Welcome to the Land of 10,000 Tacos
By James Norton and John Garland
Photos by Aaron Job
It can be easy to lose sight of the fact that we live in a taco paradise. Legitimate taquerias—shops that make soulful, beautiful, ravishingly delicious food—are scattered all over the metro area and beyond, but they have a tendency to blend into the background. Their marketing and decor aren’t always as polished as the food, which is why we’ve put together our Land of 10,000 Tacos.
If you’re a taco lover with an urge to explore, this is not merely a resource, it’s the resource for you—researched extensively, updated frequently, and deliberately designed to be a place where you can send in tips and questions that we’ll check out and answer (hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Taco Ordering Strategies
When ordering tacos in a new shop, we have a couple of go-to moves. The first is looking at the way the menu is laid out. Typically, the top of any given list—whether it’s meats on offer or tacos—is going to be good or the best available. Shops like to play to their own strengths, so you’re not being obvious by ordering highly placed items—you’re being smart.
The other thing to do is listen to the people ordering ahead of you. Usually out of four or five people placing orders, you’ll hear the same thing ordered three or four times. When that happens, get that thing. The regulars know what’s up, and it’s a way to bump into unexpected new favorites. You can’t necessarily order cabeza or lengua everywhere you go, but when they’re good they’re great, and this is a way to home in on that.
|Almuerzo • Lunch
Al pastor • Pork marinated in spices and achiote, roasted on a vertical trompo, shaved and served with pineapple, onion, cilantro. Mexican by way of the Levant.
Antojitos • Snacks. Handheld street food.
Árabes • Tacos served (at Taqueria La Hacienda) with flour tortillas and melted cheese; more generally used to describe shawarma-and-pita style tacos.
Asada (Carne asada) • Grilled, sliced steak.
Barbacoa • From the original Taíno word for barbecue; meat that is classically slow-cooked over indirect live fire, often in practice steamed until tender.
Cabeza • Beef head meat, most likely cheek and jowl. Individual pieces can be requested at some spots: lengua (tongue), ojo (eye), cachete (cheek), etc.
Cabrito / Chivito / Chivo • Goat
Cachete • Beef cheek
Camarón • Shrimp
Carnitas • Braised pork, shredded, and crisped in fat. Native to Michoacan.
Cecina • Beef that’s seasoned, dried, and often sliced very thin.
Cena • Dinner
Crema Agria • Sour cream
Chapulines • Grasshoppers, an unusual (but not unheard of) taco ingredient
Chicharrón • Fried pork rinds, sometimes with bits of pork belly still attached, often stewed into a tomato-chile sauce. Chicharrones preparadas can refer to a dish of harina fried to resemble pork skin and loaded down with a variety of toppings.
Chorizo • Pork sausage made with cumin, chile powder, and other traditional Mexican spices.
Cochinita pibil • Pork marinated in sour citrus and achiote, wrapped in a banana leaf and slow roasted. Native to the Yucatan.
Comida • Food
Desayuno • Breakfast
Deshebrada • Shredded beef
Flatbread tacos • Also called “Indian tacos,” these discs of frybread often come topped with so-called American taco toppings—seasoned ground beef, lettuce shreds, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese.
Flor de Calabaza • Known in English as squash blossoms, these delicate bits of floral matter typically come fried, and are a popular vegetarian filling for tacos or quesadillas. (Don’t assume that the whole dish is necessarily vegetarian, however, as lard or other meat products have a way of sneaking their way into many Mexican dishes.)
|Fusion tacos • Tacos made with ingredients from global traditions, such as kimchi, duck confit, and so forth.
Lengua • Beef tongue
Milaneza (or Milanesa) • Breaded meat. Often found as “milaneza de res” (breaded beef) in tacos.
Para llevar, por favor • To go, please (pah-rah yay-var)
Para aquí, por favor • For here, please (pahr-ah ah-kee)
Pescado • Fish (tacos), as in “tacos de pescado,” (nearly always battered and fried in the Minnesota scene)
Picadillo • A hash of ground beef, often seasoned with tomatoes, tomatillos, chiles, or peppers.
Pico de gallo • Common taco topping including onions, tomatoes, and chili peppers diced medium or fine. Also called salsa casera.
Pollo • Chicken
Queso blanco • “White cheese”; similar to queso fresco, but made with just milk and acid (not rennet and culture.) Soft and creamy, often found topping enchiladas.
Queso fresco • “Fresh cheese”; similar to queso blanco, but made with rennet and culture. Fresh, milky, and bright, often used interchangeably with feta, garnishing soups, tacos, or salads.
Rajas con crema • Roasted and sauteed poblano peppers served with cream, a popular vegetarian option at Mexican restaurants.
Res • Beef
Salsa roja • Red sauce. Typically smokey and spicy without a ton of bite, often based on dried chilies like guajillo, ancho, and pasilla.
Salsa verde • Green sauce. Typically more acidic and bitingly spicy than salsa roja, usually tomatillo-based.
Suadero • Also called “rose meat”, a flat, non-skeletal muscle (cutaneous trunci) that stretches from the chuck to flank on the exterior of the primal cuts. Texture similar to flank or hanger steak. A favorite in Mexico City.
Surtida • “Mixed” taco—a variety of parts (ears, tongue, ribs, skin, etc.) slow-cooked in pork fat, essentially a confit.
Tacos callejeros • Street tacos, served on small tortillas
Taco sauce • Ketchup-like red sauce, usually mild in heat and flavor.
Tocino • Literally “bacon”, but not usually smoked like American bacon, rather, cured chunks of sweet pork belly, especially popular in the Philippines.
Tortillas • The vast majority of street tacos come on masa (corn) tortillas, often double wrapped for durability.
Tinga de pollo • Chicken in a tomato/chipotle/adobo sauce. Native to Puebla.
Tripa • Beef stomach lining (tripe).