Finally, what I've been craving in Paris - good, simple Mexican street food. None of that fancy-schmancy Anahuacalli stuff (which, wasn't that good) and none of that tex-mex like Fajitas (which I must admit is pretty tasty). El Nopal, on the Canal Saint Martin, is pretty much a hole-in-the-wall but a very bright and colorful one.
The chef-owner was cooking the day we went, with some help from his mother-in-law. Chef, originally from Monterrey (totally didn't get his name but he was very friendly and great to talk to), did some time in the kitchens of New York before he moved to Paris with his French-Colombian wife about 3 years ago. He opened up his taqueria in September and is pretty much a one-man show. The menu is basic Mexican street food including tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and tortas, which a choice of either (a) piccadillo which is ground beef with some tomatoes and onions (b) chicken cooked a la plancha with some bell peppers (c) carne asada or (b) pork, which we didn't try because it hadn't finished marinading yet.
After ordering some chips (bagged) and guac (homemade but could use some more salt/lime), AB went with the quesadillas which came with cheese, chorizo, pork (ham? bacon?) and I want to say nopales but I don't remember...
I went with a carne asada torta with had a really tasty refried black bean spread, nicely marinaded tender meat (it didn't taste spicy to me actually), lettuce, avocado, tomato and some kind of special sauce (I assume it had crema in it since it was creamy). I opted out of the pickled jalapenos but how could I not add some spicy salsa to it? MMMMM, the spicy salsa is yum.
And then we were easily persuaded to get some more food so we got tacos, which came 3 to an order. Chef was super accommodating and let us have different fillings - two were piccadillo and one was pollo. More salsa! More deliciousness! The coolest thing is that he makes his own corn tortillas! I'm impressed as there's nothing quite like a freshly made corn tortilla - it definitely makes a huge difference over the store-bought packaged ones (which I am actually quite partial to).
To finish? His mother-in-law makes desserts. Sometimes they have coconut flan, sometimes she makes something else I didn't quite catch but today it was a coffee-flavored dessert made of alternating layers of what tasted like petit beurre cookies and coffee-flavored condensed milk (maybe dulce de leche flavored with coffee extract/liqueur?), topped with some hazelnuts. A sweet ending to a sweet meal.
Chef also mentioned that he likes to change the menu around so its not the same all the time. There will be tostadas in the near future and something like it with two soft tortillas (totally missed the name but he might've said sincronizada). He is also searching for a good seafood supplier to make fish and shrimp tacos (to serve that expat California population perhaps?). Might I mention that huaraches, sopes and tamales would also all be welcome in my tummy?
Drinks are the standard Mexican beers (Dos Equis, Negra Modelo, Sol, and I may or may not have seen a Tecate as well) and some sodas (Fanta, Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite). No Jarritos unfortunately (he tried contacting them but they were fairly unresponsive) but sometimes he has agua de jamaica and horchata (he said in the summer he had sandia and melon)! Although as a personal thing, I prefer agua de tamarindo. He's also trying to get a liquor license so he can serve margaritas, blood orange margaritas!
Can't wait to go back and try some other stuff on the menu sometime soon. And while I wait, please go there and check it out. Sure, it's tiny with two stools and little counter space but while we were finishing up, 6 or 7 teenagers piled in and they seemed to be happy and cozy. So eat your tacos standing while pretending you're in a real taqueria in Mexico until you look outside and realize that no, you're still in Paris but at least you can now get authentically yummy Mexican food somewhere.