The Taco Chronicles on Netflix taught me three important things about barbacoa:
- Barbacoa is a way of cooking, not a specific type of meat. (I thought barbacoa was beef because that’s what it’s most commonly served as in the US, but in northern Mexico it’s often sheep, in central Mexico it’s lamb, and in southern Mexico barbacoa is usually pork.)
- Barbacoa is a breakfast meat (if you’re not going to eat it before noon, don’t bother eating it at all).
- The best barbacoa in Mexico is only an hour outside of Mexico City in the city of Texcoco.
So, Dan and I woke up at 6 am to visit Texcoco and eat the best barbacoa in Mexico at an unassuming restaurant called El Pica 1 – and this is exactly how you can too.
Serving up the consome (broth) that was cooking all night with the meat in the barbacoa pit
Important Info You Need to Know
Let’s start with the most important info you need to know to visit Texcoco.
First, El Pica 1 is only open on the weekends, so don’t bother making this trip during the week or you’ll end up sorely disappointed.
Many reviews I read said we needed to get to El Pica 1 early or we’d risk getting caught in long lines or even worse, arriving after the barbacoa sold out. So, Dan and I arrived around 8:20 am on a Saturday morning and it was lively but the lines were still short. Even when we left at 10 am, though, there was almost no line – so, take those reviews with a grain of salt. I do believe Sundays are more busy, though, so you may want to heed them more if you decide to go then.
On a Saturday, around 9:15 or 9:30 is the perfect time to arrive because you can get a little more sleep, obviously, and all the other vendors selling salsas and tortillas and fresh juice will be set up and serving, unlike when we arrived at 8 am.
Speaking of other vendors, El Pica 1 doesn’t work like a traditional restaurant.
It’s more like a marketplace where you get the meat from one stand, the tortillas and salsa from another, and drinks from a third, etc. Because of that, you need to bring your own plates, napkins, and utensils, and of course, bring cash to ensure you can buy everything you want!
Lots of greenery (and a few bars getting ready to open) in the morning sun at El Pica 1
How to get from Mexico City to Texcoco (Without a Car)
Now that you know what to bring and when to go, follow these steps to get from Mexico City to Texcoco.
Buses from Mexico City to Texcoco leave every 20 to 30 minutes from the TAPO bus station near the Centro Historico. Click here to find TAPO on Google Maps and use the CheckMyBus website to see the bus schedule from Mexico City to Texcoco on the day you want to go.
You can take the metro to the TAPO station or you can take an Uber which I personally prefer. From the popular tourist neighborhoods of Roma and Condesa (where we are staying and you probably are too) our Uber ride took about 30 minutes and cost 100 mxn / 5 usd.
At the TAPO station we found the ticket booth that’s clearly labeled Texcoco in massive letters (seriously, you can’t miss it) and bought tickets for the 7 am bus. They cost 63 mxn / 3 usd per person and the bus left right on time.
We arrived in the center of Texcoco 45 minutes later and then it was time to get to El Pica 1 for some sweet, sweet, barbacoa meat!
Mexico City to Texcoco travel tip: Sit on the right side of the bus for gorgeous sunrise views of Izta and Popo, the second and third tallest mountains in Mexico. Izta is a dormant volcano but Popo is still active and you can see her little puffs of smoke rising up into the morning air. Hiking in Izta-Popo National Park is one of my peronal favorite day trips from Mexico City and you can click here to learn exactly how to do it.
Caught in the act
How to get from Central Texcoco to El Pica 1
Unfortunately, El Pica 1 is six miles from central Texcoco so you’ll need to take a collectivo (shared taxi van), a private taxi, or an Uber to get there from the bus station once you arrive in the city.
The Uber, of course, is the simplest route (and it does exist in Texcoco) and will cost around 90 mxn / 4.50 usd for the ride.
Texcoco to El Pica 1 by Collectivo
We didn’t take a collectivo but I saw them dropping people off at El Pica 1 so I know they go from the centro to the restaurant.
At the bus station, you can ask around for the collectivo station and my guess is that the ride will cost about 10 mxn / .50 usd per person. The only downside is it’ll take longer because they’ll wait for it to fill up and then drive around to pick up and drop off more people.
Texcoco to El Pica 1 by Taxi
I don’t have data on my phone so I wasn’t able to call an Uber when we arrived at the Texcoco bus station and we had to use a taxi instead. Luckily, I had looked up the Uber price the night before so I knew what was roughly a fair price for the ride.
The taxis in Texcoco don’t have meters so you’ll have to agree to a price ahead of time.
The first driver we asked told us 100 mxn / 5 usd for the trip, and I knew an Uber was about 88 mxn, so we accepted. In a taxi the ride winds up into the hills and takes about 15 to 20 minutes (I was so excited to arrive I forgot to check the exact time!).
Waiting for our ticket number to be called. The cooking pit, where they serve up the broth, is on the right, the table dishing up the meat itself is in the middle, and the money stand selling order tickets is in the back.
How to Order Barbacoa at El Pica 1
As I said, El Pica 1 is more like a market than a restaurant. The first thing you’ll see when you walk in is tons of hanging greenery and some men doing the work of gods cooking and serving the barbacoa and broth in the morning mist. It’s truly a beautiful sight.
The barbacoa is the main draw and easy to find. Walk past the men ladeling up the broth and serving up the meat until you get to the payment booth in the back of the room.
The menu on the wall states the price of the barbacoa per kilo (418 mxn / 21 usd with bones and 428 mxn without bones) and the price of the broth (50 mxn / 2.50 usd per liter).
Choose how much you want (a half kilo is more than enough for two people) and pay here. Afterward you’ll get a numbered ticket for your meat and if you order the broth (you should for the full experience) you’ll get a second ticket for that as well.
Wait for your number to be called and pick up your order.
When you get to the counter, they’ll ask if you want barbacoa or pancita or both. The pancita is the organs of the animal all cooked together inside of the stomach, and the barbacoa is the meat.
We just got the barbacoa, but if you’re more adventurous you can definitely get both as the typical tradition is to start with the broth, then eat the pancita, and then finish with the barbacoa.
When he was preparing our order, the server slapped a sample of the hot meat into my hand and salted it for me to try while I waited.
This one bite will change your life, and you’ll never look at other meat the same way again.
More stalls at El Pica 1
How to Assemble the Rest of Your Meal at El Pica 1
Buying the rest of your food with greasy meat hands isn’t ideal, but it wouldn’t be the true El Pica 1 experience if you did it any other way.
Wander through the market with your steaming bag of meat and buy tortillas from the vendors selling tortillas and salsas and taco toppings (like onion and cilantro) from the vendors selling salsas and taco toppings and fresh juice or pulque (a fermented – yes, that means alcoholic – drink made from agave plants) from the vendors selling fresh juice and pulque. There are also bars selling Pina Coladas, beer, and mixed drinks, and a market at the front with water and soda as well.
These booths really start opening around 9 am which is why I recommend arriving a little later. At 8:30 am there was one open (so we did end up with our tortillas and salsas) but more options are always better.
Oh, by the way, the ladies at the ‘Pancitadores‘ booth sell the most delicious crispy fried cinnamon sugar desserts call bunuelos that you absolutely must buy to finish off your meal.
Enjoy the Best Barbacoa in Mexico!
Grab a seat under the greenery and join in the party – there’s nothing better than digging into a delicious meal surrounded by other people enjoying the same thing!
It’s worth making the trip from Mexico City to Texcoco to visit El Pica 1 because it’s much more than just a restaurant – it’s an experience.
You’re out in the countryside in the fresh air, your meat was freshly prepared and pulled from the pit next to where it’s served, and tons of families and friends are laughing and enjoying the weekend together alongside you – all of which just makes the barbacoa tacos taste that much better.
Three More Things to do in Texcoco
After you eat, there are a few more things to do in Texcoco to convince you to stay in the city for the day. So, stick around and cross these three unique activities off your Texcoco bucket list!
One cup of thick, white, pulque, comin’ right up
1. Drink pulque and enjoy the festive atmosphere in El Pica 1
Pulque is a Mexican drink also known as ‘the drink of the Aztec gods’ because it’s so steeped in the country’s history.
The thick, white liquid is made from agave plants just like tequila, but tequila comes from fermented agave juice and pulque is made from the fermented sap. You can choose to drink pulque blanco, the traditional, pure pulque or pulque curado, which is flavored with fruit and less strong.
It may be a bit of an acquired taste, but it’s something you should definitely try at El Pica 1 – or at least somewhere in Mexico while you’re here – because it really isn’t widely available anywhere else in the world.
2. Visit Parque Nacional Molino de Flores
The Molino de Flores national park is open every day from 8 am to 6 pm and admission is free. It’s about a 10-minute taxi ride away from El Pica 1 (back toward Texcoco) and inside you’ll find the remains of a 400-year-old colonial farm, home, and church. They’re so well-kept that the park is often used as a set for movies set in historic Mexico!
El Bano del Reina at the Texcotzingo ruins
3. Hike to the Texcotzingo Ruins
I love hiking, and if there are ruins at the end of the trek, even better. Because of that, Dan and I chose to visit the Texcotzingo ruins instead of Molino de Flores after we ate.
The ruins of baths and an old palace from the 1400s sit on top of a hill with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains and even Mexico City in the distance.
Best of all, it’s easy to walk to the Texcotzingo ruins from El Pica 1 – and I’m gonna tell you exactly how to do it.
Pretty streets on the walk from El Pica 1 to the Texcotzingo Ruins
How to Hike to Texcotzingo Ruins from El Pica 1
The trailhead to the Texcotzingo ruins is about 45 minutes walking from the El Pica 1 restaurant.
To reach them by foot, turn right when you leave the restaurant and follow the road into what kind of looks like a cul-de-sac, but isn’t. It dead-ends into a wall and you need to turn right again and head downwards past the houses.
After a bit, it’ll spit you out onto a paved road where you can turn left and follow until it again deadends. Turn left and walk for a few minutes until you see a primary school painted in rainbow colors on your left – this is your signal to turn right.
Now, follow this winding road until you reach a dirt road with a large sign announcing the Texcotzingo Archaeological Site. From here the dirt road turns left and begins going up the mountain where it will become a path straight to the top!
The trek to the top is on a pretty well-maintained path and then turns into the old stairs from the ruins. It’s a fairly quick and easy trek with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and mountains as you climb.
The stairs lead straight to the Bano del Reina (queen’s bath) and then you can follow the path in a circle around the mountain to see the Bano del Rey (king’s bath) or you can continue up higher to the palace ruins at the top.
I suggest continuing to the top because these ruins have the best view on the mountain. You’ll also see from here that the path continues to even more ruins in the countryside that you can continue to explore as well if you still have more energy!
Enjoying the sweeping views on our climb to the Texcotzingo ruins
Texcotzingo Ruins to Texcoco City Center
From the base of the mountain, up to the ruins, and back to the base, we spent about an hour and a half in total hiking, visiting the ruins, taking photos, and just chillin’ with the view.
Then, we returned to the end of the dirt road (where the large Texcotzingo sign is) and waved down a passing collectivo (shared van) heading to the Texcoco city center. The cost was 11 mxn / .50 usd per person and he dropped us off right at the bus station we needed.
When you get into the van, the driver will ask you if the bus station you’re going back to in Mexico City (which they often just refer to as Mexico) is TAPO or Norte – if you’ve been following the advice in this article, tell him TAPO and he’ll bring you to the correct station in Texcoco to get you there.
If you ended up taking a bus from Mexico City to Texcoco from the Norte station instead (which is also an option, according to a friend) tell your collectivo driver Norte and he’ll take you to the correct station in Texcoco to get you back there as well.
View from the top!
How to get from Texcoco to Mexico City
As stated earlier, don’t be alarmed that your bus back to Mexico City is leaving from a different station than the one you arrived at.
The price was also different – we paid 35 mxn / 1.80 usd each this time instead of 63 – and it seems like the buses leave often. We arrived, boarded, and left all withing five to ten minutes and the 45-minute trip back to Mexico City was smooth.
Finally, the last step in our day trip to Texcoco was getting from the TAPO bus terminal back to our apartment. There was no open wifi so we couldn’t call an Uber, but luckily there is a Taxi Seguro stand inside the TAPO bus station in the center.
Follow the large signs that lead the way and then you can tell the lady in the booth which neighborhood you’re going to and pay her instead of the driver. This ensures fair rates (the taxi drivers outside insisted on 220 mxn to bring us back to Condesa, the Taxi Seguro stand charged 104 mxn) and peace of mind.
You’ll be directed to get in a short line and wait your turn for the taxi but I thought that was worth it to save more than double on our fare!
So full. So happy.
How Much does a day trip to Texcoco from Mexico City Cost?
Ok, I’m closing out this super long article with a quick budget breakdown just to give you an idea on expenses and how much to budget if you want to recreate this Texcoco day trip yourself. We spent:
- 100 mxn – Uber to TAPO bus station in Mexico City
- 126 mxn – two bus tickets to Texcoco
- 100 mxn – taxi from Texcoco to El Pica 1
- 550 mxn – one kilo of barbacoa, broth, tortillas, salsa, desserts, water
- 22 mxn – collectivo from the Texcotzino ruins back to Texcoco
- 70 mxn – two bus tickets fro Texcoco to Mexico City
- 104 mxn – taxi back to our apartment in Condesa
In total, our nine-hour day trip to Texcoco from Mexico City, delicious barbacoa meal at El Pica 1 (and lots of leftovers for dinner), and hike to ruins with a fab view cost 1,072 mxn / 55 usd for two people.
Bookmark This Guide to Visit Texcoco and Eat at El Pica 1
Use this guide to take a day trip to Texcoco from Mexico City, eat the best barbacoa in Mexico at El Pica 1, visit a national park or hike to some beautiful ruins with a view, and get back to Mexico City in one piece.
It’s all very lowkey, but I promise it’ll truly be one of the most memorable experiences of your life – enjoy!
Once you get back to Mexico City, relax and unwind at a brewery with the complete guide to craft beer in Mexico City, or explore the Mexico Series to discover more nearby day trips and hikes like trekking among active volcanoes at Izta-Popo National Park, exploring a 400-year-old monastery and climbing a mountain in Desierto de Los Leones, and so much more.