Guide: The Joys of Street Tacos

Gustavo and Michiko enjoying some late night tacos al pastor

Street food is one of the reasons I live to travel and Mexican roadside cuisine stands with the best in the world. There are few things in this world that can compare with the smell of late night tacos saturating the night air. The irresistible and spicy aroma is a Siren’s song for the drunk and hungry. Eating street tacos is one of the highlights of every trip to Mexico. Stand outside taquerias and sampling the multitude of styles, shoos and flavors never gets old. Before your next trip to Mexico or your local taqueria check out our guide to Mexican Street tacos.


Tacos Pastor fresh from the spit
(Photo Courtesy LTHForum)

Literally meaning “shepherd’s-style tacos”, these are Mexican style kababs adopted from Lebanese immigrants and a personal favorite. The thinly sliced pork is stacked on a vertical spit and marinated with local herbs and spices. The meat is slow cooked, turning in front of a vertical gas grill. Thin slices of pork are shaved off the edges of the spit as the meat cooks. Served with a spicy, deep-red chipotle-based salsa makes this a highly flavorful midnight snack.


(Photo Courtesy of

Originally a specialty of Michoacan and Jalisco, now found in nearly every part of Mexico, these tacos are made from pork that has been cut up and cooked in lard with orange rind, which gives the carnitas a lovely deep golden brown color. The different “porky parts” are displayed in a glass case resembling an aquarium and kept warm by a heat lamp. Different parts of the pig have their devoted fans and they shouldn’t be knocked until they’re tried, and it can be unequivocally stated that no part of the pig goes to waste in Mexico.


Call them tacos al cabron or Tacos de carne asada. I call them amazing.
(Photo Courtesy of My San Antonio)

Also called tacos de carne asada. Thin slices of beef are grilled quickly, removed to the chopping block, cut up and stuffed into tortillas. The meat is grilled over mesquite coals by taqueros who sometimes wear white uniforms and chef’s caps While flour tortillas are most common in northern Mexico, most taqueros at al carbon stands will ask the client whether flour or corn tortillas are preferred. Grilled scallions or green onions are also grilled, to be served with the tacos. Stands selling this type of taco always have a table of garnishes including sliced cucumbers, radishes, red and green salsas, lime wedges, and thin guacamole.




Popular during family taco nights
(Photo Courtesy of ITH Forum)

This term refers to tacos made with fried meat. Just as the vendor of carnitas has his heated glass case and the carne asada chef his grill, the taqueros who sell fritanga have their own specialized cooking utensil. The charola is a metal pan with a center well about 4” deep, where the meat is fried, and a wide, flat lip where fried meat is placed after being removed from the cooking fat.The fresh, clean taste of chopped cilantro is particularly suited to this type of taco, as are the chopped onions and extra-hot salsas served with them.


Fill your taco to your taste when you eat cazuelas tacos
(Photo Courtesy of

The cazuela is the clay pot in which Mexican guisados, or stews, are cooked, and since they vary significantly from one part of the country to another, these are perhaps the most regional of tacos. One of the most flavorful and varied taco you will find means that tacos de cazuela is also an exotic surprise for the taste buds. Offerings may include guisados of beef, lamb, pork, goat, chicken, duck or turkey, depending on what is abundant in the region. Vegetables such as nopales, mushrooms, and squash blossoms are often found in the guisados, which usually include some type of fresh or dried chile. More regional variations may include seafood, grasshoppers and iguana.


Tacos dorados are often called taquitos.
(Photo Courtesy of Silkanda)

Also called taquitos or flautas, these differ from other kinds of tacos in that they are rolled around a filling and fried until hard, rather than being made with soft tortillas folded around the filling. A classic at taquerias and frozen food selves, tacos dorados are usually filled with shredded, cooked chicken or beef. Served fresh and topped with shredded lettuce, salsa cream and grated cheese these rolled delicacies can make anyone’s night amazing.


Beer battered or grilled, fish tacos are one of my favorites
(photo Courtesy of Slash Food)

These are the legendary “fish tacos” of Baja California and the Pacific coast. Popular with surfer and food fanatics alike the  batter-dipped and fried filets of the day’s catch are served in a choice of corn or wheat tortillas. A table of garnishes always includes vinegar-marinated onion rings, shredded cabbage salad, guacamole and salsas. Always a treat when you visit Cabo San Lucas and Mazatlan.

One thought on “Guide: The Joys of Street Tacos

  1. Pingback: La Comida de La Carnita « Urban Eating

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