With its neo-industrial decor, Tizne looks like a lot of new Mexico City restaurants and shops riding the “rough hewn” interiors wave. Metal chairs, uncovered cement walls and digital art work give the place the feeling of a warehouse or underground club, albeit one that happens to have amazing tacos.
Tizne’s full name, Tizne Tacomotora (“the taco motor”), explains some of the machinery references in their decor. Partners Pilar Canseco and Jorge Vaca started their business with a bike cart outfitted with a meat smoker that they would cart around from music festival to music festival, selling three of what would become their limited (and heavenly) menu of smoked-meat tacos.
Pilar and Jorge met while in the culinary arts program at Mexico City’s Claustro de Sor Juana, a private university. After graduation, they were both working at other restaurants but met up on their day off each week to cook the food they loved. Barbecue was their obsession, and they eventually built a smoker so they could test some of their more outrageous recipe ideas.
“There were, of course, lots and lots of disasters,” Pilar laughs.
But there were also raving successes, including the slow-smoked brisket that melts in your mouth. The flavor intensity of the thinly sliced brisket with its multi-chile “gravy,” as they call it, is balanced out by sprigs of fresh cilantro and mint, and a few thin slices of tangy green tomatillo on top. All wrapped up in a jewel-toned blue corn tortilla. An additional dab of minty salsa verde puts this taco over the top – it’s obvious to see why it was their first big seller.
They started touring the city’s music festivals in 2016, handing out gourmet tacos filled with smoked pork belly, brisket, and barbecue ribs. Festivalgoers soon started asking where to find them outside the fairgrounds. They had originally planned on a food truck, but outfitting the interior was prohibitively expensive. Yet the crowds were clamoring so loudly for their tacos that they decided to make a go of it in a brick-and-mortar location – surprisingly a more affordable endeavor.
Mexico City’s Roma and Condesa neighborhoods – long the city’s most popular with tourists – were beyond their means, so they set up shop in the cool-by-proximity and much less expensive Del Valle, just south of Roma, in 2016. Del Valle, once quietly residential, is starting to serve as the overflow of cool from neighborhoods whose level of gentrification has made opening a business there a pricey prospect.
Due to the success of their tiny spot in Del Valle, the duo was able to open a second location in Roma in 2019. Yet this expansion necessitated a new production facility, which they opened at a spot half an hour south, near Mexico City’s wholesale market. As unassuming as both locations might be, Tizne Tacomotora offers a menu of tacos unlike any in the city.
As unassuming as both locations might be, Tizne Tacomotora offers a menu of tacos unlike any in the city.
Pilar and Jorge aren’t afraid to mix and match culinary traditions (their barbecue ribs are spiced with morita chile, and the Korean barbecue taco is just as good as what you can find in Little Korea in Colonia Juarez), and when pairing ingredients, they prioritize a balance of salty and sweet, heavy and fresh. The fatty bacon flavor of the pork belly is augmented by a garlic paste and a zing of serrano chile. The intense sweet garlic of the barbecue ribs is balanced by the watery crunch of verdolaga leaves on top. Another of the menu’s must-try delicacies is the tatemado avocado – essentially a salted and charred avocado half – that is smoked with mezquite, oak and walnut wood, and includes a dusting of ash on top (as many of their dishes do).
Their tacos are made from a unique blending of cooking traditions that run the length of North America – from northern style barbecue and meat smoking, whose earliest influences were the Native Americans smoking game to preserve it for leaner times, to the pre-Hispanic technique of tatemar, a style of cooking where vegetables are burned on a flat griddle or comal. The phenomenal blending of these techniques is a reminder of the beautiful linkages (and potential linkages) between cuisines across cultures.
Like restaurants around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic hit Tizne hard. Before March of this year they were catering events every weekend for 500-plus people and did a bustling in-house dining business at both their locations. Once the pandemic hit all that stopped. Luckily, says Pilar, their to-go service boomed those first few months, and while they had to cut hours, they didn’t have to fire their staff.
“We developed some package deals to try to encourage people to order more, with beer included, for special occasions like Father’s Day, stuff like that,” says Pilar. “We really thought it was just going to last a few weeks, we had no idea it would go on this long.”
After Tizne opened again in July into the “new normal,” the delivery side of their business continued to be a lifeline, but as the pandemic has gone on and diners have less to spend and more to-go options on which to spend it, Pilar says they have now seen a dip in to-go sales as well.
Mexico City’s spike at the end of 2020 has meant a return to lockdown, and Tizne is back to pure to-go orders, with everyone hoping that the vaccine might mean Mexico’s economy can open back up, if only just a little, in the coming months.
Editor’s note: To further explore how the pandemic has affected the areas featured in our 2020 “Neighborhoods to Visit” guide and what recovery may look like, we will be publishing dispatches from restaurants, markets and food shops in these districts all week long.
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