It’s Cinco de Mayo and as much as I’d love to be digging my toes into a warm sandy beach at Esencia, I’m feeling a little reminiscent about Mexico City – the smoggy, vibrant and surprisingly hip city where I never did get mugged, despite my best efforts (getting dropped off in a bad part of town, at the wrong address, late at night with my suitcase and shaky Spanish for company).
It’s not somewhere I might ever have gone of my own volition, but I got sent there for work a few years ago and I’ll forever be thankful for the experience. Sure it’s little sketchy and arrestingly smoggy at times, but Mexico’s Distrito Federal is an intoxicating mix of edgy hotels and nightlife, ancient and pop culture and some of the most fascinating museums in the world. It’s also surrounded by some daytrips of a lifetime – drive for less than an hour to Teotihuacán and you can see the immense Pyramid of the Sun and other barely A.D. ruins at the UNESCO World Heritage Site there. If you’re only in town for a layover, don’t miss Fonda el Refugio, which has a cult-like following and is considered by many to be the best Mexican restaurant in a city where the competition is understandably tough.
In a city filled with diverse global cuisine and restaurants garnering international recognition (Izote, Pujol and Biko to name a few), Mexico City’s street food alone is worthy of a dedicated vacation. My favorite late night outdoor treat was Tacos al Pastor – filled with sweet and juicy marinated pork and tender roasted pineaple, carved from a shawarma/gyro/donner-like spit called a “trompo” in Mexico.
This recipe is an at-home version of Tacos al Pastor, with pineapple in the marinade (instead of atop a spit) to tenderize the pork. It’s wickedly good – full of big citrusy, spicy, savory flavors – and might set you up as competition for your favorite taco truck. It’s also surprisingly healthy and naturally low in fat if you skip the sour cream. Enjoy it with a cold Victoria, Negra Modelo or some Mandarin Key Lime flavor Oogave soda (which reminds me of Corona and lime without the alcohol).
Salud and Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Adapted from Steven Raichlen | Serves 8
1/4 white onion
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp guajillo or ancho chile powder
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried cumin
1 small chipotle chile in adobo, plus 1 tsp adobo sauce
1 whole pineapple, peeled and cut into 1/2″ slices
2 small pork tenderloins (1- 1 1/2 lbs.), cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 red onion, finely minced
1-2 tbsps hot jalapeno slices, finely chopped
8″ corn tortillas
1 lime, cut into wedges
sour cream and salsa verde to serve (optional)
To make marinade:
Place first nine ingredients in food processor along with 2 slices of the pineapple, and blend until smooth. Pour into a large plastic bag or glass/non-reactive dish, add pork and marinate for at least 4 hours or up to a day.
To make tacos:
Mix together finely chopped red onion, cilantro and jalapenos. Set aside.
Heat grill or griddle over medium-high heat. Grill remaining pineapple slices until warm and grill marks are present. Set aside.
Grill pork slices (don’t shake off excess marinade) until charred and cooked through (about 2-4 minutes). Transfer pork to cutting board and allow to cool for a few minutes. Chop pork and pineapple together into small bite-sized pieces.
Spoon pork and pineapple mixture into warm tortillas and serve with red onion cilantro relish, lime wedges and sour cream or salsa verde.
Note: If you are going to marinate the pork overnight, I recommend pureeing the pineapple seperately and leaving it out of the main marinade. Mix the pineapple puree back into the pork mixture an hour or so before you are ready to cook the pork. Why? Too much time bathing in the pineapple’s tenderizing bromelain enzymes can make the pork a little soft in texture.