plastic plates and ladling salsa.

One of its many regulars, José Castañeda, is convinced it's the best in the city.

"I am from Mexico City and I know a lot of taquerias and this one is very good. The flavour and the service are incredible," Castañeda says.

The most loyal customer base for El Califa de León originally came from politicians of the old ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) party, whose headquarters is about five blocks away. After the party lost the presidency in 2018, it went into a steady decline, and now it's rare to see anyone in a suit at the taqueria.

But this is not the only change foreseeable. Despite El Califa de León cooking the same thing with his traditional technique since 1968, the taco shop owner reveals that this award will push them to be more innovative.

"It was our turn to be awarded, to be recognized with such an important international award and we are more than committed because from now on with this award drives us every day to be more competitive, more original, and to be competitive in all aspects," Mario Hernandéz Alonso said.

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