Tacos are a simple dish. They consist of tortillas filled with meat and topped with some vegetables and sauce. A couple of tacos make for a quick, affordable snack or a whole meal. At the same time, tacos can be surprisingly complex. Dozens of different types of tacos exist. The meat is often marinated in a mixture of herbs and spices that add a deep flavor. Some types of taco fillings are stewed for hours to tenderize the meat. Salsas and guacamole add their own complex flavor. This guide outlines 42 different types of tacos for you to try while visiting Mexico. It includes the type of meat used, the way the meat is prepared, the toppings to use, and more.
What are Tacos?
Tacos are a traditional Mexican dish. A taco consists of a corn or flour tortilla that is topped with some type of filling.
A wide range of fillings are used. Most tacos contain some type of seasoned meat. Beef, chicken, pork, goat, and seafood are popular options. All parts of the animal can be used, including the organs. The meat is often seasoned with lime, chiles, juice, salt, cumin, garlic, oregano, and other herbs and spices. Tacos can also be filled with vegetables, beans, or cheese.
Tacos are topped with vegetables. Onion and cilantro are traditional. Sometimes other vegetables such as tomato, avocado, or cabbage are also added. Tacos are garnished with condiments such as salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, or sour cream.
The filling is placed in the center of a flat tortilla. A tortilla is a round corn or flour-based flat bread that is about the size of your hand. You fold the tortilla around the filling and eat the taco with your hands. Traditional Mexican tacos use a soft shell. Hard shell tacos are not common in Mexico.
Tacos are served at street food stands and in restaurants all across Mexico. You can order tacos in every part of Mexico. The fillings, marinades, salsas, and toppings vary by region. Tacos are a very regional food.
42 Types of Tacos
There are dozens of different types of tacos to try in Mexico. In the following section, I’ll outline 42 different types of tacos. I’ll include the type and cut of meats used, marinade ingredients, traditional toppings, flavors and textures, and more. I’ll also include some vegetarian and vegan taco options.
Table of Contents
- Tacos Al Pastor
- Adobada Tacos
- Carne Asada
- Vegan Tacos
- Tacos de Pescado (Fish Tacos)
- Carnitas Tacos
- Birria Tacos
- Cabeza Tacos
- Tacos de Pollo
- Tinga de Pollo
- Suadero Tacos
- Tacos Árabes
- Chorizo Tacos
- Barbacoa Tacos
- Lengua Tacos
- Tripa Tripa
- Campechano Tacos
- Buche Tacos
- Chicharrón Tacos
- Borrego Tacos
- Chile Relleno
- Cecina Tacos
- Tasajo Tacos
- Milanesa Tacos
- Camarones (Shrimp Tacos)
- Tacos de Sesos (Brains)
- Tacos de Labios (Lips)
- Cochinita Pibil
- Lechon Al Horno Tacos
- Poc Chuc Tacos
- Chapulines Tacos
- Papa (Potato) Tacos
- Cueritos Tacos
- Chicharron Prensado Tacos
- Tzic de Venado
- Tacos de Carne de Res
- Tacos al Vapor/ Tacos de Canasta
- Tacos Dorados
- Vegetarian Tacos
- Gourmet Tacos
- Fusion Tacos
- American-style Hard Shell Tacos
- Common Taco Toppings
- Corn Vs Flour Tortillas
- How to Order Tacos in Mexico
- How to Eat Tacos
- How Much Do Tacos Cost in Mexico?
Tacos Al pastor
This is probably the most recognizable type of taco in Mexico. Al pastor is thinly cut pork leg or shoulder meat that is marinated in a mixture of red chiles, vinegar, and a range of herbs and spices which can include oregano, achiote, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and more.
The marinated meat is then stacked onto a vertical spit or ‘trompo’ in Spanish. Oftentimes, a chunk of pineapple is placed at the top of the spit. As the meat rotates, the outer edges slowly cook and char. The pineapple caramelizes.
The cooked outer sections are shaved off for filling tacos. Tacos al pastor are usually topped with fresh onion, cilantro, salsa, and guacamole. Sometimes flecks of caramelized pineapple are added for a sweet and sour kick. Optionally, you can squeeze some fresh lime juice on top for some more acidity.
In northern Mexico, al pastor is sometimes referred to as adobada. The terms can be interchangeable. Al pastor is the most popular type of taco in Mexico.
Adobada is very similar to al pastor. In Spanish, Adobada means ‘marinated’. Tacos de adobada are usually marinated in a mixture of red chiles, vinegar, and a range of herbs and spices.
The marinade used is very similar to the marinade used to make tacos al pastor. Sometimes the marinade is exactly the same. The meat is also the same. Adobada tacos are made from thinly sliced pork leg or shoulder.
The difference between adobada and al pastor is the way the meat is cooked. To make tacos de adobada, the meat is usually grilled or braised. In northern Mexico, the word adobada often refers to tacos al pastor. Sometimes the terms are interchangeable.
Tacos de Carne Asada
Carne asada translates to grilled meat. Carne asada tacos are filled with beef that has been marinated, grilled, and sliced into small chunks. The marinade is made from lime juice, salt, cumin, and various herbs and spices.
Grilling the meat gives carne asada a distinctive charred flavor. Carne asada is usually made from flank steak or skirt steak. It can also be made from chuck steak, flap steak, or even thinly sliced tenderloin.
Carne asada originated in northern Mexico in the state of Sonora. Cattle ranching makes up a large part of the economy in this region. These days, it is one of the most popular taco fillings in Mexico. Almost every taco restaurant and street taco stand offers it. It’s one of my favorites.
Tacos don’t have to be filled with meat. Vegans and vegetarian options are also available. These days, there are many taco restaurants that even specialize in vegan tacos. You’ll find vegan taco restaurants in all major cities across Mexico.
Usually, the filling is designed to mimic the filling of meat tacos. For example, vegan tacos may be advertised as adobada, carne asada, or fish tacos. The filling is usually made from soy, mushrooms, beans, or wheat. The filling is often fried or grilled for extra texture.
Vegan tacos come with the same toppings as meat tacos. Most come with guacamole, salsa, cilantro, onion, lettuce, cabbage, tomato, pico de gallo, fresh lime juice, etc. Sometimes additional sauces are used to add extra flavor. For example, vegan mayo may be added.
Some taco shops specialize in vegan tacos. These days, many traditional taco restaurants offer a vegan or vegetarian option in addition to meat tacos. This allows those who eat meat and those who don’t to enjoy dining together.
Tacos de Pescado (Fish Tacos)
Fish tacos originated in the state of Baja California on Mexico’s Pacific coast. They were invented just a couple of hours south of the border in the city of Ensenada.
Tacos de pescado are filled with a battered fillet of fish that is fried to a golden brown. Grilled fish is also an option if you don’t like fried foods.
Different types of fish are used to make fish tacos. Most commonly, fish tacos are filled with white fish. Angel shark or Angelito is the most common type of fish used. Some taco shops use cod, yellowtail, haddock, flounder, or another type of white fish. Marlin is also used. These types of fish are popular because they hold up well during frying. They don’t get mushy.
Fish tacos are usually served in a flour tortilla. Corn tortillas are also used. Fish tacos are topped with cabbage or lettuce, salsa bandera, pico de gallo, crema (a white sauce made from sour cream, mayo, lime, and garlic), and hot sauce or salsa. It’s also traditional to squeeze some fresh lime juice on top.
Fish tacos can be found on menus all along the coasts of Mexico. They offer an incredible combination of flavors and textures. The tender fish and soft tortilla contrast with the crunch of the fried batter and fresh cabbage. The citrus in the sauce and fresh lime juice give the tacos a nice tang. Of course, there is some spice as well.
Fish tacos are a classic Mexican dish. For more info, check out this interesting article about the history of fish tacos in Baja.
Carnitas is basically Mexican-style pulled pork. They are usually made from pork shoulder that has been slow-cooked in its own fat until it is extremely tender. Other cuts of pork can also be used including pork loin, belly, leg, or ribs.
After slow cooking for hours, the meat is then pulled apart or shredded. The meat is seasoned with lime juice and various herbs and spices including salt, cumin, chile powder, garlic, oregano, and more. Other unique ingredients can also be used to help the meat caramelize including orange juice, Coca-Cola, and even milk.
Before serving, carnitas are sometimes fried. This helps to caramelize the seasoning and crisp up the edges, adding texture.
Carnitas tacos are usually topped with cilantro, onion, tomato, and salsa. This is one of my favorite types of tacos.
Carnitas originated in the state of Michoacán but are commonly served in taco restaurants all over Mexico. Some restaurants offer multiple types of carnitas made from different parts of the pig. Each type has its own texture and flavor. Pretty much every part of the pig can be used to make carnitas.
A few different types of carnitas tacos include:
- Maciza- This is lean meat from the loin, leg, or shoulder. It contains very little fat. This is the most common type of carnitas.
- Costilla- This is rib meat. It’s tender and juicy. Usually, the rib bone is removed. Sometimes it’s served in the taco and you have to remove it yourself. The rib just slides out because the meat is so tender.
- Cueritos- This is fried pork skin. It offers a unique silky, smooth, and chewy texture. It’s also very fatty. Almost gelatinous. Cueritos are best combined with other types of carnitas. Alone they are a bit too fatty.
- Achicalada- This is scraps of pork from the bottom of the pot. It could be a mix of any types of carnitas.
- Organs- Pretty much every pig organ can be used to make carnitas including the liver (hígado), heart (corazón), brains (sesos), intestine (tripa), tongue (lengua), lung (bofe), kidney (ríñon), stomach (buche), and more.
- Chamorro- Fatty meat from the upper leg, shoulder, and ham.
- Pancita- Carnitas made from pork belly.
- Trompa- This is meat from the face. It’s greasy and flavorful.
- Nana- The uterus of the pig. It’s tender and has a unique flavor.
- Oreja- Pigs ears cooked until they’re tender.
- Surtido- A mix of different types of carnitas.
For more info on carnitas, check out this great guide.
Birria is a soup or stew that is made with goat or beef meat and dried chili peppers, garlic, tomato, cumin, thyme, and various other herbs and spices.
Traditionally, birria is made with goat meat. Beef birria is probably more common. The type of meat is usually specified on the menu. For example, if the menu says birra de res, it’s made from beef. Goat birria is called birria de chivo. If the type of meat is not specified, it’s probably beef.
The stew is simmered at low heat for hours. This cooking process makes the meat incredibly tender and flavorful.
Before filling the tacos, the tortillas are dipped in the layer of fat that forms on top of the birria stew. They are then thrown on a hot griddle and fried. The tortillas are then topped with the tender meat from the stew. The birria broth is served in a cup on the side. While eating birria tacos, you dip the tacos in the broth and sip on the broth. Kind of like a French dip. You can also pour some of the broth over the tacos.
A popular variation of the birria taco is the quesabirria taco. These combine birria meat with cheese. The tortilla is then placed on a hot comal or griddle. This melts the cheese and crisps up the tortilla.
Birria originally comes from the state of Jalisco. For the best Birria, head to Guadalajara. The birria here is usually made from goat. It is traditionally served at special events, such as weddings. In taco form, it’s eaten anytime. The surrounding states of Michoacán, Zacatecas, and Durango also have their own variations of birria, usually made with beef.
Birria is commonly served in taco restaurants and taco stands all across Mexico. It’s one of the most popular types of tacos.
Cabeza means head in Spanish. Tacos de Cabeza are made from meat from the head of an animal. Usually a cow. The head is usually steamed, braised, or roasted until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. This flavorful meat requires minimal seasoning. Sometimes only salt is used.
After cooking, the meat is removed from the cooked head. The different types of head meat are usually mixed together. Your taco may contain fatty meat from the cheek, tender meat from the lips, crispy skin, as well as some tongue and eyes. Brains are sometimes included as well.
Sometimes, you can specify which parts of the cabeza you want. For example, you could order a taco with cheek, eye, skin, etc. All of the flavors and textures from the head meat mix together in the taco.
This is a popular style of taco all across Mexico. Most restaurants offer it. It may sound a bit off-putting to those who aren’t used to eating organ meat but tacos de cabeza are delicious! They are tender and full of flavor. The meat tastes like any other type of beef. You would never know that you’re eating cheeks and lips.
Tacos de Pollo (Chicken)
Pollo means chicken in Spanish. Tacos de pollo are made from marinated and grilled chicken that has been diced into small chunks. Usually, the breast is used. The grilled chicken has a nice smoky and charred flavor. Sometimes chicken is cooked until tender and then shredded. Tacos de pollo are topped with cilantro, tomato, onion, and sometimes Mexican cheese.
Tinga de Pollo
A popular variation of chicken tacos is tinga de pollo. In this case, chicken thighs are slow-cooked in a stew with tomato, chipotle peppers, vinegar, and other seasonings. This creates a delicious smoky, spicy, and acidic flavor.
After cooking, the tender chicken is shredded and used to fill tacos. Tacos de tinga de pollo are usually served on corn tortillas with cilantro, avocado, and a squeeze of fresh lime. This dish originates in the state of Puebla.
Suadero is a cut of meat from the center of a cow between the belly and leg. This cut of meat has a smooth texture. It’s kind of like a flank steak. This cut of meat has different names across Latin America. In Mexico, it’s called suadero.
The suadero is slow-cooked for several hours until it’s tender. It’s then thinly sliced and fried to caramelize and crisp up the outer edges. Tacos de suadero are typical of Mexico city but they are served in taco restaurants all over Mexico. They’re usually topped with salsa, onion, and cilantro.
These are a kind of Mexican-Middle Eastern fusion tacos. They’re actually more similar to a shawarma wrap than tacos.
The biggest difference between tacos árabes and other types of tacos is that tacos árabes are not served on a tortilla. Instead, they are served on a flour-based flatbread called pan árabe (Arabic bread). This is a bit thicker and softer than a traditional flour tortilla. It’s similar to pita bread.
Tacos Árabes (Arabic tacos) are filled with thinly sliced pork. This is interesting because pork generally isn’t eaten in the Muslim world.
The sliced meat is seasoned with cumin and oregano and cooked on a middle-eastern style rotating vertical spit or trompo. The meat slowly cooks and bastes in its own fat and chars on the edges. The cooked edges are shaved off and used to fill the tacos. Sometimes the meat is fried on a grill to crisp it up a bit more.
Tacos árabes are topped with fresh onion and cilantro. Different salsas can be used. Smokey chipotle salsa is a common topping. Sometimes tacos árabes are also topped with a mint yogurt sauce.
Chorizo is a seasoned sausage made from chopped or ground pork. Other meats, such as organ meat, can also be used. Plant-based chorizo is also available. Chorizo sausage is wrapped in a casing.
Chorizo is seasoned with chili peppers (ancho chili, pasilla chili), paprika, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, clove, cumin, black pepper, and a range of other herbs and spices. This gives the chorizo a smoky and spicy flavor. It’s similar to pepperoni but a bit spicier.
When making tacos, the chorizo is removed from the casing, broken up, and fried until it’s chewy and crispy. The crumbly and spicy chorizo is topped with cilantro, onion, and fresh lime. Salsa and guacamole can also be added. Sometimes chorizo tacos are topped with refried beans or cheese. These tacos are extremely flavorful.
Chorizo originated in Spain. It’s one of the foods that the Spanish brought with them when colonizing Mexico. Spanish and Mexican chorizos are a bit different. Spanish chorizo is cooked and ready to eat. It is usually cured and smoked. Mexican chorizo is sold fresh and raw. It must be cooked before you can eat it.
Barbacoa refers to a style of cooking that is believed to have been used by the Taino people in the Caribbean. They heavily marinated meat in local herbs and spices. They then wrapped the meat in leaves and slow-cooked it in a pit with fire-resistant branches from bearded fig trees.
This style of cooking made its way to Mexico. In modern-day Mexico, barbacoa refers to meats that are marinated and wrapped in agave leaves and then slow-roasted in a pit over an open flame. Sometimes the fire pit is also covered in roasted leaves from the agave plant. The meat is slow-cooked until it is extremely tender.
This cooking process is too time-consuming. Most restaurants that serve tacos de barbacoa simply slow-cook the meat in an oven or on the stove top then char it on a griddle. It’s not as authentic but the end result is similar.
A wide range of meats can be used to make barbacoa including beef, goat, lamb, mutton, and pork. Fish and poultry can also be used to make barbacoa. These days, beef is the most common type of barbacoa. Lamb and goat barbacoa are also common.
Usually, tougher and fattier cuts of meat are used. These become tender after being slow-cooked for a long period of time. The fat helps the meat stay moist. In parts of Mexico, beef heads and cheeks are used for barbacoa. This is common in northern Mexico around the Rio Grande.
Before cooking, the meat is seasoned with dried chilies as well as a mix of traditional Mexican herbs and spices. Historically, molé was used to season barbacoa.
After the meat is cooked, it is shredded by hand and used to fill tacos. Tacos de barbacoa are usually topped with cilantro, onion, salsa, and a squeeze of fresh lime.
For more info on barbacoa and its history, check out this interesting article.
Lengua Tacos (Tongue)
Lengua means tongue. The tongue is braised with garlic and onion. It’s cooked slowly at a low temperature for several hours. The brazing liquid and slow cooking process tenderize the tough tongue. If not cooked properly, the tongue can be too chewy. After cooking, the tongue is sliced into chunks and fried. This gives the tongue a crispy outer layer.
Tacos de lengua are usually made from beef tongue. Pork tongue can be used instead of beef but it is much less common.
The tongue has a smoother texture than other cuts of beef. It’s also slightly chewier. Flavor-wise, it tastes very similar to other cuts of beef. You wouldn’t know you’re eating tongue if nobody told you.
Tacos de lengua are usually topped with onion and cilantro and salsa. They are commonly served all over Mexico.
These are the small intestines of a cow, pig, or goat. Beef intestines are most commonly used. Sometimes the stomach lining is also used.
Before cooking, the intestines must be thoroughly cleaned. They are then boiled and fried or grilled. Tripa can also be braised and fried or grilled.
Tripas are traditionally cooked in a ‘disco’. This piece of cookware is made from two tilling discs with an 8-10 inch pole welded between them. Tilling discs are traditionally used to till soil on a farm. In this case, the top disc is filled with water and tripas. The bottom disc is filled with charcoal or wood. This is burned to boil the water and tripas in the top disc.
The tripas are cooked this way for several hours. Water is added as it boils off. After a few hours, the water is allowed to boil away and the tripas remain boiling in their own fat until they crisp up.
Tripas can be served soft, crispy, or extra crispy. Shortly after the water boils off tripas remain soft and smooth yet firm. Soft tripas are served this way. If they are left to boil in the fat, the outer edges become crispy and hard. The center remains soft and smooth. Crispy tripas are served this way. If they are left to boil in fat even longer, they become crispy all the way through. These are extra crispy tripas.
Tacos de tripa are topped with cilantro, onion, salsa, and guacamole. They are traditionally served in agricultural parts of Mexico but can be found on menus all across the country.
Tripas need to be cooked properly. If they aren’t they end up with an unpleasant rubbery texture. If they aren’t cleaned properly, you could end up eating the cow’s last meal. When prepared properly, tacos de tripa are delicious.
Campechano tacos contain a mix of beef and pork. They are basically tacos for meat lovers. Tacos de Campechano are typically filled with carne asada or cecina de res, longaniza or chorizo sausage, and chicharrónes. They can also be filled with whatever meat is left over. Various types of steak and sausage can be used to make campechano tacos.
The flavors and textures of these different meats combine together into a deliciously smoky, spicy, salty, and crunchy mix. Sometimes the meats are cooked together to allow the flavors to mix. Campechano tacos are usually topped with caramelized onion, cilantro, salsa, and fresh lime juice.
Campechano tacos originated in the southern Mexican state of Campeche. This state is home to an important port. As the story goes, sailors arriving from abroad would combine liquors and mix them together to make cocktails. Over the years, locals started using the word campechano to describe something that was combined or mixed. Campechano tacos were created in the city of Campeche. Taqueros were inspired to mix different types of meat in a taco like the sailors mixed liquors. These days, campechano tacos are popular all across Mexico. I don’t know if this is true or not but it makes for a good story.
Buche is pork stomach. To prepare buche, the stomach is first washed and parboiled. It is then stewed for several hours with onion, garlic, jalapeños, ancho chiles, oregano, and a mix of other herbs and spices. This long cooking process breaks the meat down and tenderizes it. The tender meat is then used to fill tacos.
Tacos de buche are topped with onion, cilantro, guacamole, salsa, crema, and lime. Buche has a tender yet chewy texture. It’s somewhat spongy as well. Buche is more tender than tripe but a bit chewier than carnitas. It’s delicious when prepared properly.
Chicharrónes are made from the skin and fat from a pork belly. They are basically Mexican-style pork rinds. To make chicharrón the pork belly is sliced into strips and deep-fried in lard until it’s crispy.
The crispy chicharrónes are then stewed in a salsa verde. After being stewed, the crispy chicharrónes become soft and somewhat chewy. These are used to fill tacos.
Chicharrónes can also be served crispy, without being stewed. Tacos de chicharron are usually topped with onion, cilantro, and fresh lime.
Tacos de Borrego are lamb tacos. The lamb is seasoned with various Mexican herbs and spices and then barbecued slowly at low heat until it’s fall-off-the-bone tender. The meat is traditionally cooked in the barbacoa style in a pit. Alternatively, the lamb can be braised in an oven. Pretty much any cut of lamb can be used to make tacos de borrego. After cooking, the tender lamb meat is then pulled apart by hand and used for taco filling.
Tacos de Borrego are usually topped with cilantro, onion, salsa, and guacamole. Borrego is commonly eaten on special occasions in Mexico. Tacos de Borrego can be found on menus all across Mexico.
A chile relleno is a stuffed pepper. Chiles rellenos are roasted peppers that are filled with cheese or minced meat. Cheese is the most common filling. Pobablano peppers are traditionally used. Other types of pepper can also be used including pastilla, New Mexico chile, and even jalapeños. The seeds are usually removed to make the pepper milder. Chile relleno is usually mild. Not spicy.
The stuffed pepper is then battered with egg and fried until it’s golden brown. This stuffed chile is used to fill a taco. Chile relleno tacos are usually topped with onion and cilantro. Sometimes, they are also topped with cheese, cabbage, and salsa.
This recipe comes originated in the city of Puebla. Chile relleno tacos are most common in central Mexico. They’re common in Mexico City. You can find them in other parts of the country but they are a bit less common.
Cecina is a type of cured meat. Beef or pork is hand sliced into long, thin sheets. The meat must be carefully sliced into thin sheets by a skilled butcher. The slices typically measure about ¼” thick by 8” wide. They can be several feet long.
These sheets are then salted and partially dried for preservation. They can be dried in the air, in the sun, or with smoke. The meat is often marinated in chile peppers before it’s dried.
When making tacos, cecina is often grilled. This gives it a smoky and charred flavor. The meat is then used to fill tacos. Tacos de cecina are usually served in corn tortillas and topped with grilled onion, cilantro, and avocado.
Tasajo is very similar to Cecina. The only difference is that beef is used instead of pork. The cuts used include the leg, flank, and loin. The meat is carefully cut into long, thin strips. After being sliced, the meat is salted and dried. The meat is usually air dried. It can also be smoked. The end result is kind of like beef jerky. This process preserves the meat.
The meat is then grilled over charcoal. This gives it a nice smoky flavor. Tasajo tacos are usually served on corn tortillas. These tacos are topped with grilled onion, cilantro, lime, guacamole, and salsa.
A milanesa taco is basically a taco filled with schnitzel. Milanesa is made with a beef steak that is pounded until it’s around 1/8” thick. The most common cut is top round. Other cuts can also be used including sirloin, flank steak, skirt steak, or flap steak. Usually tougher cuts are used. Pounding the meat tenderizes it.
The meat is seasoned with various Mexican herbs and spices. After it’s pounded and seasoned, the steak is then breaded with flour, egg, and breadcrumbs and fried until it’s golden brown. Chicken milenesa is also available. It’s prepared the same way but with chicken breast.
Tacos de milanesa are served in a flour or corn tortilla and are topped with tomato, salsa, and guacamole.
Tacos de Camarones (Shrimp)
Camarones are shrimp in Spanish. The shrimp are seasoned, battered, and fried to a golden brown. Sometimes the shrimp are grilled instead. Sometimes they are fried without breading.
Shrimp tacos are topped with cilantro, onion, cabbage, pico de gallo, crema, and salsa. Some shrimp tacos are also served with melted cheese. They can be served in a flour or corn tortilla.
Shrimp tacos are typical of Baja California. Particularly the city of Ensenada. They can be found on menus all along the coasts of Mexico. Shrimp tacos are usually a bit more expensive than other types of tacos due to the high cost of shrimp.
Tacos de Sesos (Brains)
Tacos de sesos are tacos made from brains. Usually, cow brains. The brains of other animals can also be used including goats and pigs. The brains are typically braised in a sauce made with tomato and onion. They can also be boiled or grilled. The cooked brains are chopped, seasoned, and used for taco filling.
Tacos de sesos have a soft and smooth texture when properly cooked. Almost like a custard. This pairs well with crunchy toppings such as fresh onion and cabbage. The smooth and crunchy textures complement one another.
Tacos de sesos aren’t that common but they’re worth trying if you see them on the menu. They offer an interesting texture.
Tacos de Labios (Lips)
Labios means lips in Spanish. Tacos de labios are made from meat from the lips of a cow. The lips of other animals can also be used. In most cases, meat from the cheeks and face are also used. This is some of the juiciest and most tender meat on the animal.
The lip meat is usually stewed for several hours with onion, garlic, oregano, salt, and other herbs and spices until it’s tender. It’s then used to fill tacos. Tacos de labio are topped with onion, cilantro, salsa, guacamole, and fresh lime juice. They’re tender, juicy, and delicious. The meat tastes like any other type of beef.
Cochinita pibil is a suckling pig that is marinated and slow-roasted. The marinade is made from a blend of citrus fruit, garlic, vinegar, achiote paste (annatto), and other herbs and spices. Pretty much any type of citrus can be used including bitter orange, lemon, or lime.
After being marinaded, the pig is then wrapped in banana leaves and slow-roasted. The achiote paste gives the cooked pig a beautiful orange hue. This cooking style results in extremely tender, juicy, and flavorful meat.
Traditionally, the whole pig is cooked in a special underground oven called a pib. The oven is basically a large hole in the ground that has been lined with stones. The oven is heated with a wood fire. Oftentimes cochinita pibil is made in smaller batches with various cuts of pork.
The cochinita pibil is used to fill tacos. The tacos are topped with purple onion, oregano, lime, and habanero salsa. Sometimes they are also topped with red onion that has been marinated in bitter orange juice.
This recipe originated in the Yucatan Peninsula. Tacos de cochininita pibil can be found on menus all over southern Mexico. The word cochinita means ‘suckling pig’. The term pibil refers to the type of oven that is used to cook the pig.
Lechon Al Horno Tacos
Lechon al horno is a similar to conchinita pibil. It is a marinated and slow-roasted suckling pig. Before cooking, the pork is marinated in achiote, bitter orange, pepper, and a range of other herbs and spices. Traditionally, the meat is cooked in a special wood-fired oven that is placed underground. The oven is called a pib.
The pig is cooked until the skin is crispy and the meat is fall off the bone tender. The crispy skin is then separated from the tender meat. Both are chopped up and used to fill tacos.
Separating the moist meat from the skin keeps the skin crispy. Usually, the crispy skin is placed on top of the meat to keep it crispy. The crispy skin and tender meat give these tacos a satisfying texture.
Lechon al horno tacos are topped with onion, cilantro, and habanero salsa. This is a dish that originated in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Poc Chuc Tacos
Poc chuc is pork that is marinated in bitter orange and then grilled over charcoal. This results in a beautiful smoky and charred flavor.
After cooking, the meat is sliced into small pieces and used to fill tacos. Poc chuc tacos are topped with cilantro, grilled onion, and tomato salsa.
This dish originated in the Yucatan peninsula. It is a traditional Mayan dish.
Chapulines are grasshoppers. These are commonly eaten in parts of southern Mexico. Particularly the state of Oaxaca.
The grasshoppers are dried, toasted, or pan-fried. They are seasoned with garlic, lime juice, chile, and other herbs and spices.
The grasshoppers are then used as a taco filling. Chapulines are traditionally served in corn tortillas. Tacos de chapulines are topped with guacamole, salsa, and cilantro. Chapulines can also be eaten alone as a snack, on pizza, or on tostadas.
Grasshoppers are considered one of the most sustainable foods. They are environmentally friendly to grow and they are packed with protein. If they’re prepared properly, they can be extremely tasty too. Chapulines have been eaten in Mexico for centuries.
Papa means potato in Spanish. Tacos de papa are potato tacos. Tacos de papas are usually filled with mashed potatoes that are seasoned with garlic, cumin, and various other herbs and spices. Fried potatoes can also be used. These give the taco a nice crunchy texture.
Potato tacos are common in Mexico during Lent. They are often sold on the street.
These are tacos made from pig skin. The preparation is different from chicharrones. Instead of deep frying the skin, cueritos are pickled.
To prepare cueritos, the skin is cut into thin strips. It is then seasoned with chiles, pineapple, oregano, cloves, pepper, and other herbs and spices. The uncooked skin is then pickled in vinegar. The cueritos are used to fill tacos.
Tacos de cueritos are topped with onion and cilantro. They have a salty and tangy flavor.
Chicharron Prensado Tacos
Chicharron prensado is made from scraps of pork that were left over after frying chicharron. These scraps of pork are pressed into a wheel. Kind of like a wheel of cheese. Sometimes the pork is refried before being pressed. This removes extra fat.
The chicharron prensado is then sliced and chopped into small pieces. These pieces are fried to crisp them up and then cooked in a chile sauce. The sauce is usually made from guajillo chili. Sauteed onion is also added. The fried chicharron prensado and salsa are used to fill tacos.
Traditionally tacos de chicharron prensado are rolled and cooked on a comal (griddle). The tortillas absorb some of the juices from the pork and salsa. This is a dish that originated in Oaxaca.
Tzic De Venado
Tzic de venado are tacos made from venison. A deer leg is marinated and then slow-roasted. The marinade is made from bitter orange, oregano, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, black pepper, and other herbs and spices.
After being marinaded, the venison is then wrapped in banana leaves and placed in an oven. Traditionally, the venison is roasted in an underground oven called a pib. The oven is lined with stones and wood-fired. It can also be cooked in a standard oven.
After cooking, the tender meat is hand shredded. Some bitter orange juice, cilantro, chopped radish, and onion are mixed in. This mixture is used to fill tacos.
Tzic de venado is a traditional Mayan food. You can find these tacos in the Yucatan Peninsula. They aren’t very common. Venison isn’t commonly served in restaurants in Mexico. If you see them on the menu, give them a try.
Tacos de Carne de Res
Res means beef. If you order tacos de res on any menu, you know you’re getting beef. Tacos de carne de res can include pretty much any cut of beef. The meat is usually cooked in fat, chopped up into small pieces, and lightly seasoned. Tacos de carne de res are topped with onion, cilantro, and spicy salsa.
Sometimes, you can choose which cut of beef you want. A few different types of tacos de carne de res include:
- Suadero- A thin cut of meat from the area between the leg and belly of the cow.
- Surtida- a mix of different leftover cuts.
- Birria de res- Birria stew made from beef instead of goat.
Tacos al Vapor/ Tacos de Canasta
These terms refer to a style of cooking tacos, not the filling. Tacos al vapor or tacos de canasta are steamed tacos.
These terms are pretty much interchangeable. Which one is used depends on the region of Mexico you’re traveling in. In northern Mexico, you’ll see tacos al vapor on menus. Tacos al vapor simply means steamed tacos in Spanish.
In central and southern Mexico, these tacos are called tacos de canasta. Tacos de canasta means basket tacos. They are called basket tacos because they are commonly sold on the street out of a large basket. This is usually the same basket they were steamed in. Street vendors prepare a whole basket of tacos and go around selling them for several hours. This is common in central Mexico. Particularly in Mexico City.
To make tacos de vapor or tacos de canasta, softened tortillas are brushed with seasoned oil or butter. Sometimes the oil is simply drizzled over the tacos. This mixture usually contains chiles and garlic. It adds a lot of flavor.
Various types of filling are used including meats, vegetables, beans, and cheeses. Some popular fillings for tacos al vapor and tacos de canasta include carne asada, tinga (seasoned shredded chicken), chicharron, adobo, barbacoa, papas (potatoes), and frijoles (beans). The tacos are then wrapped in thin paper or cloth and are layered in the steamer like shingles on a roof. The tacos are then steamed until they’re hot.
Tacos al vapor and tacos de canasta are usually served and eaten plain. You can add pickled jalapeño and pickled carrot, salsa, guacamole, and other traditional toppings.
Potato and bean tacos al vapor tend to hold up the best when they’ve been sitting around for a while. The meat-filled tacos can get questionable when they’re not fresh.
These are some of the most affordable tacos you can get. Tacos de canasta usually cost less than 20 pesos each if you buy them from a street vendor. They’re very popular and common.
These are a style of taco rather than a filling. Tacos dorados (golden tacos in English) are tacos that are fried until they are golden brown and crispy. They’re hard-shell tacos. Like those that are served at Taco Bell. Various fillings can be used in tacos dorados including shredded chicken or beef, carne asada, refried beans, and cheese. Tacos dorados are sometimes rolled. When rolled, they’re sometimes called taquitos.
Frying the taco until it’s crispy adds another layer of texture. The crispy tortilla paired with tender meat really goes well together. Tacos dorados are often dipped in salsa.
Vegetarian and Vegan Tacos
Tacos don’t have to be filled with meat. Vegetarian and vegan tacos are available. There are even taco restaurants that specialize in vegan tacos. Pretty much every decent-sized Mexican city has at least one vegan taco shop.
These days, many traditional taco restaurants have started offering vegan and vegetarian options as well. This allows those who eat meat and those who don’t eat meat to enjoy dining together.
Usually, the filling of vegetarian and vegan tacos is designed to mimic the filling of meat tacos. For example, vegan tacos may be advertised as adobada, carne asada, or pescado. The filling is usually made from a soy, mushroom, or wheat base. The filling is often fried or grilled to add texture and flavor. Vegetarian taco fillings could also include papas (potato), frijoles (beans), and quelites (stewed milkweed).
Vegetarian and vegan tacos are topped with the same toppings as meat tacos. Most come with guacamole, salsa, cilantro, onion, lettuce, cabbage, pico de gallo, lime, etc. depending on the type of taco you order. Sometimes additional sauces are used to add extra flavor. For example, vegan mayo may be added.
Tacos aren’t just street food. Some high-end Mexican restaurants also serve tacos. Gourmet tacos are usually made from premium ingredients such as fresh seafood or premium cuts of beef.
For example, you can find Waygu beef or Kobe beef tacos. You can also find lobster tacos and tacos topped with caviar.
These may be considered gourmet. You can find these fancy tacos in high-end Mexican restaurants.
Some modern taco restaurants fuse cuisine from different cultures to make unique tacos. One popular fusion taco is the Korean taco. This is a tortilla filled with bulgogi and kimchi. It’s a Mexican-Korean fusion taco. This recipe originated from food trucks in Los Angeles. Korean tacos can now be found on menus all over North America.
Other types of fusion tacos also exist. Tacos filled with American-style brisket or pulled pork topped with coleslaw can be found in some barbecue restaurants in the southern U.S. This is kind of a fusion of Mexican and American cuisine.
About a decade ago, spaghetti tacos became popular. These are tacos filled with spaghetti and meat sauce. You can find a recipe here. You could make your own fusion tacos by making foods from your culture and putting them in a tortilla.
American Style Hard Shell Tacos
These are the type of tacos you get at Taco Bell. They are also the type of tacos you might make at home on Taco Tuesday.
American-style tacos are kind of a fusion between a hamburger and a taco. The filling is made from ground beef, like a hamburger. The ground beef is seasoned with taco seasoning. Taco seasoning is a mix of salt, paprika, oregano, chili powder, onion powder, and other herbs and spices.
American-style tacos are traditionally topped with lettuce, tomato, and shredded cheese. These are basically the ingredients of a cheeseburger. The filling and toppings are placed in a crispy corn tortilla.
The biggest difference between an American-style taco and a traditional taco is that American tacos use a hard shell. The shell is made from a corn tortilla that is folded into a U shape and fried until it’s crisp. Mexican tacos traditionally use a soft corn tortilla.
American-style tacos are garnished with a dollop of sour cream and salsa. Sometimes guacamole is also offered.
American tacos are completely different from traditional Mexican tacos. They do have their roots in Mexico. Mexican immigrants originally created the hard shell. Taco Bell came around and made tacos popular all across the United States.
For more info, check out this great article about the origin of American-style tacos.
Common Taco Toppings
Different types of tacos come with different toppings. Some common taco toppings include:
- Onion- Most tacos come topped with freshly chopped onion. Caramelized sauteed or grilled onion is also sometimes used.
- Tomato- Diced tomato is a common taco topping.
- Cilantro- Almost all tacos come topped with freshly chopped cilantro. Some people don’t like the taste of cilantro. They find that it tastes like soap. If this is you, you can order your tacos ‘sin cilantro’ (without cilantro).
- Salsa- Salsa means sauce in Spanish. Usually, salsa refers to a tomato and chili-based sauce that you put on top of your tacos. Dozens of different types of salsas exist. Every taco restaurant has its own recipe. Every salsa you taste will be slightly different. Some salsas are raw and some are cooked. Different types of chiles are used. Some salsas are spicy while others are mild. Some are thick while others are thin. A couple of common types of salsa include salsa roja (red sauce) and salsa verde (green sauce). Salsa roja is made from chili peppers, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and cilantro. Salsa verde uses a base of tomatillo and green peppers.
- Guacamole- This is an avocado-based sauce. Guacamole is made by mashing together fresh avocado, salt, lime juice, onion, jalapeño, garlic, and cilantro. Every taco restaurant has its own guacamole recipe. Some add different ingredients or use different ratios of ingredients. Some types of guacamoles are thick. Others are thin and runny. Some are spicy. Others are mild.
- Pico de Gallo- This is a type of salsa that is made from chopped onion, tomato, cilantro, and serrano peppers with lime juice and salt. Sometimes jalapaño peppers are used. Pico de gallo is also called salsa fresca, salsa bandera, or salsa cruda. It is a thick and chunky style of salsa. You can see the chunks of tomato, peppers, and salsa.
- Lime juice- Pretty much every taco restaurant and taco stand offers fresh wedges of lime. You squeeze the lime juice on top of your tacos. This adds a nice fresh citrus flavor to your tacos.
- Cabbage- Some tacos are topped with freshly chopped cabbage. This adds a nice crunch. Oftentimes red cabbage is used because it adds a beautiful color. Green cabbage is also common. Most seafood tacos such as fish tacos and shrimp tacos come topped with cabbage. Vegan tacos also usually come with cabbage.
- Lettuce- Sometimes chopped lettuce is used instead of cabbage. This is common in Tex-Mex cuisine. American-style tacos always come with lettuce.
- Sour cream- Some tacos are served with a dollop of sour cream on top.
- Avocado- Sometimes sliced avocado is used instead of guacamole.
- Radish- Most taco restaurants and taco stands offer whole radishes that you can eat with your tacos. Sometimes radish is sliced and used as a taco topping. Radish adds a nice crunchy texture. It also adds some color to your plate.
- Cucumber- sliced cucumber is a classic taco topping.
- Cheese- Shredded cheese is added to some types of tacos. The cheese melts in the taco. Melted nacho cheese is a common topping for American style tacos.
- Beans- Refried or whole beans can be added for some extra protein. It also makes the tacos more filling.
- Rice- Spanish rice is a common taco topping. Rice makes your tacos a bit more filling.
Some of these toppings are non-traditional. Most traditional-style Mexican tacos only come with fresh onion and cilantro with some guacamole and salsa on top. Tomato is also common. The other toppings on this list are a bit less common but are available in some restaurants.
Flour Vs Corn Tortillas for Tacos
Tacos can be served in either flour or corn tortillas. Corn tortillas are traditional. The vast majority of tacos are served in corn tortillas. If you go to a taco stand or restaurant in Mexico, there is a 99% chance it will come in a corn tortilla. Corn tortillas add flavor and texture to the taco.
Some restaurants give you the option. They may list both flour and corn tortillas on the menu or ask you which you want when you order.
Some types of tacos are traditionally served in flour tortillas. For example, seafood tacos, such as fish and shrimp tacos, are often served in flour tortillas. Particularly large tacos are also served in flour tortillas because they hold up better. A flour tortilla can handle more filling and toppings without falling apart. This is the reason that burritos usually come in flour tortillas.
Tortillas are also somewhat regional. In a few parts of northern Mexico, flour tortillas are a bit more common. In southern Mexico, corn tortillas are more popular.
Your tortilla choice also comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer corn while others prefer four. Personally, I prefer corn tortillas with tacos. When I’m in a restaurant, I order four tortillas to go with my meal.
How to Order Tacos in Mexico
Ordering tacos in Mexico is pretty easy. Most tacos stands and restaurants only offer a few types of tacos to choose from.
There can be a language barrier. English isn’t spoken at most street taco stands and restaurants across Mexico. The only exceptions are tourist restaurants and restaurants in resort areas. You don’t have to speak Spanish to order tacos but it can help if you learn a few words.
If you’re ordering from a street taco stand, you can ask the taquero (taco maker) which types of tacos they have (que tipos de tacos tiene?) You can also look at what they’re cooking and point at what you think looks good. Some stands have a sign that lists the types of tacos and pricing. Hold up your fingers to indicate the number of tacos you want.
At most street taco stands, you pay for your tacos after you order them and eat them. This way, you can order more or order a drink without having to pay twice. When you’re finished, you pay for everything all at once. At some taco stands, you pay before you receive your tacos. The cashier will hand you a receipt. You give the receipt to the taquero and they’ll make your tacos. If you’re unsure, you can ask where you pay or watch other customers.
At casual taco restaurants, you order at the register and pay first. Just like in a fast food restaurant. There is usually a menu with pricing posted on the wall above the register. A server will bring your tacos to your table or they’ll make them right in front of you and hand them to you on a tray.
If you order tacos at a regular sit-down restaurant, you’ll order from a menu and the server will bring you your tacos. You’ll pay after you finish, just like at any other restaurant.
When you order your tacos, the taquero or waiter will usually ask if you want everything on your tacos. They’ll ask ‘con todo?’ This means with everything. If you say yes (sí), they’ll serve the tacos however they usually serve them. In most cases, this means they will be topped with onion, cilantro, guacamole, and salsa. They could also come with diced tomato, cabbage, cucumber, avocado, or any of the other ingredients listed above.
If you don’t like a particular ingredient, you can order your taco without it. The word for without in Spanish is ‘sin’. For example, many people don’t like cilantro. If you don’t want cilantro on your tacos, you would order them ‘sin cilantro’. If you don’t want onion on your tacos, you can order them ‘sin cebolla’.
You can try using Google Translate if you’re struggling to order. You can use it to communicate with the taquero. Also, you can use the photo function to read menus in restaurants. Alternatively, you can look up individual words if you don’t know what a particular ingredient is.
It’s important to note that many taco stands and taco restaurants are cash-only. Cards are not accepted. Most mid-range and higher-end restaurants accept credit cards and debit cards.
In border towns such as Tijuana, Mexicali, Juarez, Nogales, etc. both pesos and US dollars are accepted at most taco stands. Most tourist restaurants in resort areas such as Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and Los Cabos also accept dollars. It’s always best to pay in Mexican pesos. You’ll always get a better price. When you pay in dollars, you won’t get a good exchange rate.
At restaurants in Mexico, it’s customary to leave a tip. 10-15% is a standard tip in Mexico. You’re only expected to tip at sit-down restaurants where a waiter serves you your food. You don’t have to tip at street taco stands or taco restaurants or casual restaurants where you order from a window and seat yourself.
How to Eat Tacos
Tacos are meant to be eaten by hand. They are finger food. To eat a taco, simply fold the tortilla over the filling, pick the taco up by the sides, and go at it. Some of the filling might fall out onto the plate. Just pick it up with your fingers and eat it. You can also use a fork to eat the filling that spills out.
Before eating your tacos, try squeezing some fresh lime on top. It gives the taco a nice tangy citrus flavor. Every taco shop offers fresh lime. Also, sample some of the salsas. Many taco stands offer a couple of different types of salsa.
Tacos are usually eaten on their own. They are a meal on their own. They contain all of the necessary food groups including protein, grain, and vegetables. Tacos may not be the healthiest food but they are a somewhat balanced meal.
If you order tacos at a restaurant, you might want some sides. Rice and refried beans are common. Soups and stews can also go well with tacos. Consider ordering a cup of birria if it’s offered. As for drinks, tacos pair well with a cold beer, soda, or agua fresca (a traditional Mexican drink made from fresh fruit, lime juice, water, sweetener, and herbs).
Tacos can be eaten for any meal. You can grab a couple of tacos for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They make a great mid-day or late-night snack. Tacos are also a great hangover food after a night of drinking. You’ll find a taco stand outside of many bars and clubs in Mexico.
How Much do Tacos Cost in Mexico?
The cost of tacos varies depending on the type of restaurant, type of taco, region, and size of the taco.
At street taco stands, a taco usually costs 20-30 pesos ($1.00-$1.50). At restaurants, they’re usually slightly more expensive. Most casual taco restaurants charge 30-40 pesos per taco ($1.50-$2.00).
The cost can also vary depending on the filling you choose. For example, fish and shrimp tacos are always more expensive than tacos al pastor or tacos de carne asada because seafood is more expensive than pork or beef. A fish or shrimp taco might cost 60-90 pesos ($3.00-$4.50). That’s about twice as much as a pork or beef taco.
Prices also vary by region. Tacos in a tourist zone in a major resort city like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta cost more than tacos in a non-touristy city such as Hermosillo or Morelia. Some regions of Mexico are more expensive than others. For example, the Baja Peninsula and Yucatan Peninsula are generally more expensive than central Mexico and Southern Mexico.
Taco size also varies. Some street tacos stands serve tiny little tacos for 20 pesos. Some stands serve large tacos that are overflowing with filling for 30 pesos. The larger taco might offer a better value, even though it costs more.
The price is the same regardless of the toppings you order on your tacos. If you order a taco con todo (with everything) it costs the same as if you order it without cilantro. Most taco stands also offer salsas, fresh lime, and radish for no extra charge. You serve these condiments yourself.
Taco shops also serve drinks. Most offer sodas and bottled water. Sometimes beer is available. Some taco stands sell fresh juices or agua fresca. A drink usually costs 20-40 pesos ($1-$2) depending on the type and size.
Also, a single taco isn’t really a meal. 2-3 tacos make for a nice lunch, dinner, or late-night snack. If you’re particularly hungry, you might need 4-6 tacos to fill you up. This will cost you around $3-$10 depending on the type of restaurant you go to and the size of the tacos. Add a drink and you’re looking at spending $5-$15 for a nice taco meal. At a taco stand, expect to spend around $5 for a couple of tacos and a drink. At a restaurant, expect to spend around $10 for 2-3 tacos and a drink.
My Favorite Types of Tacos
My favorite type of taco is al pastor. The combination of charred pork, flavorful marinade, and fresh guacamole really make the perfect taco. The way the meat is cooked is also part of the appeal. A massive rotating spit of meat cooking over an open flame is a beautiful thing.
I’m also a big fan of carnitas. The sweet, crisp, and caramelized fried pork is irresistible. I can’t get enough of it. Carne asada is another favorite. The charred and smoky beef is really appealing. While visiting Baja, I always make sure to order some fish and shrimp tacos. They’re a bit more expensive but worth it.
I also love sampling new types of tacos. When I visit a taco stand or go to a taco restaurant, I always look for tacos that I haven’t tried before. If I spot something new, I give it a try. This is how I initially discovered tacos de cabeza. I knew cabeza meant head but I didn’t have any idea what a taco de cabeza was. I ordered one from a taco stand and loved it.
Final Thoughts About Tacos
Tacos are popular all over Mexico. They are a regional food. As you travel the country, you’ll discover different types of tacos in different locations. The tacos you find in Oaxaca are different from the tacos you find in Yucatán which are different from the tacos you find in Baja. Different types of salsas, marinades, and toppings are used. Some types of tacos are only available in one region. Some are available all over the county. Tacos even vary from one stand to the next. Every family has their own recipes for salsas and guacamole.
While visiting Mexico, I recommend you try the popular options, such as al pastor and carne asada, as well as some regional options. Also, be sure to sample some organ meat tacos. They may not sound too appealing but they offer some of the most interesting flavors and textures. They’re also traditional. Hopefully, this guide helps you discover some new types of tacos.
What are your favorite types of tacos? Share your taco experience in the comments below!
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