The taco is one of the most iconic and important Mexican dishes and although the styles differ, it can be enjoyed all over this rich and beautiful country. According to several sources, the word taco refers to a piece of wood, but another more probable explanation is that the word is derived from Nahuatl, meaning “half” or “in the middle.”
The origins of the taco are shrouded in mystery. Everyone agrees that they predate the Spanish conquest, making them an ancient delicacy, but their exact origins are unknown. Many believe that the taco was invented in order to make it more convenient for men working in the fields or mines to eat, as it is a meal that is easy to transport and eat while working. The first written account of the taco was recorded by Spanish conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo in his memoir titled, “The True History of the Conquest of New Spain.” The account tells of a taco feast held by Hernán Cortés in Coyoacán — in the southern part of what is now Mexico City — for the captains of his army.
There are a wide variety of tacos found throughout Mexico, as each region has their own take on the dish. One of the most popular types of taco is the taco al pastor. It consists of pork meat marinated in adobo seasoning, cooked on a rotisserie and topped with pineapple. This taco celebrity can be found almost anywhere in the country with little variation.
Some other popular types of tacos include: carnitas, cochinita, árabe, barbacoa, birria, canasta and fish. Carnitas hail from the states of Michoacán and Jalisco and are made of pork meat fried in its own lard. Cochinita tacos originate from Yucatán and contain cochinita pibil (marinated pulled pork) and are generally accompanied with habanero sauce and red onions. The árabe taco is a Mexicanized version of the shawarma and is popular in Puebla. It is served on pita bread and is filled with seasoned pork meat. Barbacoa tacos are made of specially barbecued lamb meat. Birria tacos are originally from Jalisco and use slow-cooked goat meat. Canasta tacos are served with many different fillings and stored in baskets covered with cloth, so that steam softens the tortillas. Fish tacos originated in Baja California and consist of fish with cabbage and a creamy sauce.
These types of tacos are very different from the now popularized version in the United States, which is served on a hard crispy shell. In Mexico, there are two options for tortillas: flour and corn. Both of these options are soft. With the raise of the fast food industry in the late 1940s, manufacturers found it easier to store hard shell tacos to keep them fresh for longer.
In honor of the taco’s significance and rich history, we took on the challenge to try out some of Mexico City’s favorite taco joints.
Super Tacos Chupacabras- $$$
Avenida México Coyoacán Sin Local 1, Xoco
Guillermo: 🌮🌮🌮 Tacos Chupacabras is located under a bridge, near Coyoacán. They are know as a popular spot for drunk food, because they are open almost 24/7. One of their quirks is that they offer many toppings, such as nopales, mashed potatoes, beans and onion. I had the steak, cecina and the chupacabra taco, which combines steak, cecina and chorizo. They weren’t all that great, because the meat was a little dry and I was inhaling the exhaust from the passing cars.
Nicole: 🌮🌮🌮 Chupacabras is located near the picturesque neighborhood of Coyoacán, home to Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. It offers an ample selection of options for tacos, including toppings, such as mashed potatoes. I ordered three tacos: chicken, chorizo and chupacabra (the house special). I found the tacos to be filling and was overall satisfied with them, although the chicken was very dry.
Tacos Manolo- $$$
Luz Saviñón 1305, Narvarte Poniente
Guillermo: 🌮🌮🌮🌮🌮 Located in the Narvarte neighborhood, Tacos Manolo is possibly my favorite taco place in the whole of Mexico City. They started as a small taco stand and grew over the years into what is now today a successful taco restaurant. Their specialty is the Taco Manolo, which consists of ground beef accompanied by chopped bacon and onion, but personally I think that it is too juicy. I had two suadero tacos, which is a thin cut of beef from between the belly and the leg of the cow. They were perfectly cooked, as the suadero cut is first fried in oil and then chopped and seared on a griddle. Tacos Manolo also offers a nice selection of salsas, which include peanut and habanero with onions.
Nicole: 🌮🌮🌮🌮 This restaurant provides outdoor seating options, which is always a plus with the summer weather in Mexico City. They have a wide array of options for tacos and salsas. I ordered the Taco Manolo and a suadero. The tacos are moderately priced and a normal size, however the consistency of the suadero meat was a bit hard with cartilage and the Manolo was wet, leaving the tortillas slightly soggy.
El Califa- $$$$
Av Universidad 654, Benito Juárez, Letran Valle
Guillermo: 🌮🌮 El Califa is part of a city-wide chain. It has so many restaurants that you can’t go far without seeing one. I had two microscopic pastor tacos, which weren’t anything special. They weren’t bad, but I’ve had better for a fraction of the price. The place is nice but a little soulless, because as part of a chain they standardize the appearance of all locations and they end up feeling a little too similar. You can find better tacos in a cheaper place.
Nicole: 🌮 I found the tacos at this famous Mexican chain to be comically small and not worth the price. I was severely disappointed with the size and overall flavor and presentation. Not only did they skimp on the size, but also on the tortillas. Usually tacos are served with two tortillas, but in El Califa, they only give you one sad minuscule tortilla. I ordered two pastor tacos, because they were the only reasonably priced tacos on the menu, as all the others were upwards of 25 pesos. Pastor tacos are a classic served in almost all taco spots. While the pastor tacos at El Califa were more expensive than in most places, I did not think that they were any better than ones I have had elsewhere.
El Borrego Viudo- $$
Calle Cerrada de Revolución, Tacubaya
Guillermo: 🌮🌮🌮🌮 Another popular drunk food spot, El Borrego Viudo offers tacos which are known as “aplaca-borrachos” (drunk-soothing tacos). They offer only four kinds of meat: pastor, longaniza, suadero and carnitas. They come pre-bathed in a special sauce. These tacos are best accompanied by the famous tepache that the place offers, which is a fermented sweet drink made out of tamarind, orange and pineapple.
Nicole: 🌮🌮🌮🌮🌮 I loved this restaurant! It is a cute little hole-in-the-wall place, which offers tacos at a good price. In addition to the great price, El Borrego Viudo also gives its customers a generous helping of food. I tried four different tacos and a strange fermented beverage called tepache, which I was not in love with. The tacos however, were quite tasty and came with a special sauce and were served with two tortillas. The meat was delicious and well cooked with a satisfactory consistency.
Tacos de Canasta Los Especiales- $
Av Francisco I. Madero 71, Centro
Guillermo: 🌮🌮🌮🌮 Canasta tacos, also known as “sweaty tacos,” are some of cheaper tacos to be found in Mexico. They are small, but people normally eat five of them at the least. Los Especiales’ tacos are some of the most famous canasta tacos in Mexico City, known for their combos, which offer five tacos and a beverage, for just 40 pesos, so you can try all of the fillings. Canasta tacos are best accompanied by green chunky salsa, with plenty of avocado.
Nicole: 🌮🌮🌮🌮🌮 When we arrived, there was already a line of customers ready to fill their bellies with some canasta tacos. “Canasta” tacos, which literally means “basket” in Spanish, are usually sold for much cheaper than your typical taco and usually have lots of non-meat fillings. Here you get the most for your money. We ordered five tacos, one of each flavor. They are soft in consistency and rich in flavor, as they have been sitting together in the basket.
Los Cocuyos- $$$
7ᵃ̵ Calle de Bolívar 54-56, Centro Histórico
Guillermo: 🌮🌮🌮🌮🌮 Los Cocuyos is another of my favorite taco places. It is one of those “parados” kind of places, which means that you usually have to eat standing up. They are moderately priced, but they are worth it. The tacos are covered in a special sauce, and are cooked to perfection.
Nicole: 🌮🌮🌮 After a full day of eating several tacos at two different locations, I was not prepared for round three. When we got to Los Cocuyos, we sadly were only able to order two tacos among the two of us (one each). Despite being extremely full of tacos, I fortunately did not throw up on my coworker and continued to eat! But I think because of my overeating, I was not able to fully enjoy the tacos.
El Farolito- $$$$
Tacambaro 4, Cuauhtémoc, Condesa
Guillermo: 🌮🌮🌮 El Farolito is a white-washed version of the normal taco experience. They are somewhat expensive for the quality they provide. They are acceptable tacos but they don’t have any “sazón,” or zest. They are tacos in that they are meat on a tortilla, but they lack flavor.
Nicole: 🌮🌮 El Farolito is a taco chain with many locations throughout Mexico City. It offers a wide range of food for a steep price. I was not exceptionally pleased with the taco quality. I ordered a pastor taco and a tacos with carnitas and chicharrón. The pastor taco was decent, but the carnitas were extremely dry and the chicharrón was literally just crumbled up pork rinds. For tacos, chicharrón is usually fried pork, but it is soft, unlike the dried snack you can purchase at any convenience store.
$- Less than 5 pesos
$$- 5-10 pesos
$$$- 10-20 pesos
$$$$- 20-40 pesos
$$$$$- Over 40 pesos
Guillermo and Nicole came up the idea of sampling Mexico City’s food joints because they wanted to offer readers a different perspective on Mexican food. Guillermo is a Mexico City transplant from Veracruz, and gives a Mexican point of view on food. Nicole is a Seattle native, recently arrived to one of the biggest metropolis in the world, and is happy to enjoy the many different dishes that the country has to offer, giving her unique point of view. Both enjoy stuffing themselves until the point of passing out, trying new things and experiencing local food and culture.
Join us next month when we go mezcal tasting!