My dear friends, by this point you probably know that the word taco is not, in any way, a representation of Taco Bell’s diarrhea-inducing dishes. Taco is a dish conformed by any ingredient folded into a tortilla, be it meat, beans, rice, even noodles!
When you come to visit my beautiful country, you might find yourself on the street looking at all these shady-looking taco carts and places. Travelers beware, not all taco “dealers” are the same. If you are brave enough to try the urban cuisine, here are a few pointers:
1. Cheap tacos are lousy tacos
A good taco costs $6 to $12 pesos (50 cents to 1 dollar). It may not sound as much but everything else lower than that is going to be bad salsa and “questionable” meat.
2. Unless accompanied by a local, choose a taco place that is properly built
You may have heard from “This great taco cart around your hotel’s corner” on Yelp, but since your digestive system is “new” to these weird, exotic spices; your best bet is a place that is properly established. Hygiene will not be a problem and you won’t regret it the next day.
3. The more the merrier
Always, always, always choose a place that is crowded with people. This proves that the place has withstood the biggest challenge of all: not making you sick the morning after.
4. The “pastor” taco
This is the omnipresent taco. Without going into much detail, “pastor” is pork meat seasoned with spices cooked on a vertical spit . A little too aggresive on the stomach of tourists due to the spiced meat but you can try one without much trouble. They include a slice of pineapple, I reccomend you try it before ordering them without it.
5. The “suadero” taco.
The best equvalent for “suadero” would be brisket. “Suadero” is not spiced, therefore not as irritating, as a “pastor” taco. Almost all taco places have them and gets along beautifully with onion and cilantro.
6. The “bistec” taco
“Bistec” tacos are as common as “pastor” tacos. It’s a thin steak with no condiments and very little fat, chopped into tiny, tasty bits. Indulge your inner food lover with these.
7. Try a “gringa” or a “quesadilla”
“Gringa” is mexican slang for “American woman” (no, not the song). It is by no means a disrespectful or derogatory term. “Gringas” at a taco place are your choice of meat with melted cheese, and a tortilla at the top and bottom (usually flour tortillas, as opposed to corn tortillas that are used for regular tacos). “Quesadillas” (shown above) are the same but with only one flour tortilla.
8. Onion and Cilantro toppings
These two will be served in your tacos UNLESS you specify otherwise. Most of the time it doesn’t hurt to have a little of each on your tasty tacos. However, if you find the taste of each not to your liking, you can skip them. If the tacos are topped with them even if you said no, it is the right of every taco patron to demand a new, plain order of tacos dammit! So go ahead and ask nicely for another order tacos without onion and/or cilantro.
The cornerstone of mexican civilization. Lime has been used as a remedy for all situatuions and ailments: to cure a flu, as a substitute for hair gel (ew), to cure a bee sting, to whiten teeth and clothes, as an additive to dish washing soap, as a deodorant (ew), and many, many more. However when eating tacos, adding a couple of drops to the dish is customary (and reccomended). Protip: observe how the lime is cut, it’s the best way to get the most juice out of them.
10. Red and Green Salsa
This is the last topping to go on a taco. And it’s usually the dish maker or dish destroyer. Too much and you’ll suffer every bite, so it’s always, ALWAYS better to taste a little bit on your taco rather than having to scoop out the salsa-quenched bits of meat. Green salsa is milder, most of the time, and tangier than the red salsa. CAUTION: if you are worried about the water they used to make them (a fear even I have sometimes), do not put salsa in your tacos unless you completely trust the joint.
11. Wash it down with some “Boing!”
“Boing’s!” are 100% mexican made fruit soft drinks. They are not carbonated so you won’t feel as bloated once you finish your dinner, and they are made with 100% natural ingredients. Again, if the water is an issue for you (believe me, I understand), stay away from beverages that are not bottled. Ask for it closed and uncap it yourself
12. Leave a tip, and have a mint
After enjoying your delicious tacos, be kind and tip the place. Usually it’s 15% of your total. And ask for a mint, most places have them.
This is just a quick list I thought of after taking some friends from the U.S., on a night tour through the streets of my city. If I missed something, by all means let me know in the comments and we can help expand this list to better enjoy your chow time here in beautiful Mexico.