You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect snack food than the taco. It’s cheap, it’s portable, it can comprise a wide range of ingredients—meats, veggies, cheese, salsas—and textures (if you’ve never had crunchy chicharrón atop your taco, drop everything and go find some). We love tacos all across the U.S.—carne asado in L.A., egg-potato-bean in Austin, our favorite lengua tacos in Queens—but nothing beats the motherland. As we gear up for some travel through the Yucatán Peninsula, where cochinita pibil tacos for breakfast await, here’s a look at a few favorite tacos we’ve met in Mexico.
The mighty taco al pastor, local to Mexico City and Puebla: Thin layers of marinated pork are roasted on a vertical revolving spit; for serving, the meat is sliced off into a warm corn tortilla, along with a hunk of pineapple (which often sits at the top of the spit), chopped onion, and cilantro. (The meat’s telltale orange-red coloring comes from the achiote, or annatto seeds, in the marinade.) The world is forever in debt to east-central Mexico’s Lebanese immigrants for this one.
Another pork favorite, this time from Michoacán, in which meat and organs are slow-cooked together until soft, then seasoned and fried up in its own juices and lard—and then chopped into taco meat. The result? A heavenly mix of tender meat, fat, and fried bits that simultaneously melts and crunches in your mouth.
The cousin to the taco al pastor, this one a little more boastful of its Lebanese heritage. It’s essentially that delicious al pastor pork in a slightly different marinade (no achiote, for one thing), shaved off the spit, and nestled into toasted pan árabe, a soft pita-like bread, rather than a corn tortilla—kind of like a Mexican shawarma.
The aforementioned chicharrón-topped specimen, this taco combines several meats—beef and pork in various encarnations—within the warm embrace of a corn tortilla. This one, from Mexico City, includes cecina de res (thinly sliced, salted beef), chicharrón, and longaniza (spicy pork sausage), along with various salsas, onions, and lime on the side. A full-blown party of flavors and textures.
“Tacos of the basket,” literally, are steamed tacos, a popular mobile breakfast often served by people on the street out of cloth-covered baskets. They’re soft and moist, with fillings like chicharrón, mole verde, potato, and refried beans, which is what this one was. These are also known as tacos sudados—“sweated tacos”—but despite that rather unappealing name, they’re absolutely delicious.
Birria, spicy, stew-like marinated lamb or goat, hails from the east-central state of Jalisco, but is popular in Mexico City too, where it’s often served as a taco and offered with a side of consomé, a broth. Slow-braised, super moist, and well-sauced, this meat falls apart on your tongue.
Another delectable entry in the slow-cooked meat category, suadero is tender beef brisket, somewhat similar to pork carnitas in texture but softer and meltier. Here it’s topped with onions and cilantro in D.F., where suadero is everywhere.