This Tiny Taco Stand in Mexico City Was Just Awarded a Coveted Michelin Star

Founded in 1968, Taquería El Califa de León has just four items on its menu, which diners eat while standing elbow to elbow

Blue plate with tacos on them
Taquería El Califa de León makes simple tacos with meat, salt, lime juice and optional sauces. Gerardo Vieyra / NurPhoto via Getty Images

The famed Michelin Guide helps diners discover the best restaurants in the world by awarding them coveted Michelin stars. Many of the eateries on the list are high-end, fine dining establishments serving expensive, multi-course chef’s tasting menus or gourmet à la carte dishes.

This year, however, the guide has recognized a 100-square-foot taco stand in Mexico with just four items on the menu and nowhere for diners to sit while enjoying their food.

Taquería El Califa de León, situated in Mexico City’s San Rafael neighborhood, has been awarded a star in Michelin’s inaugural guide to Mexico, which was published last week. It’s the first Mexican taco stand ever to receive a Michelin star; it’s also among the smallest restaurants ever to be recognized by the guide, reports Mark Stevenson of the Associated Press (AP).

The business has been operating out of the same stand on Avenida Ribera de San Cosme since 1968, according to the Washington Post’s María Luisa Paúl and Anumita Kaur. It’s helmed by chef Arturo Rivera Martínez, who stands next to a blazing hot, 680-degree grill all day, churning out tacos for crowds of hungry customers.

The eatery’s preparation is straightforward, per the AP: For the signature taco, Rivera Martínez cooks a piece of thinly sliced beef on the grill with a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of lime juice. As the beef cooks, he slaps a round of freshly rolled tortilla dough onto the grill. When both are ready, he hands them to the customer on a plastic plate. From there, diners can choose where to add red or green sauce.

He does the same for tacos featuring beef steak, beef rib and pork chops. Tacos cost around 53 to 82 Mexican pesos (roughly $3 to $5).

“The secret is the simplicity of our taco,” Rivera Martínez tells the AP. “It has only a tortilla, red or green sauce and that’s it. That, and the quality of the meat.”

Michelin’s anonymous inspectors were impressed by what they ate while scouring Mexico for the country’s best restaurants, writing that “there is a reason why El Califa de León has endured for more than half a century.”

Man making tacos on a flat top grill
The taco stand is tiny, measuring roughly 100 square feet. Gerardo Vieyra / NurPhoto via Getty Images

“This taqueria may be bare bones with just enough room for a handful of diners to stand at the counter, but its creation, the Gaonera taco, is exceptional,” according to the guide. “With meat and tortillas of this caliber, the duo of house-made salsas is hardly even necessary.”

And the right way to eat one of Taquería El Califa de León’s tacos?

“Standing up, elbow to elbow with other people and with a can of soda in hand,” says José Luis Rodríguez Ávila, the taco stand’s manager, to the Washington Post.

In Michelin’s new guide to Mexico, two restaurants earned two Michelin stars, 16 earned one Michelin star and six earned “green” stars for their sustainable practices. The guide also named 42 “Bib Gourmands,” a designation that denotes eateries with great food at an affordable price point.

Founded in 1889 in France, the Michelin tire company published its first guidebook in 1900 to encourage people to drive—and, ideally, increase tire sales. It printed 35,000 free copies of the guide, which included gas stations, mechanics and restaurants. In 1926, it created the Michelin star system and began sending anonymous inspectors to review eateries.

Today, nearly 100 years later, earning recognition from Michelin is a big deal for restaurants.

“The joy one gets out of three stars cannot be measured,” as Maxime Meilleur, the chef at La Bouitte in France, told the New York Times’ Dan Bilefsky and Elian Peltier in 2017. “It’s like winning the gold medal in the Olympics.”

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