Ciudad de México, or CDMX as its commonly abbreviated, is known for its historical beauty, it’s vibrant, bustling vibe and it’s incomparable style — represented in both high design and fashion, and the colorful street art that graces just about every block.
Mexico’s capital boasts world-class museums, epic public markets and sophistication that comes along with being one of the world’s largest cities.
But in a sprawling metro that seemingly has it all, Mexico City’s greatest treasure might come via lowly rolling carts bedecked with griddles.
Yep, the street tacos are incredible, and a trip isn’t complete without them.
In fact, Mexico City’s street food is so skillfully made and so nuanced in variety that UNESCO recognized the cart grub as “an intangible cultural heritage of mankind” in 2010. Pretty good for stuff made in a kitchen the size of a small closet.
Here’s what you need to know to eat like a pauper and a king, simultaneously:
Where will I find the street carts?
Literally everywhere. In Mexico City, tianguis, as they’re called, cover the streets like a greasy, delicious blanket. But some neighborhoods, particularly Colonia Roma, have an even higher concentration. The major intersections (in Roma, think Avenida Insurgentes and Calle Obregón and Avenida Medellín and Avenida Monterrey variously intersect) tend to have larger collections of carts and sometimes better, more sophisticated carts, too.
How do you choose which one to eat at?
Look for crowds of people, preferably locals. If locals are eating there, you’re unlikely to get sick. If no one is hovering nearby, maybe skip that particular cart, unless it’s a very odd hour or you’re very, very hungry. You can also follow your nose. Your nose is a great tool for all meal-finding missions, actually.
What else makes particular taco carts stand out?
Some carts, as well as hole-in-the-wall taquerias, boast their own meat spits for roasting marinated al pastor pork, often with pineapple. You can bet it’s a solid operation if a cart has a spit. Other carts offer giant pots of taco additions or sides — such as mashed potatoes and green beans — that diners have full access to with the purchase of a taco. Look for carts with a many kinds of meat already on the griddle — they’re likely to be more refined and also in high demand.
What types of meat will I encounter?
You name it. If you’re looking for something familiar, perhaps you’ll choose al pastor (marinated pork roasted on a spit), barbacoa (barbecued beef), chorizo (ground Mexican sausage), carne asada or bistec (steak) or carnitas (slowly-cooked pork). Alambre is a blend of grilled beef, peppers, onions and sometimes bacon. Guisados tacos include a base of rice and beans and the specialty topping, typically some kind of meat. Campechano means mixed meats — usually chopped beef and chorizo. Longaniza is a sliced sweet sausage. Some carts, especially in the mornings, allow you to add an egg. Want to be a little more adventurous? Think about trying the tripa (tripe, or cow intestines), the lengua (beef tongue), the birria (goat meat), or the cabeza (cow’s head).
Do the tacos come with anything else on them?
Most stands will ask if you want cilantro and cebollas (raw white onions) on your tacos (the answer should be ‘yes!’). Some stands also serve grilled spring onions atop the meat. If you want anything else (for example, avocado), just ask! Diners then can dress their own tacos with fresh lime, available in a bowl on the counter, and salsas. Most stands have an avocado-based sauce and a spicy habanero sauce.
How much should I expect to pay?
Most tacos range from about 8 to 16 pesos each, which translates to about $0.40 to $0.85 in U.S. dollars. So eat up.
Where am I supposed to eat?
Most stands have at least a small counter for patrons to stand over while they stuff their face. Many also have small plastic stools to sit on. There is generally a hanging bag of servilletas, or napkins, at diners’ disposal, as well as a pump of hand sanitizer to use when you’re done. Don’t assume you can just take your taco and walk; many come on reusable plates meant to be returned after eating.
Is it hard to be vegetarian and eat on the street?
Not at all. Many stands have a variety of vegetable options including marinated mushrooms, huitlacoche (corn fungus — delicious, I promise), spinach and flor de calabaza (squash blossoms).
What other kinds of street foods will I find?
Besides tacos, quesadillas, tortas (warm sandwiches), tamales, tosadas (crispy tortillas topped with meat, beans, cheese and vegetables) and tlacoyos (oval discs of blue-corn masa stuffed with your choice of meat, cheese and vegetables and then grilled), among other things. There are also many carts dedicated solely to selling juices, snacks like roasted nuts and sleeves of potato chips, dulces (sweets) and churros, fresh roasted corn and cups of fresh fruit, often served with salt, lime and chili.
Can I eat every meal on the streets?
You can, and you can be pretty satisfied doing so. You can even patronize one of the salad carts on the streets when you get tired of all-things-corn, but don’t stay away from the griddles too long — tacos are good for the soul.
Five taquerias to try:
Tacos El Morocho — The staff is among the friendliest, the Alambre is magnificent, and for just 10 pesos a piece, tacos at this Roma Norte stand come with abundant choices of vegetable and salsa toppings. C
Check out El Morocco here.
Los Cocuyos — This snout-to-tail operation in Mexico City’s historical center offers one of the best varieties of meat in town. Available options include eyeballs, brain (which tastes like soft scrambled eggs with cream cheese) and suadero, a cut of meat from between the lower belly and the leg.
Check out Los Cocuyos here.
Taqueria Miranda Cruz — If you’re craving carnitas, this stand on the edge of Roma Norte and La Condessa is the place to hit. The meat will practically melt in your mouth, and there’s a good chance you’ll be asking for “uno mas.”
Check out Taqueria Miranda Cruz here.
Tortas al Fuego — Yes, tortas are in the name, but the tacos at this restaurant hardly take a back seat. The al pastor tacos, cooked on a spit along the street, are a shocking 6 pesos each, but tiny; expect to want more than one. Bonus: there is a sizable seating area, and beer.
Check out Tortas al Fuego here.
Moloch — Located inside Mercado Medellín, this spot specializes in cochinita pibil, pork that is slow-roasted in banana leaves with citrus juice. Don’t ignore the jars of habanero sauce and pickled red onions on the counter; they perfectly complete the dish.
Check out Moloch here.