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Ultimate Guide to Traditional Mexican Tacos

Tacos need no introduction. But, there are many different types of Mexican tacos – in fact, more than 60 kinds of tacos!

Unlike in the US at Tex-Mex places, authentic Mexican tacos are ALWAYS served in two small soft tortillas.  

What you put on top depends on your choice, but onions, cilantro, and lime are the most common toppings.

Vendors will confirm with you by asking “con todo?” before they place onions and cilantro on. And you can always add cheese (queso)!

These are some of the best tacos to try in Mexico alone with other tasty Mexican dishes!

1. Al Pastor

Tacos al Pastor are pork marinated in adobo sauce and cut directly down from the giant vertical skewer where it’s been cooking.

The achiote paste and guajillo peppers in the adobo sauce that’s added really bring out the flavor in the spit-grilled pork.

The pork tacos are topped with a slice of caramelized pineapple on each taco. And of course, you choose if you want onions and cilantro on top.  

2. Suadero

Tacos suederos contain meat that hangs from the breast bone on a cow, which is called ‘Rose meat’ in some Latin American markets. It’s quite tender with a bit of fat.

The meat for the suadero is stewed and then fried before being added to the tacos.

3. Chorizo

Tacos con chorizo are pork sausage with spices. It usually comes not in a form of sausage, but the casing is removed and the meat is crumbled or chopped up and flavored with spices or chilies.

Chorizo tacos made with red sauce are more popular than those made with green sauce.

4. Bistec

Tacos con bistec is a Mexican steak taco where the beef is cooked in a stovetop pan or skillet till brown. It’s then chopped into small pieces and added to warm tacos with cilantro and onions.

5. Campechano

A variation of the bistec tacos, xampechanos tacos are usually filled with beef (carne de res), chorizo and queso.

A popular version of the tacos campechanos is made with a spicy and salty beef called cecina that’s been thinly sliced.

6. Carnitas

Carnitas which means ‘little pieces of meat is a slow-cooked pulled pork. It’s often cooked with orange juice or chicken broth to make it appear browner. The carnitas is then loaded into tacos with onions, salsa, guacamole, and coriander before being served.

Maciza is what most people usually ask for because it’s white meat.

Get recipe for carnitas here.

7. Cochinita Pibil

tacos cochinita
Source: Venturists

So much better than regular slow-cooked pork, the cochinita con achiote, Puerco pibil, or cochinita pibil is slow-roasted.

It may seem similar to carnitas, but it’s not.

Cochinita means baby pig. And traditionally, a whole baby pig was marinated overnight with citrus and achiotes chilis. The citrus used is usually bitter oranges, but when they’re not available, other oranges, limes, or lemons are used.

It’s then wrapped in banana leaves for an added dimension of flavor before being buried in a pit with a fire at the bottom to roast slowly.

These days, it’s usually not done this way. Pork shoulders or pork loins are used instead of whole suckling pigs, and the pib, which is the Mexican version of a barbecue pit isn’t really used. But the citrusy taste is still amazing!

Cochinita pibil is usually served on tacos with pickled red onions and salsa.

8. Chicharron

Chicharron are basically fried pig skin and fat. Depending on the part of Mexico you’re in, it may have some meat attached. It’s chewy and thick and you either love it or hate it. 

Tacos de chicharron is a popular dish consisting of chicharrones, hot sauce, cheese (queso fresco, queso panela, or queso blanco), and avocado.

9. Barbacoa

Tacos de barbacoa contain different types of meat – beef, lamb, goat – basically whatever is available at the time. The meat is seasoned with spices and chilies and cooked on a grill with lime.  

Traditionally, the seasoned meat was covered with agave leaves and slow cooked in a pib, the hole in the ground that served as a Mexican cooking pit.

The fatty barbacao meat has a strong flavor, and is served on tacos with onions, cilantro and salsa verde (green salsa).

10. Birria

Oringinating in Jalisco, birria is made in much the same way as barbacoa by putting it in a hole in the ground.

But while in barbacoa the meat is simply seasoned and covered with agave leaves, for birria the meat is put in a pot with sauces, bay leaves, and the pot is sealed with a maize paste to seal in the juices.

After slow cooking the meat for 4 to 5 hours, a roasted tomato paste is added to the tender meat, and it is served with or on tacos.

11. Pescado

fish tacos
If you’re in a seaside town you can also get tacos with fish.

Tacos de Pescado are very popular along the Mexican coast. Shrimp tacos and fried white fish tacos are topped with sour cream, chopped cabbage, mayonnaise, onions, peanuts, pico de gallo or chile peppers.

If you visit coastal Mexico, give the tacos de pescado a try!

If it’s made specially with shrimp, it’s called tacos de camarones. Here’s a recipe for the shrimp tacos!

12. Sudadas or Canasta

Tacos sudadas or tacos canasta are called “basket tacos”or “sweaty tacos” in English. The name canasta refers to the basket in which the tacos are sold, while the name sudadas refers to the wetness of the tacos.

They’re made by soaking the tacos in a stew and frying them. The tacos are stuffed with potatoes, mole verde, grilled meat, shredded chicken, or refried beans.

Mexicans usually eat these tacos as a snack instead of as a whole meal.

13. Lengua

Lengua is beef tongue! Usually braised with garlic, the tacos de lengua are served with onions, avocados, and salsa verde. If you like exotic meats, be adventurous at tacos de lengua.

Tongues are actually eaten in many cultures. Cooked beef tongue in horseradish sauce is also popular in Polish cuisine.

14. Cabeza

Tacos de cabeza use meat from the head of a pig or cow, aka the cabeza. Cabeza meat includes the eyes, brains, cheeks, and other parts of the animal’s head that is braised to make it more tender. The fat in the head makes these tender pork tacos more delicious.

The version of tacos de cabeza that are made of cow brains are usually called tacos de fritanga.

15. Chapulin

Grasshoppers are an everyday snack in Southern Mexico, especially Oaxaca. No wonder the chapolin in Nahuatl or “chapulin” in English found their way into tacos too.

Collected every year in summer, the chapulines are toasted on a pan called a comal. They’re then seasoned with lime, chili, garlic, and salt before being added to tacos along with fried beans.

16. Tacos De Tripita

Tacos de tripita or tripe tacos consist of tripe that is grilled on a spit till it’s crisp. Two tacos are then layered one over the other, the tripita or tripe is layered on top, and served with salsa, cilantro, onions, and guacamole.

17. Dorados

Also called Golden Tacos, or taquitos, Dorados aren’t really shaped like regular tacos.

Instead, they are rolled up akin to spring rolls and deep-fried till they’re crisp. When they’re larger than regular tacos, they’re called flautas.

The filling in the tacos dorados can be of cheese, beef, chicken or other meats. The crisp tacos are covered with chopped lettuce or cabbage, salsa, and cheese before serving.

18. Tacos Arabe

Not an original Mexican taco, but deserving a taste all the same, the tacos Arabe were created by Middle Eastern immigrants who reached Mexico just after the First World War.

Similar to tacos Al Pastor, the marinated lamb or pork meat for the tacos Arabes is cooked on a spit or shawarma. Legend also has it that the tacos arabe may have been the precursor to the tacos Al Pastor.

They’re served in tortillas or pita bread, along with lime, cilantro, hot sauce, and the garlic yogurt called labneh.

tacos al pastor

19. Tinga

Tinga means stew. Originating from Puebla, Mexico, this meat dish is usually made with shredded chicken, but can also be made with shredded pork or beef.

The meat is cooked in a smoky chipotle sauce with peppers, oregano, garlic, onions, thyme, and other spices. It’s then heaped onto tacos, and topped with cilantro, onions, and cheese. And of course, there has to be lime, salsa, and guacamole on the side!

20. Guisados

The Mexican version of a one-pot meal, tacos de guisados are found everywhere in Mexico – at street corners, markets, and taquerias.

What makes these tacos special is that they’re not made of any single flavor, but an array of Mexican delicacies. The vendors with their cazuelas aka pots offer you a choice of fillings to choose from.

Your tacos de guisados can be filled with chicken tinga, rajas con crema, conchinita pibil, huitlachoche, mollejas en chile verde, albondigas; they can literally be filled with any Mexican dish.

When you’re not sure which tacos to order, or when you want to eat a lot of different tacos at once, the tacos de guisados are your best bet!

Which are your favorite Mexican tacos? Comment and let me know!

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