Mexican cuisine is so rich that UNESCO named it an intangible cultural heritage of mankind, however, it’s tacos that are king - the best Mexico city street food you can get. Tacos play such a big part in the Mexican lifestyle, for which streets and markets are so central, that talking about new puestos (food stalls) and debating about tortillas, filling and salsas is typical among Chilangos, and has become a natural way of life for me too. A handy food for on the go, even with as little as 48 hours in the capital you will be able to eat your way around the city in tacos, all while exploring its must see attractions. In this Mexico City taco guide we want to share our love for the best tacos in Mexico City. But of course, all the local intel on the best places to eat in Mexico city is of little use without knowing the types of tacos you can get and, of course, how to eat them like a local, so we’ve included all of that too!
What is a taco?
Taco has two immediate meanings, one relates to the word for “in between” – because, like an edible tool, the tortilla is able to hold food in the center – and tlaxcalli which, when translated from Nahuatl means “tortilla”; a sine qua non for a taco. From the binary of a tortilla and the fillings that come “in between”, this quintessential Mexican dish is formed. Before the conquest, tacos were filled with everything from beans and chile to crickets and maguey worms, but nowadays present far more varied options. The taco, officially recognised as a part of the cultural heritage of Mexico, is made out of corn or wheat depending on the region. With the versatile tortilla as a base ingredient, the name of the dish may change depending on how it is prepared; whether fried to become a tostada, or (slightly thicker) filled with meat and called a gordita. Quesadilla, stuffed with melted cheese, mushrooms, and zucchini flower (to name a few) and burritos – made with a wheat tortilla and served as a wrap holding meat, rice, beans, sour cream, and guacamole – are just a few tortilla treasures that answer the question of what to eat in Mexico city. But it’s still the taco who wins it all.
Classic tacos you need to try
Of course the first taco that you must try is the capital’s signature; tacos al pastor (tacos shepherd style). This historic dish, based on the shawarma’s spit-grilled meat, was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants in the early 20th century. Although now different from the original, tacos al pastor are made with pork, not lamb as they were when the first Lebanese migrants arrived, and they are served on a corn tortilla. Apart from the traditional toppings of onion and coriander, al pastor must be garnished with a pineapple slice. For the best tacos in Mexico City of this kind head to El Huequito in the city center, El Vilsito in Narvarte, or to El Califa if you’re elsewhere to experience Mexico city tacos like a local.
Although you can find some vegetarian options, meat is the king among tacos filling, with some of the most typical being longaniza (a sausage similar to chorizo), suadero (skirt, flank or brisket beef), and campechano (a mixture of the two). Cooked in a sizzling choriceros, large metal pans, for hours, the meat is then chopped on a wooden block and delivered on a warm, usually hand-made, tortilla. There are plenty of good taquerías to eat these at, but a favorite at the moment is Los Cocuyos in the city center. For a taco after a late night out, head to one of the taquerías Orinoco or to the historical Chupacabra, if you’re in Coyoacan. If you prefer fish, go to Chico Julio in the La Roma neighborhood.
If meat is the typical filling of a taco, pork, carnita, is the king among meats. You can have pretty much any part of the animal served on a tortilla. Among the different types of breakfast tacos, those of carnitas must be tender, moist, juicy and riddled with plenty of well-browned crisp edges. In Mexico City we have street markets very similar to the ones you’ll find at the Chinese Quarter in Paris (no kidding) and at these markets the culinary experience is unbeatable. For some reason, the best tacos carnitas can be found in these street markets. When I am in La Roma on Saturday I never miss the chance to pay a visit to Meche y Rafael to eat some delicious tacos carnitas. This taquerìa is located in a very unique market, Mercado Medellin, nicknamed Little Havana, as it offers products not only from Mexico but also from all over Latin America. Another great option is El Gran Abanico.
After a wild Saturday night you may want to lift your spirit with this classic taco combo. The typical taco for a Sunday breakfast or brunch and hands down the best cure for a hangover is the barbacoa with the typical accompaniment, a chickpea consommé made using the same meat – lamb slowly cooked in a pit oven. A pre-Hispanic form of cooking meat, from which the term barbecue derives, nowadays it refers to slow-cooked meats, typically lamb, over an open fire, or more traditionally, in a hole dug in the ground covered with maguey leaves. Don’t miss out on this tender, flavourful meat and head to Barbacoa Edison, just behind the monument of the Revolution, or to one of the tianguis (pop-up markets), such as that in Portales, a southern area still untouched by gentrification.
Tacos de guisado
As in any big city, urban life doesn’t always allow for a home-cooked meal. So in CDMX the home-cooked meal has come to the street in the form of tacos de guisado. The filling, stewed meat and veggies, are usually prepared off-site and placed in ceramic pots called cazuelas to keep them warm. These ancient and not at all flashy tacos come with endless variations as any ingredient that can be stewed has likely been used to make a taco de guisado somewhere in Mexico. Head to Tacos Hola in La Roma and try a favorite, chicharrón en salsa verde (pork cracklings in a green tomato sauce).
Regional and unique tacos you need to try
Hunting for the best Mexico city tacos is the true adventure, and finding the perfect one is like finding gems or gold. Seriously. The taco industry has reached other countries, we can find tacos in Abu Dhabi, Angkor Wat, Tokyo or New Dehli, but every country has its own ways of cooking, which is why a taco made in Mexico retains a mystique unrivaled by foreign tacos. When it comes to where to eat tacos in Mexico city, you have to hit the pavement. As the sun rises over Mexico City, hundreds of taco stands flood the streets; so many per capita that the temptation to try one is inescapable. As a big city, the concentration of global cuisines is high, with food from every country gathering in this multicultural space, but it’s tacos that still win out, with tacos de birria found outside almost every metro station. You’ll find these at metro Juanacatlan, and these are known for their excellent, gentle taste. Don’t forget the hot soup that brings the flavor of the taco to life, nor the red spicy sauce, cured onion and lemon to garnish it with.
Street tacos in Mexico city
Street tacos in Mexico city are everywhere; a favorite of which can be found right in the corner of Manzanillo and Campeche at Roma Sur, only on weekends, no other day. In Condesa we have a couple of street markets every Tuesday and Friday on Nuevo Leon and Campeche. The best tacos al pastor, iconic to Mexico city street food, are found downtown in a very small place called El Huequito in Ayuntamiento Street, close to Eje central. In the same street, but at the corner of Balderas, the cochinta from Yucatan Tacos are an unrivaled experience – here toppings are mandatory for the full experience, so add cured onion and habanero sauce (just a few drops). And remember, the cochinita tacos need to be made Michoacan style otherwise you are wasting your time! Saudero tacos (beef) are traditional juicy meat tacos, fried in a deep large casserole where the meat, chorizo and onions meet to do a fantastic dance on your taste buds. For these there’s only one place for me; at the north of the city, close to the Shrine of Guadalupe, on Garrido and Hidalgo street. If these regional must eat Mexico city tacos are making your mouth water, what are waiting for? Visit immediately!
Salsas and toppings
Whatever the filling, make sure to sprinkle your taco with some lime, garnish your taco with some chopped onions and coriander and don’t forget one of the amazing salsas that are offered at every taquería’s counter. Salsas are another Mexican paradise, and recipes are kept like family secrets from generation to generation. Embedded in the culture of street food but new to the stage of global flavor, these have not yet been softened for foreign tastebuds, so be careful not to let a super spicy sauce ruin your food. I would strongly recommend trying a little bit before pouring a full scoop over your taco. The great variety of Mexican chilies is reflected in these salsas. The basic ones are red – made out of dry red jalapeños and red tomato this can be mild or spicy it depending on the grandmother who originated it – and green – with green tomatoes and green jalapeño. Then you can have sauces of peanut or pineapple, just to mention some. There’s also usually an avocado sauce that is not to be confused with guacamole because despite a soft green creamy look the avocado sauce can be very spicy. In some taco stands, they also have pico de gallo which is tomato chops, onion and chopped jalapeño in tiny pieces, it can be delicious to put as a topping too. If your mouth starts burning, te enchilaste, as they say, don’t worry – every real Mexican must experience this!
How to eat tacos like a local!
Eating a taco is all an art and a Mexican can definitely tell somebody who is having one for the first time. However, rule number one is that you must eat your taco by hand, at a taquería or in one of the amazing places to eat in the capital. Grab the taco with three fingers raising your little finger, and tilt your head a little to bite the taco from the side. To eat like a local in Mexico city, especially when eating a taco, requires practice – like when playing an instrument, the tortilla and the stuffing played together like the strings and the body of a guitar – how to roll the taco and your hand position is related to the angle of the plate and inclination of your head. The best way to learn is to watch the locals do it. Don’t worry about dropping some of the fillings onto your plate; it is basically inevitable if you are not a Mexican pro. There is only one thing left to say, provecho! (enjoy your meal), and don’t forget to wish the same to the people close by!
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