One of the most popular varieties of tacos offered in Mexico is the al pastor (spit-grilled meat tacos), often combined with a chopped pineapple for sweetness. Considered a quintessentially Mexican dish, al pastor actually came from the Lebanese immigrant community that began arriving in the 1890s. The Middle Eastern community opened restaurants and used the preparation methods that were most familiar to them, including the shawarma, which are slabs of meat roasted on a spit.
Another beloved taco variation countrywide is carnitas, or “little meats”—pork shoulder cooked in lard. This very juicy meat is served with onion, chopped coriander leaves, and spicy salsa verde. The dish originated in the western state of Michoacán and is essentially the same recipe as pulled pork. The traditional method to cook carnitas is using a copper pot which disperses the heat evenly for three to four hours. The pork becomes so tender that it can easily be shredded into individual pieces.
A favorite in central Mexico, suadero tacos are made from a thin cut of beef taken from the ribs. The meat, which is similar to brisket, has a smooth texture and is typically fried and chopped into tiny pieces. Suadero is often hard to chew, so the chopping is essential and is usually done over a tree trunk. Mexico City street stands are still the best place to try these iconic and delicious tacos.
The most legendary tacos from the eastern coast of Mexico are the tacos de cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork tacos). Traditional cochinita is made with a suckling pig, which is marinated in citrus juice, seasoned with the orange-red condiment annatto, wrapped in a banana leaf and roasted. The dish even appears as a recurring theme in Robert Rodriguez’s 2003 film, Once Upon a Time in Mexico. In the movie, Johnny Depp’s character enjoys cochinita so much that he feels compelled to kill the chef every time he tries it.
The mouthwatering dish is also used as a taco filling throughout the Yucatán Peninsula. The pork is combined in a tortilla with chopped coriander, lime, and pickled red onions.
For this traditional dish, a snapper fish is split in half from head to tail before it is marinated in a mixture of achiote paste, beer, and chilies. The fish is then grilled over hot coals in a wood-fired oven and served with salsa and warm tortillas. These barbecued fish tacos originated in the coastal state of Nayarit but are now popular throughout the country and are a regular feature on the menus of seafood restaurants.
An eccentric, but surprisingly delicious choice, tacos de chapulines, or grasshopper tacos, are most closely associated with the southern state of Oaxaca. The insects are only collected during the rainy season between May and early September. After being washed, the grasshoppers are toasted with lime, garlic, and salt. The finished product is very salty, sour and crunchy. Besides Oaxaca, chapulines are still found in traditional towns such as Puebla and Cuernavaca. Some Mexico City markets also stock the daring delicacy.