Editor’s Note: In honor of the immigrants and refugees who have made their new home a better place for us all, this week we are running some of our favorite archived stories about those who have left a culinary mark on their adopted land.
Although we’re always hitting the pavement in search of the next good place to eat, sometimes places come to us. Such was the case with Tacos Árabes La Periquita, or “The Little Parrot,” an unassuming taquería in San Rafael that serves a relative rarity in Mexico City: “Arab tacos.”
A common way that restaurants in Mexico advertise is to produce a ton of fliers that an unlucky employee then takes around local neighborhoods and sticks in mailboxes and under doorjambs. We usually just toss these fliers in the trash, but once in a while, we’ll see an intriguing dish listed on one of them. Tacos árabes, the menu item at La Periquita that caught our eye, arrived with the Middle Eastern immigrants who came to Mexico around the turn of the 20th century, the same newcomers who brought over the rotating vertical spit cooking method now popular for making tacos al pastor. True to their origins, these large tacos are rolled up inside a pita-like flatbread instead of the more common tortilla.
Flyer in hand, we recently made our way to La Periquita to try the house specialty. Hard to miss, the restaurant takes its name quite literally when it comes to its décor. The bright colors of the namesake bird are everywhere, from the lime green and bright yellow walls to the blue chairs and orange employee shirts. The grills are located behind a long, yellow- tiled counter, and randomly placed mirrors reflect images of parrot cutouts that hang from the ceiling.
Opened in 1998 by a woman named Luz María who hails from the state of Guerrero, La Periquita has a fairly extensive food selection that goes beyond tacos árabes, with a giant menu that covers almost an entire wall. The star attraction, though, are the tacos árabes, which come in several versions. The two most popular, and our favorites, are chicken with manchego cheese (a soft cheese not to be confused with the Spanish version), and with al pastor-style pork meat. The chicken version is simple and low-frills: the tender chicken is grilled plain, manchego cheese is melted over it, and then it is all layered on top of a round pita bread and rolled up like a burrito. The pork meat is grilled the same way it would be for tacos al pastor, on a large spit near the entrance. When done, it is also sliced thin onto the pita bread and rolled up, only without the cheese. Sliced limes and two spicy salsas are provided at the table, one made from red habaneros and the other with avocado and jalapeño. Other versions of tacos árabes include tuna and manchego, bistek (thin pieces of beef) and one made with mushrooms and cheese.
The menu also includes a full array of more typical Mexican foods, including pozole, tortas and gringas, which are taco- like concoctions served on flour tortillas instead of corn ones, with cilantro, diced onions and pineapple slices in addition to the pastor filling. La Periquita’s tortas – sandwiches made with a crusty oblong bun – are plus-sized and the one we tried, with pastor meat and crumbled chorizo sausage, was excellent. There is also a simple but satisfying dessert menu that includes strawberries or peaches with cream or flan napolitano, a cheesecake-like custard. Horchata and aguas frescas made from mango, lime and watermelon are produced in-house daily, and flavors change weekly.
In a place like Mexico City, with its overabundance of good places to eat, it’s sometimes easy to lose track of whatever culinary treasures might be out there waiting to be discovered. From now on, we plan to scrutinize the fliers that get slipped under our door just a bit more closely than before.
This review was originally published on April 10, 2013.
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