Mexican cuisine is increasingly popular, and it has been for decades. At the heart of the Mexican food repertoire, there are various types of tacos, the country’s staple food. But tacos are not simply a dish, but something greater: tacos are a means to eat food, they’re a white canvas for creativity.
If you can scoop it over a tortilla, you have yourself a taco. This perfect street food is a fantastic combination of fresh ingredients, intense flavors, and deep tradition, the result? — food hard not to love.
Having said that, there are many authentic Mexican taco types. Contemplating all the possibilities in the taco multiverse, some tacos are more famous than others and have become ambassadors for the food category.
Beyond just listing various types of tacos, let’s pay homage to the rich culture and history and regions of Mexican cuisine that each taco comes from. We’ll even suggest what garnish to serve with each taco to help make your experience more authentic.
Everyone has their own favorite taco. And yes, there are many more types of tacos than are listed here. These are just the most popular tacos from Mexican food culture. Let’s explore these classics and see if there are any you may have missed.
If you’re ready, let’s dig in!
1. The Taco al Pastor
For many, the Pastor taco is the king of tacos. A specialty in the enormous Mexico City, this taco has one of the most exciting stories too.
Pastor is pork meat marinated in various spices and citrus, layered on big skewers and cooked with the direct flame of a vertical broiler.
If you’ve seen döner, kebabs and shawarmas, you know what we mean, and this is no coincidence. The pastor style tacos were created by Lebanese immigrants that began cooking their shawarma-style meat with the ingredients available in Mexico. Tortillas substituted the Arab flatbread, and the rest is history.
Pastor Taco Garnish: salsa, lime juice, diced raw onion, chopped cilantro leaves, and grilled pineapple.
2. The Carnitas Taco
Carnitas is a fond name for meat, and although the term “Carne” applies to any meat, carnitas are always made with pork.
Cooks waste no part of the animal as they deep fry all parts of the pig in lard in a time-consuming and labor-intensive process.
The result is tender meat that served over a freshly made tortilla make for a warming experience hard to beat. Picky eaters order lean meat, but the adventurous kind will order pork skin, tripe, and any other meaty innards.
Available nationwide, the dish is originally from the state of Tlaxcala but famous from Michoacán, a two-hour ride north of Mexico City.
The Spanish conquerors brought pigs to Mexico, and the legend has it that in the year 1521, they celebrated the defeat of the Aztec empire with pork and the local corn tortillas – that day, carnitas were born.
Carnitas Taco Garnish: Salsa, lime juice, diced raw onions, and chopped cilantro leaves.
3. The Barbacoa Taco
Similar to carnitas, but traditionally made in a more rustic way, lamb meat and innards are cooked in a ground pit oven, protected by a banana leave layer. The meat cooks overnight, resulting in juicy and tender meat that comes to life over a warm corn tortilla.
A staple in central Mexico, and particularly good in the state of Hidalgo, barbacoa tacos can be enjoyed nationwide and are a typical Sunday breakfast.
Here’s a tip. As the lamb cooks, people gather all the juices in a pot resulting in a hearty broth you can order as a side.
Barbacoa Taco Garnish: Salsa, lime juice, diced raw onions, and chopped cilantro leaves.
4. Canasta Tacos
Basket tacos are just that. Dozens of pre-made tacos tucked tightly in a handwoven basket. Also called tacos sudados, or sweaty tacos, they are instantly recognizable for its soft texture and moist tortilla.
As the trapped, warm tacos release their heat and humidity, they become compressed taco bites, unlike any other taco.
The traditional fillings are mashed potatoes, pressed chicharrón (pressed pork rinds,) mashed beans, and adobo, and everyone has a favorite.
Canasta Taco Garnish: Chunky green salsa and steamed onions (cooked in the basket).
5. The Baja Style Shrimp Taco
Mexico has massive shorelines, both to the Pacific and the Atlantic. The northern Baja California Peninsula has one of the most abundant seas on earth for fish and seafood, and one of their signature dishes is the Baja-style taco.
Battered fish or shrimp over a warm tortilla, drizzled with lime juice is the perfect sea-scented seafood taco, and it has an interesting story too.
Japanese immigrants, similar to the ones that helped build California, brought with them tempura, the quintessential frying batter, which has soon incorporated into Mexican traditions.
Baja Style Shrimp Taco Garnish: Pico de gallo salsa, lettuce or slaw, mayonnaise and lime juice.
6. The Cochinita Taco
The Yucatan peninsula, in the south-eastern Mexican corner, has unique cooking traditions that go back not to the Aztec empire but to the Mayan culture. Cochinita is the best ambassador for the colorful cuisine.
In an arduous process, lean pork meat is marinated with spices and citrus, and it’s cooked in a ground pit oven overnight, resulting in fork-tender meat that makes a great taco.
Moisture and juiciness are the signature of a well-made cochinita, and its bright red color comes from a natural pigment from a local flower called axiote.
Cochinita Taco Garnishes: Onions cured with sour orange juice and habanero sauce.
7. The Asada Taco
Grilling is a global pastime, and Mexican cattle make for juicy and tender meat better when kissed by the fire, and infused with charcoal.
Many countries excel in the grilling department, like Australia, Argentina and the United States, but tortillas and salsa make grilled meat something entirely new in Mexico.
Asado means grilled, so any meat, from prime cuts to flank steak, can make a great grilled meat taco. You can find the best in the Northern Mexican states that border Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, where breeding cattle is a proud tradition.
Asada Taco garnishes: Avocado, lime juice and salsa.
8. The Guisado Tacos
Guisado means stew, and there are dozens of those in the Mexican cookbook. Stew pulled chicken and tomato, potatoes with sausage, sautéed zucchini flowers, stewed pork meat, grilled cactus leaves, and seasoned ground beef are just a few examples of an impressive collection of stews and home-cooked dishes in the guisado category.
Specialized street-food stands, particularly in Mexico City, will offer over a dozen different stews for a make-your-own taco experience. All stews served on top of a two-layered tortilla base and a rice bed. Students and office workers crowd these stands for a taste of home-cooked meals for breakfast or lunch.
Guisado Taco Garnish: A wide variety of salsas.
9. The Chicken Flautas
Most authentic tacos are served over freshly made soft tortillas, but there’s a whole other category for fried tacos.
Rolled thinly and filled with shredded chicken, the crispy flautas, which resemble a flute, are steaming-hot delicious, and you can eat half a dozen in one sitting.
Popular late-night snacks, flautas can have different fillings, although the chicken flautas are the most common.
Chicken Flautas Taco Garnish: Salsa, sour cream, fresh crumbly cheese, and shredded lettuce.
10. The Cabrito Taco
The cabrito is a Northern Mexican specialty. A baby goat carcass, firmly wired to an iron cross and cooked indirectly by an open flame for hours, results in exquisite meat that’s better enjoyed over a tortilla. The skin is crispy, and meat juicy, there’s smokiness and sweetness, tenderness and a nice chew.
These tacos are most famous in the state of Monterey, where they serve the cabrito with wheat flour tortillas instead of the most common corn tortilla, making it even more special.
Cabrito Taco Garnish: diced raw onion, salsa and lime juice.
11. The Suadero Taco
Street style suadero tacos are famous for being not only tasty, and a bit greasy, but unbelievably cheap. The secret is in the meat.
Cows have a thin muscle that runs between the skin and the ribs. Discarded in most countries, known as matambre in Argentina and as suadero in Mexico, the meat is quite flavorful.
Suadero is often deep-fried and served over a corn tortilla in a taco that shows that even inexpensive ingredients can become something wonderful in the right hands.
Suadero Taco Garnish: Diced raw onion, cilantro leaves, lime juice, and salsa.
12. Tuetano Tacos
Also known as the bone marrow taco. Sometimes the best things in life are quite simple. It’s not rare to see Mexican families making beef broth with vegetables resulting in a nourishing, warm dish to feed their families. That’s the famous Mole de Olla, or Pot Mole.
Carrots, chayotes, green beans and potatoes all form part of the Mole de Olla, and slow-cooked meat takes center stage. Everyone knows, though, that the flavor is in the bones, and it’s in these bones from where you find the unctuously greasy bone marrow.
Never enough to go around, a spread of the flavorful stuff over a tortilla, and a pinch of salt might well be the most delicious taco of them all. Rarely sold in restaurants, you’ll have to visit a Mexican household to enjoy the rarity. Of course, you can make your own!
There are many other simple but tasty tacos, all built upon the premise that anything delicious tastes better over a warm tortilla. Avocado tacos, for example, can have not much more than a good slice of avocado and a pinch of salt.
Tuetano Taco Garnish: A pinch of salt.
There are many types of tacos!
Tacos are just fun. The two-biters are always a guarantee of a good time, and as you’ve seen, there’s undoubtedly one to meet your specific cravings.
When it comes to the various new types of tacos, there’s room for innovation too. Octopus and lobster tacos are gaining popularity, and so are chicatana ants and cricket tacos.
The tortilla-based goodies are making their way into other departments, too, like desserts. In the hands of some of the best pastry chefs in the world, you can now enjoy a decadent chocolate and whipped cream taco, and that’s just the beginning.
Are you a Mexican Foodie? Then make sure you check out these stories to learn more about the most popular Mexican dishes, or our delicious fun facts about the origins of traditional Mexican cuisine, and then head over and whet your appetite with these traditional Mexican sauces. And if you are really adventurous and want to try making these dishes at home then make sure to take a look at our list of Mexican spices before you start.