lifestyle, travel This is Cozumel

FEATURE: There it was, parked on the side of the cobblestone street just off the downtown square of Cozumel.

Nearly camouflaged by hordes of passing tourists carrying bags stuffed with tacky puca shell necklaces and coconut heads, and gigantic fluorescent sombreros hanging from their necks


I briefly made out the word “tacos al carbon” painted in faded blue Spanish type, and headed to the front window of the portable kitchen on wheels, a few bucks in hand.

To really appreciate what Cozumel had to offer, I had to eat on the street. The straight-forward staple, pork or steak or chicken charcoal-grilled, plopped with red sauce or guacamole, wrapped up in a thin tortilla and loosely sealed in wax paper, was a must for me. This “fast food” of Mexico, the taco stand, is not only a quick stop for local snackers, it’s a true, un-ornamanted taste of every-day eating.

I ordered three pork tacos al carbon, in which the meat is quickly grilled to order over mesquite coals. My tacos were garnished with a little lime juice, a thin layer of fresh guacamole and grilled scallions, wrapped up in warm flour tortillas.

Cramming the tacos down my gullet with little hesitation, I sneered at the Senor Frogs and Hard Rock Cafe to my left, along with the tourists waiting in long lines for some pre-frozen, $9 hamburger they could have gotten back in the States.

And passing through downtown Cozumel, peeking into the make-shift store fronts, there was little time to spare: I had to find one of those snazzy maracas instruments painted like a Mexican flag and fast.

Beef Tacos al Carbon

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons olive oil plus additional oil for grilling the green onions

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 pounds. flank steak, trimmed of external fat

16 large green onions, trimmed

16 (6-inch) flour tortillas, warmed

Guacamole (1 to 2 cups)

Pico de gallo (1 to 2 cups)

In a shallow nonreactive dish, stir together the lime juice, 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Add the flank steak and let it stand at room temperature, covered, turning it once or twice, for 4 hours.

Preheat a gas grill (medium high) or light a charcoal fire and let it burn down until the coals are evenly white. Adjust the rack to 6-inches above the heat source. Lay the flank steak on the rack and grill it, covered, turning the steak once, for a total of about 12 minutes for medium-rare, or until done to your liking. Transfer the steak to a cutting board, tent it with foil, and let stand for 10 minutes.

Brush the green onions lightly with olive oil and lay them on the grill rack. Cover and cook, turning them once, until they are just lightly browned and becoming tender, a total of 3 or 4 minutes. Transfer them to a platter.

Carve the flank steak across the grain and at a slight angle into 1/2-inch slices. Cut the slices crosswise into 1/2-inch cubes. Serve immediately, accompanied by the grilled onions, tortillas, guacamole and salsa.

Edited version of a story by Jeff Walker, reproduced with kind permission of the San Marcos Record newspaper, Texas, US.

For more local food ideas visit our Cozumel restaurants section.