Food by VICE

The Essential Mexico Taco Map

Tacos: al pastor, de canasta, seafood, beans, guacamole, carnitas, cheese, or just plain tortillas with salt. The taco universe in Mexico is infinite.

by Munchies Staff
Jul 4 2017, 9:00pm

This story was originally published in Spanish on MUNCHIES MX.

Tacos: al pastor, de canasta, seafood, beans, guacamole, carnitas, cheese, or just plain tortillas with salt. The taco universe in Mexico is so great and diverse—you could say infinite, even—that to name every taco from every town, city, corner, or road of this magnificent country would just be too complicated.

That's why we'll start by just exploring the most iconic tacos from a few states, while we try to, little by little, cover Mexico's whole taco universe.

The key element of any taco is either a corn or flour tortilla. Arguments about what kind of tortilla goes better with a quesadilla have been known to tear families apart. So without starting any arguments, we'll stick to talking about tacos—delicious tacos.

READ MORE: This Is the Difference Between Real Tortillas and Industrial Tortillas

Jalisco: Taco de birria

The birria taco is one of Jalisco's staple dishes made with sheep or goat meat in a broth flavored with spices and chilies. A good birria is cooked in a hole in the ground. Some say that the Zapotlanejo version of this taco is the best, but others argue it's the version made in the highlands. Guadalajara is home to some birria masters such as Javier Torres Ruíz, aka "El Chololo", who passed away earlier this year. In his restaurants they serve a clay bowl filled with shredded meat along with a bowl of broth, onions and arbol-chili salsa, accompanied with a tortilla filled with refried beans, lamb meat, onions, cilantro, chilies, and some lime. That's how you eat one of the best Jalisquillos tacos.

Ilustración de Alejandra Espino.

All illustrations by Alejandra Espino.

Hidalgo: Taco de barbacoa

They make barbacoa tacos all around Mexico, but the real deal hails from the state of Hidalgo. There, they prepare it the traditional way by placing the lamb meat on a makeshift oven in a hole in the ground, which is then covered with agave leaves and left to cook for hours or even overnight. We don't know if the ground in Hidalgo has any influence on the cooking process, but we are certain that it produces deliciously cooked meat. The barbecue masters don't need any medals or Michelin stars to make one of Mexico's tastiest gastronomical legacies. Drinking some pulque while the barbacoa is cooking is an extra gift of this incredible meal.

READ MORE: The Enigma of Pulque
Ilustración de Alejandra Espino.

Estado de México: Taco de chorizo verde

Mexico State's chorizo verde is a green delicacy that has already crossed borders, and its color and incredible taste comes from a mix of parsley, cilantro, and serrano and poblano chilies (as well as almonds, walnuts, garlic, and salt).

READ MORE: The MUNCHIES Guide to Carnitas
tacochorizoverde

Yucatán: Taco de cochinita pibil

We thank God every day for talking people from Yucatan out of their 19th-century ideas of independence. It would have been terrible having to apply for a visa just to taste their delicious cochinita pibil, marinated turkey, papatzules, and marqusitas. Besides, cochinita pibil is the perfect cross between the Mayan and Spanish cuisines: pork meat, achiotes, and sour oranges cooked—once again—in a hole-in-the-ground oven covered with plantain leaves. The cochinita taco with red onions in vinegar and a habanero-chili brine (Spanish) is as unique as the blue of the Mexican Caribbean.

tacocochinita_2-0
Baja California norte - Taco Ensenada

Baja Califonia norte: Ensenada taco

North and south Ensenada, in Baja California has been offering its delicious dishes for years, and the tacos there are among the best in the country. Made with fried fish with green or purple cabbage, onions, tomatoes, serrano chilies and a spicy salsa made with a base of mayo and Sriracha, they're simply delicious. There are many variations of this taco, but what is consistent is fish battered with a bit of beer, which gives it that lightness (another constant is the mayo and cabbage). However, the salsas can either be spicy or not; some add grated carrots and cucumbers; some people eat them with corn tortilla, while others eat them with flour tortillas. No matter which version we eat, it's always one of our favorites.

Ilustración de Alejandra Espino.

Colima: Taco de frijoles

There is more to Colima than coconut water, coconut treats, coconut drinks, and coconut everything else. Although this taco might seem too simple, we have to accept that there is no Mexican citizen that hasn't prepared a refried bean taco at least once in his life. The key to this staple dish from Colima is to braise it next to the state's golden sand beaches—while resting on a hammock. If you add some red salsa to it, you won't need anything else in this life.

Ilustraciones de Alejandra Espino.

Sinaloa: Taco gobernador

It could be argued that a taco gobernador (governor) is just a shrimp quesadilla, but this was actually an invention from Sinaloa, created by Francisco Labastida, a Sinaloan ex-governor who ran for president in 1994. While visiting Los Arcos—a famous seafood chain in Mexico—the politician asked for something "similar to a marlin taco" but with well cooked shrimp, and voila: this braised-shrimp taco with the right level of spice and melted cheese on a corn tortilla was born.

Ilustración de Alejandra Espino.

Oaxaca: Taco de tasajo

While walking around the markets of Oaxaca one of the things that caught our attention were the great quantities of meat hanging in butcher shops. Tasajo is the most popular cut of meat in Oaxaca, and it's so good it doesn't require any sides other than some red or green salsa and a bit of lime. We hope someday we'll make it to the "20 de Noviembre Market" in downtown Oaxaca and order some tasajo with braised veggies, nopales, guacamole, chapulines, cheese, and some tortillas fresh out of the oven. Who said you need to go to a fine dining restaurant to eat like a king?

Ilustración de Alejandra Espino.