Backyard BBQ: Touring the world's best venue for barbacoa

The winner
As previously reported, ‘The World’s Seven Tastiest Fast Feasts Awards’ were revealed at a gala event in April. Chowzter, dedicated to promoting ‘traditional fast food’ was the proud sponsor. And out of five nominations for best taco in the world the prize went to Barbacoa Santiago in Querétaro. The tacos at Santiago, a roadside restaurant in the hands of the same family, originally from the state of Hidalgo, are legendary. Wrapped in maguey leaves and pit-cooked overnight over wood, the fragrant meat is served on freshly made blue or yellow tortillas augmented with hand-ground roast chile salsa that would bring a tear to the eye of the most hardened charro.
Accepting the award

As Chowzter’s Mexico City representative, I was charged with delivering the trophy, which was gratefully accepted by members of the Santiago family. After being fed everything on the menu, which includes several manifestations of their eponymous main dish, from tender 'lomo' to crispy refried bits, I was led on a “backstage tour”, apparently a privilege rarely granted and never before to a member of the press: even a Televisa crew was refused entry. Santiago's premises are gargantuan; everything, from tortillas to salsas are made in-house by dozens of busy cooks. Ten to fifteen  healthy, locally raised sheep are sacrificed, Abraham-like, daily. They are hung to dry, then roasted between layers of maguey leaves. Their earthen pit wood-fueled ovens are located in Dante-esque smoke-blackened oven rooms. This traditional method of cooking, similar to the 'pib' of the Mayan Yucatán, is little changed since pre-hispanic times.
Blue corn tortillas, the masa prepared by the 'nixtamalization' process, are hand pressed

Prepared sheep are briefly hung to cure
'Leña' and maguey leaves ready for the ovens
Meat is roasted in a pit dug into the earth, fueled by wood and covered in 'pencas' of maguey, the plant from which mezcal is produced
bamboo poles support roasted meat

Meat is transferred to wooden boxes, leaves and all, and prepared for tacos

At the table; two salsas, limes, onion and coarse salt

Barbacoa Santiago is located on the Carretera Mexico-Querétaro, km 152.1, Palmillas, San Juan del Río, Querétaro, about 2 hours north of Mexico City, and about 1 1/2 hours south of San Miguel de Allende. Open every day until around 7.

In El D.F., fine barbacoa can be sampled at La Oveja Negra in Santa Maria la Ribera, and at El Hidalguense, Campeche 155, Colonia Roma, open Friday - Sunday only. It is also available at markets and tianguis: particularly good is that served in Polanco's Saturday market and la Condesa's Tuesday tianguis. 
A note to my readers: See a fine interview with the author in this month's Time Out Mexico


  1. OMG..these photos are awesome...I was their years ago...but now I need to go back.

    Great post.

  2. I wouldn't call it BBQ though...

  3. David, I wouldn't call it BBQ either, not in the American sense of the term. It's a play on words. The term 'BBQ' comes from 'barbacoa', an Afro/Anitlliano term for pit or wood roasted meat. Just for the humorous title...