A Day in the Life of a Taco Stand -- Tacos al Pastor

My young friends Chico and Brenda have temporarily closed their hamburger stand in order to take over her brother’s taco stand while he is out of town for several months working for the railroad.  The stand is at her parents' home.  The taco stand is more profitable than their hamburger stand, and making money is very important to these newly wed college students.

I first ate these tacos a year ago.  They were terrific; the best I have every had.  I started trying to set up a photo shoot of this operation, but I kept getting excuses and put offs.  After Chico and Brenda took over, they were agreeable, with a condition.  The reason the family had not wanted me to do a story is because the secret to their excellent tacos is the preparation of the meat and onions -- the spice rub and the sauce.  They're a family secret that they do not want to reveal publicly.  I understand.  They have a large business because the tacos are so unusual.  These tacos al pastor are not made in the traditional way.

So, here is a day in the life of a taco stand with secrets kept.

The ingredients for tonight's tacos are 4 kilos of pork shoulder sliced thin by the butcher, 4 kilos of white onions, one kilo of pork fatback (Chico calls it bacon), the secret spice rub, the secret sauce, salt, fresh lime juice, and tortillas.

Chico begins about 5:00 in the afternoon with trimming the fat from the pork shoulder slices.  Then he cuts the fatback to size

Meanwhile, Brenda is thin slicing the onions on a mandolin.

She sprinkles the onion rings with the family's secret spice mix.

Then she tosses the onions until they are well covered and bright red.

With the meat trimmed and spread out on a sheet pan, Chico begins squeezing on the lime juice.

Next comes the salt.

Then he mixes and massages the meat to distribute the lime juice and salt, and to rub it into the meat.

With the juiced and salted meat spread out on the pan again, he sprinkles on the spice mixture.

Then he drizzles the meat with the secret sauce. (It is so damn good.  I wish I knew the secret.)

Mix and massage again.  He kneads the meat as though he were making bread.

Now he can begin building the rotisserie stack. First a layer of onions; then a layer of the meat. Each layer is tightly pressed down.

The layer of pork shoulder is topped with a layer of the fatback. Then the layering is repeated until all the meat has been used.

The stack is pretty messy looking, so the excess onions are trimmed away.  The trimmed stack is now crowned with half a pineapple.


This is the charcoal fired "oven" that will cook the spit of meat and onions.  The wing doors can be closed toward the stack to direct the heat as in the picture below.


The meat and onions are trimmed off as needed to make tacos for eager customers.

I came to take pictures early in the evening when the meat on the spit was not quite done, so Chico finished it off on the comal.

The small size corn tortillas are heated on the comal to soften them.

And then a spread of meat+onions is layered into four warm tortillas to feed a hungry photographer with a watering mouth.

I like the small tortillas -- more meat, less tortilla.

The preparation of these tacos is certainly time consuming (2 hours), but the result is unlike any taco I have ever eaten.

Even Chico and Brenda don't know the recipe for the spice mixture (made by her mother) and the sauce (made by her father).  The original was perfected by her uncle in Juarez several years ago.

February 2011 Update after seven months in action.
Business has been poor for the past couple of weeks because of the very cold weather. Some evenings they did not open at all. Also business has been going down for a few months because a bunch of drugers has been hanging out and selling drugs on the street near the taco stand. This made many people afraid to come to buy tacos.  Good news: now the weather has been better and the drugers have moved to another location, so business is picking up.

March 2011 Update After seeing the success of his father's chicken stand, Chico has changed to selling Pollo al Carbón.  No more tacos.  Chicken provides a higher profit for less work.

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