MICHELIN Guide Ceremony 2 minutes 14 May 2024

Mexico’s MICHELIN One Star Taqueria: Taquería El Califa de León

The MICHELIN Guide Inspectors share a peek behind their decision.

Whether you’re in Miami, Manhattan, or Madrid, one thing remains constant in the restaurant industry: long-standing spots are hard to find. Enter Taquería El Califa de León. This humble taqueria in Mexico City’s San Rafael neighborhood has been in business for more than 70 years, and for good reason. They’re best known for their signature gaonera taco, an item our MICHELIN Inspectors took special note of during their multiple visits. Below, our Inspectors share a bit about what made them bestow One MICHELIN Star on this simple taqueria—with sensational food. 

The Setting

Think One Star dining is only elegant dining rooms with tables set with pressed white linens? Think again, as this taqueria is standing room only. To get a better sense of the place, one Inspector shared, “There are no tables and seats here—just a metal shelf-style counter to balance your plate.” Another noted, “it’s a humble spot that you could easily walk by. Obscured from view by clothing vendors and various shops, this taqueria is a mere slip of an operation dominated by a griddle, a tortilla press, refrigerator, and a short counter.” A third Inspector put the space in perspective: “The interior doesn’t allow for more than a handful of people to be inside at once.”


The Menu

Naturally, it’s all about tacos here. The thinly sliced meats are prepared simply and skillfully on the plancha with some lard, coarse salt, and a squeeze of lime juice—that’s it. Handmade corn tortillas are made right alongside, and it’s all cooked to order. The menu is tightly edited with just four options: bistec (seared steak), chuleta (thinly sliced pork chop), costilla (fork-tender beef), and their signature creation, the gaonera, with whole steak. 

Why It Stands Out

It’s often said that you should do one thing and do it well, but in this taqueria’s case, they do four things well. Our Inspectors appreciated the simplicity of El Califa’s approach. “It’s about the meat and tortilla without any fuss or garnish to dress it up or hide behind.” High quality products and consistency are key to this taqueria’s success. “Their technical ability shines, and since they only have four options on the menu, it allows them to maintain their standards throughout.” Whether they visited in the morning or at night during the busy dinner hours, the quality remained the same on every visit.


The Tacos Tasted:


“Seared on the plancha with lard, lime and salt, the meat is especially tender and flavorful with a nice sear. It’s a wonderful taco with good quality steak and a great tortilla. The salsa really makes it come alive, adding a vibrancy that doesn’t overpower the simple taco.”


“A thinly sliced pork chop that is nicely seared with a golden-brown exterior and a juicy interior, served on an excellent, freshly pressed masa tortilla.”


“This thin slice of beef was incredibly flavorful and so tender. The chef had my first two ready right away and timed it perfectly to hand me this just as I had finished my first plate. I got to eat it piping hot with the meat practically melting it was so tender.”


“It’s a skillfully prepared ribeye even more tender than the bistec and served on a thin yellow corn tortilla. The meat is so flavorful it doesn’t need it, but there is an option to add their house-made tomatillo salsa. There is a purity and simplicity to what they are doing here.”

Theirs are made by hand to order. “The masa is hand mixed with water to perfect the consistency to pass through the tortilla machine, and the resulting tortillas leaned a touch larger than some of the other tortillas seen in the city.” 



It's an “impressive” meal that is also affordable but be sure to bring cash, as they don’t accept credit cards. 

Hero image: The MICHELIN Guide

MICHELIN Guide Ceremony

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