In Mexico, taquerias abound, and while many serve good tacos, only a few have truly memorable ones.
To find those exceptional taquerias, there are three foolproof tactics: first, it should always be full of satisfied-looking people; second, trust the popular wisdom—if many people say that a certain place serves great tacos, you have to check it out; and third, rely on the advice of your foodie friend, the one who considers themselves an expert in tacos and knows where to find the best ones.
El Vilsito meets all three criteria: it’s always packed, it’s popular among locals for its tacos al pastor, and several known foodies claim that eating there is a delight.
“Over time and through word of mouth, the word got out,” says Isidro Hernández, the manager of El Vilsito since its founding 36 years ago. El Vilsito’s fame is well-founded—it does indeed offer some of the best tacos al pastor in Mexico City, and it’s also true that, in addition to being a taqueria, it’s a mechanic’s shop.
The story began on August 27, 1987, when Juan Carlos Blanco, the owner of a workshop called Mecauto, decided to open a small restaurant where his customers could eat while waiting for their cars to be repaired. He named it El Vipsito—with a “P,” as a wordplay reminiscent of the Vips restaurant chain. In the mid-2000s, intellectual property officials tried to fine the restaurant because it couldn’t use the name Vipsito. To resolve the matter easily, they changed the “P” to an “L.”
The name of the taqueria didn’t matter much, if it preserved its famous taco al pastor: a corn tortilla filled with marinated and grilled pork, topped with a slice of pineapple, diced onion, and cilantro, complemented by a well-balanced red sauce and a few drops of lime. “We started with 20 kilos of pastor a day; now we sell up to half a ton,” Hernández says.
Although hungry drivers were the first customers, soon neighbors and passersby started to arrive, drawn in by the crowd. Later, people from all over the city came in search of the neighborhood taco workshop. Nowadays, many foreigners visit it, having learned about the place through TV series, some gastronomic guide, or because they saw El Vilsito on TikTok. It’s easy to recognize them because they have a good time making their own video or taking a photo while taking a bite of their taco.
The demand for “tacos al pastor” grew so much that now they have three “trompos” —as the stack of marinated meat is called— that never stop spinning, and this is precisely the key to ensure their “pastor” is never dry or burnt; they serve it well-cooked but tender.
This taqueria is right on the street, and people usually eat standing with their plate in hand. The bar at the front of the place is insufficient when it starts to get dark. Some diners find a few high tables on the sidewalk to sit at, but it’s not enough, especially on a Friday night, when they have counted up to 2,000 people. According to Isidro, that’s why they decided to renovate, and at the end of October, they inaugurated a place with seating for 60 diners.
In this new space, they will start selling alcohol since, for the moment, they only have beers, micheladas, soft drinks, and horchata, which is also worth trying, and according to Isidro, it’s his recipe. “Well, I pirated it from a place where I worked in Iztapalapa,” he confesses, but he claims he improved it.
That small taco stand is now one of the most famous stops in the Mexican capital. That’s why they had to change their original schedule. Before, the workshop closed, and the stoves were lit from 6 pm until dawn. Now, they start at 1 pm and close at 5 am on Fridays and Saturdays, hours dominated by night owls who leave the bars craving a good taco.
What’s the secret behind this famous “pastor”? Isidro didn’t want to reveal it; he only mentions that it’s a recipe they improved in their early years. However, he assures that its taste is based on the quality of the ingredients: “It doesn’t cost me anything to buy everything once a week and put it in a refrigerator, but it’s not the same. You have to have everything fresh and sell quality.” Since they opened, they have been closely collaborating with trusted suppliers who send them the best meat, good corn tortillas, and vegetables at least three times a week.
Despite the success, “El jefe” (the boss), as Isidro calls him, refuses to start a franchise, or close his automotive business and turn that corner into a big taqueria. So, El Vilsito will continue to be “the mechanic shop that serves one of the best ‘tacos al pastor’ in Mexico City at night.”