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Taco tour of Mexico City

Published July 29th, 2015

In a city where taco stands are as ubiquitous as 7-Eleven, there are literally hundreds of places to get your taco on in Mexico City (or as the locals say ‘DF’ – District Federal).

However, let’s be clear; these tacos aren’t the Old El Paso supermarket gringo variety – these are soft, 100-percent corn tortillas. And as for interpreting the fillings, we’ve got a Taco Glossary below to help you out; along with several of the best taco joints in DF, recommended by locals and certified by yours truly.

Tacos Beto was one of our many stops on our taco-inspired romp through Mexico City. All images: Rachel Surgeoner.

Types of tacos

Tacos al Pastor

This looks like your typical doner kebab meat, but it's actually the Mexican spin on Turkish doner. Al Pastor is usually chicken or pork marinated with traditional ingredients, spices and ground chilies that give it a very distinctive red colour. These tacos are best accompanied with a slice of fresh pineapple, coriander and onion.

Carnitas Tacos

Out the front of most taco joints you’ll see a large pot of simmering meats. Some identifiable, some not – it’s best not to overthink it. Carnitas translates to ‘little meats’ and the dish originates from the Mexican state of Michoacán. The meats are simmered for three or four hours, resulting in very tender and juicy meat.

Taquitos

Like fried foods? This is the taco variety for you. A ‘taquito’ (or ‘flauta’) is a rolled-up tortilla that is most commonly filled with chicken (pollo) and queseo (cheese), fried crispy and topped with more queso.

Tacos al carbon

Like BBQ? Carbon translates to charcoal, basically meaning the meats in an ‘al carbon’ taco are cooked over charcoal for that smokey, barbequed meat flavour. A popular choice for beef or pork tacos.

Cooking al carbon at El Farolito.

Molcajete

Like to DIY? Share a molcajete pot with friends. This giant stone hotpot comes with a variety of meats, onions and even strips of cheese that look like feta but melt like mozzarella. The pot is served with fresh tortillas, so go for broke and create your own taco sensations.

It’s all about the salsa and the limes

In Mexico City when you sit down to eat at any taqueria, you’ll be given an abundance of sliced lime wedges (this type of lime is unique to Mexico), freshly chopped onion and coriander, and a range of hot sauces and salsas. A taco is nothing without its condiments: a perfect marriage of salty and citrus, zest and bite.

Types of salsas (none of which come out of a jar, btw)

Pico de gallo: Chopped tomatoes (or sometimes even fruits like mango or pineapple) with chillies, herbs, lime juice, and salt.

Guacamole taquero: Tomatillos blended with avocados, chillies, coriander and garlic.

Salsa verde: Green sauce or tomatillo sauce is made with tomatillos (green tomatoes), onion, garlic, chilies and coriander.

Chipotle salsa: Spice is given a smokey twist, thanks to the chipotle variety of chilies used in this salsa, which is blended with garlic, tomatoes, coriander and spices. Goes great with al pastor tacos!

More taco tips:

Cactus? Yes. ‘Nopal’ is a type of cactus and it features heavily on the menu in Mexico, it’s nutritious and delicious. Try it.

Love cheese? Order a ‘chicharrón de queso’ while you're deciding on your tacos. It’s basically a giant piece of crispy cheese.

Presenting the chicharrón de queso. It didn't last long.

Where to get the tacos

El Farolito – The ‘McDonald’s of tacos’ in DF. While there isn’t exactly one on each corner, there are a few branches across the city. No matter which one you go to, the tacos are always prepared the same way. First opened in 1962, these guys got it right back then and have kept the original uniforms and uncompromising quality and service.

Hostal de los Quesos – Translates to ‘The House of the Buenos Tacos’. That pretty much sums this place up – bueno equals 'good'. Serving up meats and cheeses in tacos since 1972, they must be doing something right. They’re pretty serious about their barbeque, too.

El Charro – Located inside the Coyoacan food market. Try the maciza (pork meat) with a little bit of cuerito (pork rind) and chicharron (fried pork rind) with lime and guacamole.

Barbacoa Don Pepe – Located inside Mercado 24 de Agosto (Market August 24). Try the ‘dorados y suaves’; aka hard and soft tacos.

El Paisa Cocina Mexicana – Order the ‘campechano’, a very meaty and hearty taco.

Tacos Beto Los de Cochinda – A must-do for serious taco/meat aficionados. Commonly referred to as a ‘filth’ or ‘rubbish’ taco, Tacos Beto speciality is the taco they make from the fatty, fried meats left over in the pot. It's delicious, but not for the faint hearted.

The 'rubbish' taco master at Tacos Beto. Genius? I'll say it!

Buena suerte (good luck!) and happy taco hunting in DF!

Rachel Surgeoner

A self-confessed 'food-tourist', I take hunting for the world's greatest sandwich very seriously, my quest has taken me from Berlin to Hoboken. Stopping off only for vintage shopping, craft beers and Mediterranean sunsets.