In this era of clickbait and “eating for the Insta” it’s all too easy to lose sight of my joy for food exploration, which is why I’m grateful to be what my pal Andrew Zimmern calls a “food nerd.” And, I am especially grateful for fellow food nerds, like my good friends Greg and Jumi of Food & Footprints, whose Instagram page continues to be an inspiration. Without them I would never have have known about the late night al pastor torta man who sets up at the corner of Junction Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue outside a check cashing store.
If my memory serves I first tried to visit the much-heralded street food icon in the winter. While I eagerly waited for Greg, the al pastor man gamely sampled me a taco, after seeing me snap photos and listening to me gush about trying his spit roasted pork. When Greg arrived I eagerly told him about how the guy sampled me a taco, only to learn that this was the wrong al pastor cart. That didn’t stop us from ordering a torta though. It was good, but Greg was quick to tell me that the other guys was even better.
In early June I finally got to try the real thing, with a posse of fellow food nerds. Turns out Greg was right. We arrived at around 11 after eating our way through the Queens Night Market, to find a gent manning the largest al pastor trompa I’ve ever seen in Queens. Greg was quick to point out how hot the fire was. We started out with some tacos, which were magnificent with plenty of craggy, slightly burned edges, and a bit of shaved pineapple. Then it was torta time. The exact taste is lost to memory, but I do recall being amazed by the combination of mayonnaise and spicy pork fat.
Greg and Jumi, along with other food nerds like my good friend Scarlett Lindemann, a one-time New Yorker, who now owns a lovely spot in Cuauhtémoc called Cicatriz, spurred me to step well outside my comfort zone to visit Mexico City, where I ate plenty of al pastor, but only one torta. Nicholas Gilman who literally wrote the book—Good Food in Mexico City—on where to eat in CDMX was kind enough to take the time to show me one of his favorite torta stands—Tortas Been among many other things.
When we arrived at the Balbanera minimall, Gilman thought they’d closed for a moment. “Oh, they moved,” he said once he spied the cheery miniature restaurant across from a booth that specializes in Middle Eastern products ranging from falafel molds and hookahs to tahini and za’atar. It was only my second full day in CDMX so I was glad to have him as a guide to the bustling streets of Centro. We split a pierna al horno, chopped roast pork leg. It was the best torta I ate in the week I spent in Mexico City, and not just because it was the only one. It was dainty in comparison to others I’ve had, but that was all to the good as we had at least a half dozen other stops to make that day.
In case you’re wondering I did eat plenty of tacos whilst South of the Border, they’ll be the subject of another post. In the meantime, Viva Los Food Nerds!
Late Night Al Pastor Man, Junction Boulevard & Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights
Tortas Been, Avenida República de El Salvador 152, col. Centro (en el pasaje Balvanera)
06060 Mexico City, Mexico