street food

It was good enough for John Wayne




In a letter written in 1952, S.J. Perelman described Acapulco as “a dreadful place, the epitome of touristic enter­prise: gouging, arrogant mid-Western trippers, diarrhea, heat, and poverty and filth peeping out behind a Miami Beach facade.” If he could see it now, he would surely do headstands in his grave. The Costera, as the boulevard which lines the beach is known, is the nightmare por excelencia of tourist overdevelopment, with every inch of space sold to the highest bidders -- principally developers of condo towers; owners of tacky, overpriced restaurants, and the sort of bars where spring breakers of all ages, in any season, drink 3 for 1 margaritas in fish bowls until they either vomit, bungee-jump or do both at once.


High in the hills near the old center of town is an oasis called Hotel Los Flamingos. It is sufficiently far from the chaos of the Costera that no neon lights are visible, and the only sounds are the crash of the waves below and, in the early morning or late afternoon, piercing birdsong. Los Flamingos was built in 1930, but in the 1950s was bought by several Hollywood stars who had fallen in love with Mexico while shooting films here. Among the owners at the time was Johnny Weismuller, who, as Tarzan, actually swung from vines in the Acapulco area.


John Wayne was another Los Flamingos stalwart. The lad in the photo with him, who I imagine is now in his 60s, is the current owner of the hotel and on the premises daily.


From nearly all of the rooms, and the hotel’s bar, pictured here, you can see the most spectacular sunsets.


Tarzan, move over. As Anne Sexton wrote, "The sun of this month cures all."


The Flamingos, built on cliffs 450 feet above sea level, is nowhere near the beach but has this delightful kidney-shaped pool. You have to be a little insistent if you want them to bring you towels, and also need to exercise patience after ordering something from the bar.


My favorite Mexican writer, Jorge Ibargüengoitia, wrote that "Dentro de lo horrible, Acapulco siempre ha sido maravilloso," which more or less translates as, “Regardless of how horrible it is, Acapulco has always been marvelous.” This is a view of the sunset from the terrace of my room. Click here to get to the Flamingos’ website.

They don't call them hot cakes for nothing

In the Higuera street food market in Coyoacán, Rogelio has been making hot cakes with a twist for nearly thirty years. His is the second generation in the family; his nephews man the hot-cake stand on weekends.


He can execute a portrait of any child's favorite cartoon character with pancake batter. In fact, he can do a portrait of any child (or adult) as well. When the kiddies aren't around, Rogelio is more than willing to take a little poetic license.


He begins by drawing the outline, which he lets cook until it is quite brown. Then he fills in the details -- sometimes highly exaggerated -- of the subject's, shall we say, secondary sexual characteristics.


Here is the result of one of Rogelio's most recent works. The subject was quite pleased, perhaps because of the correspondence between the pancake and the way she sees herself.


Mexico City soul food, part one


If there is such thing as a Mexico City municipal dish, it would have to be tacos al pastor. A variation on Middle Eastern shawarma, it is made from pork (don’t tell Allah), marinated with various spices, including a heavy dose of annato, which gives it a shrill orange color. The slices of pork are mounted atop each other to form a huge orb, and impaled on a metal stick, which revolves around a vertical charcoal grill. The fire from the grill is turned up as orders are placed, and the taquero slices from the most fully cooked part to fashion the taco, which is adorned with cilantro, onion and a slice of pineapple.

Although this version of events is not universally accepted, supposedly the taco al pastor is the invention of a woman named Concepción Cervantes, who discovered shawarma on a trip to Lebanon, and debuted her version at a taco stand called El Tizoncito in 1966. That taco stand – now a well-appointed little restaurant – is still on the same street corner of Tamaulpas and Campeche in the fashionable Condesa neighborhood. (There are twenty franchises of El Tizoncito in Mexico City and around the country.)

My favorite tacos al pastor are located not at El Tizoncito but at Tacos Álvaro O., on calle Álvaro Obregón, nearly at the corner of Tonalá, in the Colonia Roma. The ones pictured are at Tacos Frontera, further down Calle Álvaro Obregón.

The scourge of globalization

sushi-1_small.jpg There is a cornucopia of good things to eat in Mexico City, and most of them are found on the street. The sidewalk is a Mexican’s bistro, his pit stop, his perpetual picnic. The choices are nearly endless – tacos, quesadillas, tortas, tlayudas, sopes, gorditas, et alia. And sushi. And teriyaki. You heard right: Japanese food has found its place on the sidewalk here. There have been Japanese restaurants in Mexico City for longer than I can remember. Most tend to serve items that clearly pander to the home team. For instance, in addition to fish, sushi rolls are usually stuffed with cream cheese, jalapeño peppers, or mayonnaise, and in certain gruesome instances, all three.But those are restaurants of the indoor, sit-down variety. As far as I can tell, the stand pictured above, on Avenida Insurgentes just south of the Chilpancingo metro station, is the first street stall dispensing Japanese food in the city. While I consider myself a culinary swashbuckler, for some reason I haven’t been enthused by the idea of eating sushi that’s been sitting out in the heat all day. Should I change my mind and succumb, you’ll be the first to know.