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Grab and Go

We came to Mexico City with sushi on the brain.

No, we hadn't heard whispers of any culinary movements or read reviews praising a new Mexo-Japanese fusion joint. Quite simply, we were craving it. After 9 months of living in Nicaragua, where sushi is scarce and eat-at-your-own-risk, Mexico could finally satisfy us.

But we didn't just want the taste of sushi, we also wanted what eating sushi meant. Sushi was metropolitan. It was access to more options, to feeling cultured—maybe it was even luxury. In Nicaragua, where people survive with much less, we had quickly learned how much we took these novelties for granted. But at times, we still secretly, guiltily craved them.

And just as we'd hoped, Mexico City indulged us. In the trendy La Condesa area, we sipped on strong Old Fashioneds and stuffed ourselves with artisan pizza. In La Roma—Condesa's hipster neighbor—we ate juicy burgers at an American-style diner. In Navarte, the quiet barrio where we stayed southeast of downtown, we enjoyed our sushi. The rolls had thick layers of cream cheese and over-sticky rice, but our longing was enough to make them delicious.

At last we were "sophisticated" again, dining among other young people on the varied cuisines that more money could buy. But we kept getting distracted. As we wandered through these trendy neighborhoods, exploring our myriad options, we were constantly tempted by the smoke and sizzle of street tacos.

These taco stands all looked the same: customers huddled over their metal countertops, packed close together, reaching across each other to dip into bowls of colorful salsas. Cone-shaped hunks of pork on a spit were wedged between softball-sized onions and pineapple chunks. The spits shone like beacons, dripping and glistening as they were shaved away for tacos al pastor.

Taco stands were on every corner, and when our hunger became too much to suppress in the quest for fancier dining, they were unavoidable.

Our tacos arrived before we had time to change our minds. Their small tortillas had been dipped in the juices that gathered below the pork spit and then fried, a soft container for the pork's fatty center and crisp edges. Some finely diced white onion and smoky red chile sauce topped them, just subtle enough to enhance the meat's salty-sweetness. We devoured them almost as quickly as they were prepared, the flavors richer than anything else we'd tried.

We came to Mexico City for sushi, and for a taste of the privilege our former selves had come to expect. But street food is an equalizer — a low-cost mix of meat, grease, and spice that appeals to our most primal instincts. We had arrived ready to revel in Mexico City's refinery. Instead, we found ourselves the happiest on the side of the street, scooping 60-cent tacos off of plastic-covered plates and into our mouths, pork juice dribbling down our chins.

Sushi? We could do without it for a while. Tacos? We could probably fit another...

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