This could get emotional, I'm warning you at the outset.
Last winter we skipped town for a few months and fled to Europe, wandering our way down from Paris, through Granada, out to the island of Madeira, and eventually landed in Lisbon for the month of February (click on any of the above city names for a blog post detailing our time there!). We had the most dreamy AirBnB possible, and were ready to settle down in one place for a little and really make it home. The only problem was, having been on the road for so long at that point I (Andrew) actually was really beginning to miss our real home. And for me, that usually means missing food.
Chicago is a dangerous place to live if you like to eat. We have two seasons: eating outside season, and eating inside season. And we celebrate both pretty hardily, hopping from patio to food festival to rooftop bar when weather permits, and hunkering down in dark lounges or around restaurant fireplaces when it's so cold out that the entire city second guesses why we live here in the first place. But it's more than simply the quantity of our consumption in Chicago that makes it dangerous; the quality of our bars and restaurants is fairly unrivaled. Yes, I'm biased, but I've traveled a lot and there are few places like the Windy City to feast in. And so it leaves us spoiled, unable to spend too long away without longing for a good meal and a cold bevarage back home.
But back to Europe. Don't get me wrong: the Parisians know a thing or two about the culinary arts. As do the Spaniards and the Portuguese. They have their fine dining, their traditional dishes that have been perfected over generations, their little espressos and expensive wines (don't get me started on trying to find a decent cup of coffee or a well mixed cocktail though). But you know what they don't have, and thus for all of their aforementioned delicacies they are left utterly lacking in the food department?
The Institute for Mexicans Abroad reports that there are around 11.9 million Mexicans living outside of Mexico proper: 97.8% of them live in the United States. Without Mexicans, there are no tacos. There is no tequila or mezcal. There is no horchata. No pozole, no quesadillas, no elote, no chilaquiles, no tortilla chips still warm from the frier and most certainly no guacamole or salsa to dip them in. I could go on for hours, but put simply, without the Mexican culinary influence that we have in the States (and moreover in Chicago), what reason is there for me to go out for dinner?
Now, I'm aware that I am beginning to sound extreme. But remember, I was getting homesick. And so we started searching for any Mexican restaurant in Lisbon, disappointedly scrolling through the names of restaurants with menus that looked nothing like the food I was craving.
And then we found it. A taqueria called "Pistola y Corazon," just a couple of miles from our apartment. Their website boldly proclaimed "our taqueria is a place where food should be enjoyed, without judgement and without preconceptions. Eat with your hands, with other food lovers, good music and strong 'cocteles'." We set off to find this beacon of goodness with high hopes.
Upon entering the small, one-room restaurant you immediately notice that there are no individual tables. It is all communal seating (which we found after talking to the owner is a concept most Europeans are still getting comfortable with), save for a bar in the back lined with tequila bottles. On the wall there is a painting of Frida Kahlo wearing a Daft Punk shirt and smoking a cigarette next to a photograph of two boys in luchador masks. The books on their shelves bear titles such as "La Tacopedia" and "Chicano Visions," and their napkin holders are empty Pacifico 6-pack carriers (which, by the way, is a Mexican beer and one of the first beers I ever had, and it happened to be with my brother-in-law who is...wait for it...one-quarter Mexican. I may be connecting way too many dots here, but this seems like more than blind chance so roll with it). I don't want to even go into their menu (you can drool over it here), for fear that this blog post will turn into a full-on novel (have we even talked about their cocktails yet?!). But that first time we went, we knew that we had found a bit of home there in Lisbon. It could've been the hot peppers on my tacos de chicharron, or simply the fact that I hadn't really processed how much I was beginning to miss Chicago, but I definitely started getting choked up. I wanted to walk into the back and hug the cooks. I wanted to shout to all of Lisbon that this place was the best taco shop I've eaten in to date (and that is saying something). I wanted to come back for more food. Every. Single. Day.
And we kind of did. For their lunch specials, for late night mezcal cocktails, we even ended up there for dinner on Valentine's Day (qué romántico). And they became our people, too (though they probably thought it was weird how often these gringos ate there). So much so that we asked them if we could come in one morning and take photos for them, just to share with our small following of people how much we loved their restaurant. And in exchange, they packed our bellies so full of Mexican goodness that we immediately went home for a multi-hour siesta.
There are a number of different ways I could end this blog post (and if you've managed to stick it out until now then I applaud you), but I'll simply say this: I am eternally grateful for the little things that, no matter where in the world we go, bring us briefly back home. And I am forever indebted to this restaurant for doing that for me. If you are ever in Lisbon, do yourself the massive favor of spending an evening at Pistola y Corazon. And let us know when you go, we sometimes price plane tickets back to Portugal simply to say hi, grab a taco, and drink mezcal with our friends there. ¡Salud!