Tacos al pastor in Mexico City. Tacos al pastor in Mexico City.

The venerable taco is a great taste treat

Some simple diligence will help avoid intestinal pit bulls

Restaurants in Mexico run a broad range from world-class French cuisine at Eloise in Mexico City to birria con carne de perro (spicy stew made with dog meat) in the back streets of Ciudad Juárez. I think I ate there once.

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Even with the incredible diversity of food throughout Mexico, there is one dish that is common to all regions of this country: the venerable taco.

With TripAdvisor, finding great mainstream restaurants anywhere in the world is child’s play. However, when you have the yen for something a bit more down market, a bit more traditional, a delightful repast that embodies the soul of Mexico, you need to find a taco stand.

The stands and restaurants which cater to taco lovers are as common in Mexico as disregarded stop signs. Over the years, I have been engaged in the continuing quest for the perfect taco; not an easy task.

A taco may seem like a relatively simple concoction, but there are many varieties available in quite a diverse array of settings, and not all of them can provide a great one.

In the early days of my quest I discovered that awesome tacos do not depend on architectural presentation, elaborate signage, premium locations, printed menus or even a building.

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In fact, some of the most tasteless tacos I have consumed have been at so-called mainstream restaurants. To sample the very best of this traditional Mexican food you need to literally eat in the street. That is not to say that some permanent location restaurants don’t serve a superb taco, but some of the very best tacos are from the street stands.

There are two distinct types of stands; ones that cook on site and others that serve from pre-prepared pots of ingredients, mostly birria. Many of my Mexican friends enjoy birria but I put it right up there with menudo; not something I want in this lifetime.

So my recommendation is to concentrate your endeavors on the stands which prep and cook on site.

Of the ones that do cook on site, always seek out the place where the meat is roasted over a charcoal fire and where you are provided with fresh handmade tortillas.

There is something about raw flesh seared over an open fire that I find irresistible. Combine that with fresh and warm tortillas, fresh salsa and a few cold beers and you have a truly authentic Mazatlán experience. I need to add here that none of the street stands serve alcoholic beverages, but all have no objections to you bringing your own, and drinking in moderation, of course.

There are several ways to ascertain whether or not a street stand will send you home feeling sublime pleasure or severe abdominal distress. The first thing is to look at is the level of care given to cleanliness. After all, there is no running water at any of these places.

Most will serve food on plates covered in a plastic bag, and the communal tables will be covered with clean vinyl tablecloths. However, the main indicator of survivability is the number of people eating at the location.

Since these stands set up in the same spot every day or evening, if the fare was unsafe to consume the seats would be empty and the bodies of the previous customers would be scattered about the neighborhood.

Over the years I have met some Anglos who have absolutely refused to eat at any type of street stand. They believe that just being in close proximity to one will cause them to contract intestinal parasites the size of pit bulls.

Several months ago I was having dinner at one of my favorite stands when a gringo and his Mexican wife sat down at the communal table. After a short conversation I discovered that they had driven 15 miles into Centro just so the woman could enjoy the tacos at this particular stand.

The husband made it very clear that he would never eat at a street stand, all this being said as his wife chowed down on three fabulous quesadillas con carne. It was his mistaken belief that since his wife was Mexican she would not be attacked by the intestinal pit bulls. It was truly unfortunate that his tightly held conviction deprived him of one of the great taste treats of Mexico.

So my advice to the readers of this fine publication is to go forth into the streets and sample some of the finest ethnic food available. Excellent tacos can be had for between 10 and 20 pesos each at most street stands and of course they should be ordered with everything. And don’t forget to bring the cold cerveza.

Bodie Kellogg describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time on the west coast of Mexico with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half wild dog. If you wish to give him cold beer, large sacks of money or a piece of your mind, he can be reached at buscardero@yahoo.com.

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  • TioDon

    My best Mexican friend told me, when I first moved here, “look for the police at a taco stand. If they eat there, it’s safe”. So far, so good…

  • Mike S

    Birria made right from goat or mutton is absolutely one of my all-time favorite Mexican foods. Absolutely to die for and wonderful on a fresh tortilla taco.

    • Cool Hand Luke

      “Absolutely to die for …”
      I think that one was one of the points of the story! 🙂

  • BondFanatic

    If there is a long line-up at the stand, that is a good sign.

  • djr4nger

    – and, of course, beware of the orange-looking habanero sauce lurking in the condiment area . . .

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