How Justino Jimenez Got To The Tacos Al Pastor Mountain Top

My mind was sufficiently blown watching him piece it together, his hands fluidly placing flat pieces upon a narrow stopper at the bottom of the spit. As he layered more and more pieces on–in a process he says only takes 25 minutes when he doesn’t have a reporter in the room–he shaved the sides with his knife as he turned the spit.

“You see this [a small bit he cut away], I put it inside. You want it to be flat. If I don’t keep it inside and keep it flat it will look ugly,” he says. It’s like watching a master wood worker as he transforms the mound from a misshapen head a la Meet The Feebles, to a respectable mound of pork he’ll make more handsome by cooking it a bit (~20-30 minutes, during which the meat will fuse) and trimming it a bit further before taking it to The Garage tonight where it will continue to cook throughout the night as he continuously turns the spit by hand.

And that leads to the third part of the art of pastor: the cutting.

“Yeah, it looks very simple but you have to understand how you’re going to control your spin at the same time. It’s not hard because you’re standing in there. When I was in Mexico, we used to do parties for 200 people and you don’t stop. The spit doesn’t stop,” he says (if that happens tonight, he says he may have to use the plancha, since his heating element doesn’t run that hot).

“Right now, it’s a little hard to trim because the meat is raw. But when it’s cooked, it’s easier. Like right now, you have some parts with fat or a little bit of sinew–those ones [especially] that’s why it doesn’t cut easily with a knife. But when it’s getting cooked, [even] those pieces are getting soft and all this flavor drips down from the meat and it’s really easy to slice,” he says.

And then, like a Kendo master, he illustrates the Zen of cutting al pastor tacos off the spit.

“Say you’re making one taco with this piece [he moves his hand down the length of the spit bound pork to indicate a shallow, narrow cut]. You start from the top to bottom, you’re making one taco. You spin a little bit and you make another taco down here [the same way]. By the time you get here [indicating back to that first cut] it’s already been cooking. It’s the reason you go long [down the length of the spit]–so you have a chance to cook it.

He also relates how, back in Mexico, instead of a stopper at the end of the spit, some people place either an onion or another chunk of pineapple to mirror the one at the other end of the spit. It’s regular customers he says–the ones who go to the same taco spot three or more times a week–who get cuts of the pork juice soaked onion or pineapple added to their tacos.

Tonight’s your first chance at the buttery, flavor rich tacos that Jimenez has been perfecting. In addition to al pastor with corn tortillas, he’s doing gringas (flour tortilla, queso Oaxaca, and al pastor meat), and chips and guacamole. Stop by The Garage for what is without a doubt, the best al pastor in Philly (yes, it’s even better than what Los Taquitos de Puebla is putting out). [Correction]He’ll be back March 1st.


The Garage Philly: 1231-1233 E Passyunk Ave


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