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Foodporn: Tacos Al Pastor In Mexico City


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Brear Rigney



Food and travel are two of life’s greatest pleasures, and when combined, they create an unforgettable culinary adventure. Exploring different cultures through their unique cuisines is a thrilling way to expand one’s palate and experience the essence of a destination. And when it comes to food travel, few experiences can compare to the tantalizing flavors of Tacos al Pastor in Mexico City.


Tacos al Pastor is a classic Mexican street food that has gained international fame for its mouthwatering combination of marinated pork, vibrant spices, and a traditional cooking method that infuses the meat with layers of flavors. This iconic dish is a testament to the rich culinary history of Mexico, blending influences from indigenous ingredients and cooking techniques with the vibrant flavors introduced by Lebanese immigrants in the early 20th century.


While Tacos al Pastor can be found throughout Mexico, it is in Mexico City where you will find some of the most authentic and delicious versions of this beloved street food. The bustling capital city is a melting pot of diverse flavors and culinary traditions, making it the perfect destination for food enthusiasts seeking an immersive food travel experience.


From the moment you step foot in Mexico City, you will be greeted by the irresistible aromas emanating from the countless taco stands lining the streets. The sizzling sound of the meat grilling on vertical spits, known as trompos, and the skilled hands of the taqueros (taco vendors) assembling the tacos with finesse, create an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation.


Whether you are a seasoned traveler or a first-time visitor to Mexico City, embarking on a food journey to discover the best Tacos al Pastor is an absolute must. In the following sections, we will delve into the history, ingredients, preparation, toppings, popular taco stands, variations, and proper way to devour these delectable tacos. So, get ready to indulge your taste buds and embark on a flavorsome adventure through the vibrant streets of Mexico City.


History of Tacos al Pastor

The history of Tacos al Pastor can be traced back to the early 20th century, when Lebanese immigrants settled in Mexico and brought with them their culinary traditions. These immigrants, mainly from the region of Lebanon known as the “Ottoman Empire”, introduced the technique of cooking meat on vertical spits, similar to the famous Middle Eastern shawarma.


However, in order to adapt to the local ingredients and tastes, Mexican cooks made some alterations to the traditional shawarma recipe. They replaced the lamb meat with pork, which was abundant in Mexico, and modified the spice blend to incorporate the flavors and spices commonly used in Mexican cuisine.


The name “Tacos al Pastor” translates to “tacos in the style of the shepherd”. The term “pastor” refers to the vertical spit, also known as a “trompo,” which resembles a shepherd’s crook. This cooking method allowed the pork to cook slowly and evenly, resulting in tender and juicy meat with a crispy exterior.


The transformative moment for Tacos al Pastor came in the 1960s when a Mexican chef named José de San Román discovered the flavors of this delicious dish during a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula. Inspired by the taste, he brought the technique back to Mexico City and opened the now-famous El Tizoncito restaurant, widely regarded as the birthplace of Tacos al Pastor as we know them today.


Since then, Tacos al Pastor have become an integral part of Mexican street food culture. The dish gained popularity amongst locals and tourists alike for its unique blend of flavors, affordability, and quick preparation. Today, you can find taco stands and small restaurants dedicated solely to serving this delectable dish throughout Mexico City and beyond.


The history of Tacos al Pastor is an example of the cultural fusion that characterizes Mexican cuisine. It is a beautiful blend of Lebanese and Mexican culinary traditions, resulting in a taco that is truly unique and representative of the country’s diverse culinary landscape.


Ingredients used in Tacos al Pastor

Tacos al Pastor are known for their bold and vibrant flavors, which are achieved through a skillful combination of carefully chosen ingredients. The key components that give this iconic dish its distinctive taste include:

  1. Pork: The star of the show, pork is the primary protein used in Tacos al Pastor. Traditionally, the meat comes from the marinated pork shoulder, which is thinly sliced and layered on the vertical spit. The marination process infuses the meat with a delightful combination of flavors and tenderizes it to achieve a melt-in-your-mouth texture.
  2. Achiote Paste: Achiote, also known as annatto, is a red-colored paste made from ground annatto seeds, spices, and vinegar. Achiote paste imparts a vibrant red hue to the meat and adds a distinct earthy, slightly peppery flavor.
  3. Pineapple: One of the defining ingredients in Tacos al Pastor is the addition of fresh pineapple. As the meat turns on the spit, the natural sugars in the pineapple caramelize and imbue the pork with a hint of sweetness. It also helps to tenderize the meat, resulting in a juicy and flavorful final product.
  4. Spices and Aromatics: The marination process entails the use of various spices and aromatics to enhance the flavor profile of the meat. Common spices include cumin, oregano, garlic, onion powder, and Mexican dried chilies, such as guajillo or ancho. These ingredients contribute to the complex and robust taste that Tacos al Pastor are known for.
  5. Corn Tortillas: Tacos al Pastor are traditionally served on warm, soft corn tortillas. The corn tortillas provide a neutral base that allows the flavors of the filling and toppings to shine through. They also add a pleasant texture to the overall eating experience.
  6. Traditional Toppings: While the choice of toppings can vary, there are some traditional garnishes that are commonly offered with Tacos al Pastor. These include diced onion, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, and salsa verde, a tangy and spicy green sauce made from tomatillos and chili peppers.

Each ingredient in Tacos al Pastor plays a crucial role in creating the harmonious blend of flavors that make this dish so beloved. The combination of succulent pork, aromatic spices, tangy pineapple, and a hint of sweetness from the achiote paste creates a culinary experience that is sure to tantalize your taste buds.


Preparation of Tacos al Pastor

The preparation of Tacos al Pastor is a labor of love that requires skill, patience, and attention to detail. While the exact techniques may vary slightly from one chef to another, the general process involves the following steps:

  1. Marination: The first step in preparing Tacos al Pastor is marinating the pork. Thinly sliced pork shoulder is typically used for this dish. The pork slices are coated in achiote paste, a blend of spices, and aromatics. This marinade is applied generously to the meat, ensuring that each slice is well-coated. The marination process can take several hours, allowing the flavors to infuse and tenderize the meat.
  2. Layering on the Spit: Once the pork has marinated, it is time to assemble the trompo, the vertical spit resembling a shepherd’s crook. The marinated pork slices are layered onto the spit, alternating with thin slices of fresh pineapple. This layering technique allows the flavors of the meat and pineapple to meld together as they slowly cook on the spit.
  3. Cooking on the Spit: The trompo is then set in motion on a slow rotisserie-style grill. As the meat spins, the caramelization process begins, with the pineapple juices mixing with the marinade to create a tantalizing aroma and add a touch of sweetness to the pork. The slow rotation ensures that the meat cooks evenly, resulting in tender, juicy, and flavorful slices of pork.
  4. Slicing and Serving: Once the meat is perfectly cooked, it is time to slice it. The taquero, or taco vendor, skillfully shaves thin slices of the tender pork and pineapple off the spit, using a sharp knife. These slices, still sizzling with flavor, are then placed onto warm, freshly made corn tortillas.
  5. Garnishing: To complete the Tacos al Pastor, traditional garnishes are added. This usually includes a sprinkle of diced onion and chopped cilantro, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and a drizzle of salsa verde for a hint of heat and acidity. These toppings add freshness and balance to the rich flavors of the meat.

The preparation of Tacos al Pastor is not only a culinary process but also a feast for the senses. The aroma of the marinated pork cooking on the spit, along with the sights and sounds of taqueros expertly slicing the meat, adds to the overall experience of enjoying these mouthwatering tacos. Whether you are watching the process at a taco stand or trying your hand at making them at home, the preparation is an integral part of the Tacos al Pastor experience.


Traditional Toppings for Tacos al Pastor

Tacos al Pastor are typically served with a variety of toppings that complement the flavors of the marinated pork and enhance the overall eating experience. While the choice of toppings can vary depending on personal preference and regional variations, there are some traditional garnishes that are commonly enjoyed with Tacos al Pastor. These include:

  1. Diced Onion: A sprinkle of finely diced white or red onion adds a delightful crunch and a sharp, pungent flavor to the tacos. The onion’s fresh and crisp texture contrasts perfectly with the tender meat.
  2. Chopped Cilantro: Known for its vibrant and citrusy flavor, cilantro adds a refreshing element to the tacos. The fresh, bright green leaves of cilantro provide a herbal note that balances the rich and savory flavors of the pork.
  3. Lime Wedges: Lime wedges are a crucial element in Tacos al Pastor, offering a burst of tanginess and acidity. Squeezing fresh lime juice over the tacos not only adds a zesty kick but also helps to cut through the richness of the meat.
  4. Salsa Verde: Salsa verde, meaning “green sauce,” is a classic Mexican condiment made from tomatillos, chili peppers, garlic, and cilantro. It provides a tangy, slightly spicy flavor that pairs exceptionally well with the savory and slightly sweet taste of the pork.
  5. Avocado: In some variations, sliced or mashed avocado is added to the Tacos al Pastor. The creamy and buttery texture of avocado adds richness to the tacos and helps mellow out the spiciness, creating a harmonious balance of flavors.
  6. Radishes: Thinly sliced radishes are often served as an optional topping for Tacos al Pastor. The crisp texture and subtle peppery bite of radishes offer a refreshing and slightly spicy contrast to the savory meat.

These traditional toppings not only provide additional layers of flavors and textures but also add visual appeal to the Tacos al Pastor. The combination of the vibrant colors, the freshness of the ingredients, and the aromatic aroma of the garnishes all contribute to the overall enjoyment of these mouthwatering tacos.


Of course, it is worth noting that these toppings are not set in stone, and you can customize your Tacos al Pastor with other accompaniments to suit your preferences. Some people may prefer a spicier kick with the addition of sliced jalapenos or a cooling touch with a dollop of sour cream. The beauty of Tacos al Pastor lies in their versatility, allowing you to create your own perfect combination of flavors and textures.


Popular Taco Stands in Mexico City

Mexico City is a haven for street food lovers, and when it comes to Tacos al Pastor, there are several iconic taco stands that have gained a cult-like following for their delicious offerings. These popular taco stands have become institutions in the city, attracting locals and tourists alike. Here are a few notable ones:

  1. El Tizoncito: Widely regarded as the birthplace of Tacos al Pastor, El Tizoncito has been serving these delectable tacos since the 1960s. Located in the Condesa neighborhood, this legendary taco stand is known for its perfectly spiced, tender pork, and flavorful marinade. The tacos are served with traditional toppings and a side of pickled onions and habanero salsa, adding an extra kick to each bite.
  2. Taquería Los Cocuyos: Another must-visit spot for Tacos al Pastor enthusiasts is Taquería Los Cocuyos in the historic center of Mexico City. This family-run taquería has been delighting diners for over 50 years. The tacos here are prepared with care and attention to detail, featuring succulent pork, achiote-infused marinade, and a perfect balance of flavors. The vibrant atmosphere and the friendly service only add to the overall experience.
  3. Tacos Don Juan: Tacos Don Juan is a hidden gem located in the Roma neighborhood. This small taquería stands out for its exceptional Tacos al Pastor, which are made using a traditional family recipe. The meat is marinated to perfection, resulting in juicy, flavorful pork that simply melts in your mouth. The friendly staff and vibrant ambiance make it a favorite spot for locals and food enthusiasts seeking an authentic taco experience.
  4. Taquería El Califa: While Taquería El Califa is known for its wide variety of tacos, their Tacos al Pastor are undoubtedly a standout. With multiple branches throughout the city, El Califa has made a name for itself by offering high-quality tacos, including their mouthwatering rendition of Tacos al Pastor. The perfectly cooked pork, paired with the traditional toppings and served on warm, homemade tortillas, make for an unforgettable dining experience.
  5. Tacos El Huequito: Founded in 1959, Tacos El Huequito is a beloved taco institution in Mexico City. While they are famous for their succulent tacos de suadero, their Tacos al Pastor are equally exceptional. The pork here is marinated to perfection, resulting in a tender and flavorful filling. The tacos are served with generous amounts of pineapple, cilantro, and onion, providing a burst of flavors with every bite.

These are just a few examples of the popular taco stands in Mexico City that have perfected the art of making Tacos al Pastor. However, the city is filled with countless other hidden gems and neighborhood taquerías, each with their own unique twist on this beloved dish. Exploring the vibrant streets of Mexico City and discovering your own favorite taco stands is an adventure in itself, offering a taste of the city’s culinary traditions and the chance to indulge in some of the best Tacos al Pastor you’ll ever encounter.


Variations of Tacos al Pastor

While the traditional Tacos al Pastor recipe remains an all-time favorite, there are various regional and creative variations that add a unique twist to this beloved dish. These variations showcase the versatility and innovative nature of Mexican cuisine. Here are a few notable variations:

  1. Tacos de Suadero: Suadero is a cut of beef that comes from the area near the belly of the cow. Tacos de Suadero are a popular variation of Tacos al Pastor where the marinated pork is substituted with thinly sliced, succulent beef. The beef is typically cooked on a hot griddle, resulting in tender, flavorful meat that pairs perfectly with the traditional toppings.
  2. Tacos de Pescado al Pastor: For seafood lovers, Tacos de Pescado al Pastor offer a delightful twist. Instead of using pork or beef, this variation features marinated fish, such as snapper or tilapia, cooked on the grill. The fish is infused with the same vibrant spices and flavors as traditional Tacos al Pastor, creating a refreshing and delicious option for seafood enthusiasts.
  3. Tacos al Pastor with Different Meats: While pork is the most common protein used in Tacos al Pastor, some variations incorporate different types of meat. For example, Tacos al Pastor de Pollo feature marinated and grilled chicken, providing a lighter alternative. Tacos al Pastor de Camarones, on the other hand, include shrimp marinated in a similar style to the traditional pork version, creating a tantalizing seafood option.
  4. Vegetarian and Vegan Options: With the growing popularity of plant-based diets, there are now vegetarian and vegan versions of Tacos al Pastor available. These variations typically use tofu or seitan as a substitute for the meat, marinated in the same spices and flavors as the original. The result is a flavorful and satisfying taco that caters to a wider range of dietary preferences.
  5. Tacos al Pastor Fusion: As with any beloved dish, creative chefs and food enthusiasts have experimented with fusion variations of Tacos al Pastor. These innovative adaptations fuse traditional Mexican flavors with elements from other cuisines. For example, Asian-inspired Tacos al Pastor may incorporate soy sauce, ginger, and other Asian spices to create a unique fusion of flavors.

These variations of Tacos al Pastor demonstrate the adaptability of this beloved dish to different tastes and dietary preferences. Whether you prefer the classic marinated pork, explore variations with different meats, or experiment with vegetarian or fusion options, there are endless possibilities to satisfy your cravings for Tacos al Pastor.


It’s worth noting that these variations are not meant to replace the traditional Tacos al Pastor but rather to broaden the culinary horizons and cater to a diverse range of preferences. Whichever variation you choose, the essence of Tacos al Pastor—a mouthwatering combination of flavors, vibrant spices, and a tantalizing blend of ingredients—remains at the heart of each delicious bite.


Serving and Eating Tacos al Pastor

Part of the joy of experiencing Tacos al Pastor in Mexico City lies in the ritual of serving and eating these mouthwatering delights. Here are some tips on how to properly savor and enjoy your tacos:

  1. Ordering: When visiting a taco stand or restaurant, the first step is to place your order. Most places offer Tacos al Pastor à la carte, allowing you to choose how many tacos you’d like to indulge in. Don’t be shy to order a variety and try different toppings or variations.
  2. Assembling the Tacos: Once your order is placed, you will be handed your warm, freshly made corn tortillas alongside a plate of sliced meat, usually from the vertical spit. Take a tortilla and carefully place a few slices of the marinated pork onto it. For an authentic experience, you can mimic the taqueros by layering some pineapple slices on top of the meat.
  3. Adding Toppings: Next comes the fun part – adding your desired toppings. Sprinkle some diced onion and chopped cilantro over the meat, squeeze a generous amount of fresh lime juice, and drizzle some salsa verde to add a tangy kick. Feel free to adjust the toppings according to your taste preferences.
  4. Folding and Holding: Once your taco is fully dressed, it’s time to fold and hold it properly. Fold the tortilla in half to enclose the filling, creating a pocket. Use your fingers to hold the taco together at the bottom, ensuring that none of the delicious filling escapes.
  5. Savoring the Flavor: Take your first bite and allow the explosion of flavors to delight your taste buds. The tender meat, combined with the sweet and savory marinade, the tanginess of the pineapple, and the freshness of the toppings, creates a harmony of tastes. Let the flavors linger as you savor each bite.
  6. Enjoying with Sides: While Tacos al Pastor can absolutely be enjoyed on their own, many places offer additional sides to accompany your meal. Common options include a variety of salsas, pickled jalapenos, or even beans and rice. These sides can complement the flavors of the tacos and add more depth to your culinary experience.
  7. Repeat and Share: Tacos al Pastor are best enjoyed as a social and interactive dining experience. Don’t hesitate to enjoy another taco, trying different combinations of toppings and salsas. Share the joy with your dining companions, engaging in lively conversations and relishing the flavorful journey together.

Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to eat Tacos al Pastor. The most important thing is to savor each bite and enjoy the explosion of flavors that this iconic Mexican street food offers. So, embrace the messy deliciousness, take your time, and create an unforgettable culinary experience as you indulge in the tantalizing world of Tacos al Pastor.



Tacos al Pastor in Mexico City is more than just a delicious street food – it’s a culinary experience that takes you on a journey through the vibrant flavors and rich history of Mexican cuisine. From the origins rooted in Lebanese immigrants’ traditions to the bustling taco stands that line the streets of Mexico City, Tacos al Pastor capture the essence of Mexico’s diverse culinary landscape.


The marinated pork, infused with achiote, spices, and the sweetness of pineapple, creates a symphony of flavors that dance on your taste buds. The combination of traditional toppings like diced onion, chopped cilantro, lime juice, and salsa verde adds freshness, tanginess, and a touch of heat to the already tantalizing tacos.


As you savor each bite, you become a part of the vibrant street food culture of Mexico City. The skillful preparation of the tacos, the bustling atmosphere of the taco stands, and the camaraderie shared with fellow diners create an authentic and unforgettable food travel experience.


Whether you stick to the classic Tacos al Pastor or venture into the world of variations and fusion versions, Mexico City offers a culinary playground for your taste buds. From iconic establishments like El Tizoncito and Taquería Los Cocuyos to hidden gems waiting to be discovered, the city is a mecca for taco enthusiasts.


So, pack your appetite and embark on a food adventure to Mexico City, where the tantalizing flavors of Tacos al Pastor await. Immerse yourself in the bustling streets, relish the smells wafting from the taco stands, and indulge in the mouthwatering combination of marinated pork, pineapple, and vibrant spices.


In Mexico City, Tacos al Pastor is not just a meal – it’s a cultural and culinary exploration that captures the heart and soul of the city’s food scene. So, get ready to dive into this flavorsome journey and discover why Tacos al Pastor are hailed as a true food travel delight.