The ‘absolute truth’ about tacos in Stockholm

Unable to find good Mexican food after moving to Stockholm to study in 2008, Monterrey native David Licona now finds himself running La Neta, one of the most popular Mexican eateries in the Swedish capital. The Local finds out more.

The 'absolute truth' about tacos in Stockholm

Licona first visited Stockholm in 2004, but it was during a 2006 trip to the Swedish capital while he was living in neighbouring Finland when he suddenly realized he wanted to move there.

“There was something so exotic about Stockholm,” he tells The Local.

“It was so different than my hometown of Monterrey, which is like a big US city surrounded by mountains. But here there are islands, water, and lots of green spaces.”

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Committed to coming to Stockholm to “live as a local, not as a tourist”, Licona enrolled in a master’s programme on consumer culture at Stockholm University in 2008.

Around the same time, he met up with fellow Monterrey native Ricardo Medrano who has move to Sweden for love.

As the two commiserated about the dearth of authentic Mexican food in Stockholm, Medrano asked if Licona wanted to team up to start a true, Mexican-style taquería.

“It was really out of necessity more than anything,” Licona explains.

“We were so tired of going to Mexican section at grocery stores and not seeing products we recognized. We realized that if we wanted to fulfill our plans of moving and living in Sweden, we needed to also have our food.”

IN PICTURES: Five mouthwatering scenes from La Neta

Excited by the idea of filling what he saw as an obvious void in the Stockholm culinary scene, Licona postponed his studies to devote more time and his background in branding and marketing to La Neta.

La Neta is sort of slang for the real deal or the absolute truth,” he says.

“It’s supposed to be an authentic taquería. But it’s not only about the tacos, it’s also about connecting to the community and being a local gathering place for friends and family.”

In the summer of 2009, Licona and Medrano opened the first La Neta on Barnhusgatan, just off Drottninggatan near Norra Bantorget and it didn’t take long for the restaurant to change the face of Mexican dining in Stockholm.

“Since we opened, the word taquería has become much more widely used in Sweden. And soft tortillas are more prominent too,” he explains.

The restaurant was also nominated for Restaurant of the Year by Stockholm City newspaper, and in April 2010 La Neta was named as a “Best Import” by Monocle magazine, winning praise for being a “welcome respite to from the tasteless, additive-packed TexMex” available in local stores.

In 2011, La Neta crossed an important cultural threshold when it was featured in Rocky, a popular Swedish comic strip by Martin Kellerman.

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Before the year was over, La Neta had been named Restaurant of the Year at the Fast Food Awards at Mitt Kök, one of Sweden’s largest cooking and food conventions.

In late 2012, La Neta headed south of the border – the border between Stockholm’s north and south side, that is – opening a second restaurant on Södermalm close to the Medborgarplatsen (and, incidentally, in the same building as The Local).

More rave reviews followed the opening of La Neta’s second eatery, with tabloid Aftonbladet proclaiming the restaurant “crushed all competitors”.

According to Licona, the success of La Neta, which now boasts a Spanish-speaking staff of 25 people with 10 nationalities “90 percent” of whom are non-Swedes, is due in no small part to the restaurant’s strong association with the city’s growing Mexican and Latin American communities.

“We wanted to create a Mexican community around the restaurant,” he explains, adding that he hopes La Neta will help correct Swedes’ “inaccurate and outdated” views about Mexico.

“It’s not cactuses and guitar-playing guys with sombreros. That’s not Mexico. Swedes’ tradition of tacos on Friday has nothing to do with Mexico. I’d like to think La Neta can help redefine what Swedes think of when they think of tacos.”

Looking back, Licona says starting La Neta “felt natural”, but after four years in the restaurant business, he offers a cautionary word of advice for anyone contemplating starting their own venture.

“When you are the owner, you never really leave work,” he admits.

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“You have to be ready for it to take over your life and accept that you have to devote all your energy to it and that there won’t be time for other things.”

And aside from the bureaucratic foot-dragging he faced in obtaining a licence allowing La Neta to serve beer, Licona says there’s little to complain about when it comes to starting a business in Stockholm.

“This is a great place to start a business. There is a lot of support available, as well as agencies and organizations that can help you along the way,” he explains.

At the end of the day, however, it’s all about the food. And more specifically La Neta’s signature soft corn tortillas, which come from tortilla-making machines imported directly from Mexico.

“Without a good tortilla you can’t have a good taco,” Licona concludes.

David Landes

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Obama reveals he wants to work for… Spotify?

Barack Obama may be leaving the White House, but it looks like he's got his future all planned out.

Obama reveals he wants to work for... Spotify?
Barack Obama on a visit to Sweden in 2013. Photo: AP Photo/Frank Augstein

One of Obama's favourite trips abroad was his 2013 visit to Sweden, US tech entrepreneur, podcast editor and former The Local blogger Natalia Brzezinski has revealed the president told her.

She and her husband Mark Brzezinski, who was the US ambassador to Sweden 2011-2015, were invited to the White House on Wednesday evening along with other diplomats appointed by Obama.

“I finally got the chance to thank him for the life-changing appointment to Sweden,” she wrote in a post on Instagram.

“He said word for word: 'I loved visiting you in Stockholm, it was my favourite trip. I plan to go back there really soon'.”

Obama went to Stockholm on an official state visit in 2013. And Brzezinski, the CEO of creative tech festival Symposium Stockholm, revealed she tried to tempt him back to attend its Brilliant Minds conference in June.

He did not promise anything, but did at least urge Brzezinski to “send him the details”.

Obama leaves his post on January 20th, handing over the reins to Republican president-elect Donald Trump. As for the outgoing president's future, it looks like he's got his heart set on a certain Swedish music streaming giant.

“I'm still waiting for my job at Spotify… 'cause I know y'all loved my playlist,” Brzezinski quoted him as saying.

We are pretty sure he was joking, but it is not the first time Obama has praised Sweden.

Former prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt revealed in an interview last year that the US president had told him on his visit to Stockholm that he would love to return again with his family.

“Shortly thereafter I met Michelle and Barack Obama again in New York and Michelle confirmed that Barack talked to her about it after his visit to Stockholm. I said I hoped they would find time to return after his presidency,” Reinfeldt told the Aftonbladet tabloid in September.