Tired of mediocre Mexican fare in Paris? So was Luis. He came to the conclusion that the only way he was going to get a good taco in Paris was to open up his own taqueria. Fortunately for the rest of us, he did just that.
The storefront at 52 rue Saintonge in Paris’ 3rd arrondissement, conveniently located between the République and Filles du Calvaire Métro stops, is decidedly unassuming. Rustic, mostly white with brightly colored shelves and fresh flowers livening up the décor, it does have a bit of that taco-shack-on-the-beach feel.
But that is far from the best part.
I certainly didn’t eat there twice in one week for the décor. No, these are the best tacos this side of Juarez. The menu changes periodically, but the carnitas are a standout and are probably already a menu staple. On both of my visits there was a taco featuring cheese melted directly on the griddle – once it was filled with beef and “poblano” peppers, the other time it was rajas. They also serve an excellent tostada – none of that overly salad-filled taco shell business here. Instead, it’s a freshly fried corn tortilla topped with something wonderful. So far, choices have included chicken tinga, black beans and cheese, and (my personal favorite) a deliciously messy pollo pibil. Chef Luis, who hails originally from Mexico, promises to offer tacos al pastor in the near future, because “it’s not a taqueria without al pastor.”
A little-known but excellent Mexican hot sauce by the name of Valentina is in ready supply, as are communal bowls of house-made salsas. One is mango-based and somewhat spicy (super piquant pour les français), the other features peanuts and chipotle peppers, and is surprisingly mild.
At lunchtime, a bowl of agua fresca sits at the end of the bar. Last Wednesday it was jamaica, aka hibiscus. At dinnertime it’s dessert – a flourless chocolate cake graced the spot on opening night.
To drink, Candelaria serves a range of Jarritos sodas and Mexican beers. And is that Mexican Coke? If you’re in the mood to party, you can have a shot of tequila, but the real bar part of the venture is in back, through the semi-hidden door. It’s a complete change of scenery, dark and sassily decorated with hipster bartenders mixing a selection of intriguing drinks, from hibiscus margaritas to Singapore slings. My personal favorite is the “Guêpe Verte,” or “green hornet,” a dangerously drinkable tequila concoction infused with cucumber, chili pepper, lavender, and lime. Depending on how you want your night to play out, you could have your drink first and then fill up on tacos, or vice versa. In theory, food isn’t allowed in the bar, but I’m willing to bet more than one taco has been smuggled in already.
I said it before on Facebook, and I’ll say it again here: Candelaria puts the rest of the Mexican food in Paris to shame.
On this day in 2008: Food Fair, Concluded (Part 3 of a three-part series on my first visit to a French food salon.)
Originally published on Croque-Camille.