STRAIGHT UP: Mexico City’s taco stands are a kind of street food universe unlike anywhere else. Inexpensive, open at all hours, and usually bursting with fresh salsas and vegetable sides (if not, go to another stand), they’re the great common denominator of Mexican society and culture. Everyone — rich, poor, sober, drunk –lines up together and eats together in front of their favorite stands. The best tacos in Mexico City are found at stands that have become neighborhood institutions going back decades–places with long lines and almost party-like atmospheres. Here’s where to get started:
1. El Paisa de los reyes
Tacos el paisa de los reyes has been around for at least twenty years and serves the dense neighborhoods on the outskirts of Coyoacán. Each afternoon they get huge trompas or stacks of pork and pineapple cooking on the rotisserie for that evening’s crush of people ordering tacos al pastor. If you’re a vegetarian, just ask for one con cebollas (sautéed onions) and then stuff them with their excellent salsas. Worth a stop if you’re cruising around Coyoacán for the afternoon.
Where to find them: Calle Europa 32
2. El Huequito
El Huequito has been around since the late fifties and is a strong contender for the best taco al pastor in Mexico City. Their specialty is the gourmet taco al pastor, which lacks pineapple and cilantro, but makes up for it with a huge helping of super tasty meat. Their name literally means “the little hole”, which is a reference to the first stand they opened back in 1959, and was barely larger than a square meter. They now have four restaurants in Mexico City, all super high quality. Try their famous tortilla soup before going for the pastor, and try their amazing green salsa.
Where to find them: Ayuntamiento 21. Centro.
3. El Vilsito
A car repair shop by day, taqueria by night, El Vilsito has gained popularity thanks to their amazing tacos al pastor. Start with three tacos al pastor con todo (onion, cilantro, and pineapple), but leave some space for one of their gringas (pastor and grilled cheese in a flour tortilla) and volcanes (fried tortillas topped with cheese and your choice of steak or pastor). This place is in the Narvarte area and you’ll know you’re near because of a large amount of cars waiting for a parking space all around the place. Same as with every entry in this list, patience is highly recommended.
Where to find them: Av. Universidad 248. Narvarte.
4. El Abanico
Carnitas (fried pork) tacos are mandatory on every taco expedition in Mexico. This is one of Mexico’s favorite specialties for morning tacos and can be found in almost every market and tianguis around Mexico City. Most carnitas places are decent options, but it takes something extra to make a taco really shine, and this is precisely what El Abanico does best. A local favorite, El Abanico excels in all of its specialties, but people swear by their carnitas, some even dare to say they’re the best in Mexico. Don’t be scared by the huge line of people going around the corner, the staff is extremely efficient and you’ll be enjoying a nice maciza taco in less than fifteen minutes.
Where to find them: Francisco J. Clavijero 226. Tránsito.
5. El Tizoncito
El Tizoncito is a safe bet if you want to experience a wide variety of tacos and some other traditional Mexican dishes in a friendly and cozy environment. They started as a small hole in the wall in Condesa in the mid-sixties and now they have almost twenty restaurants all around Mexico. They claim to have invented tacos al pastor, and even if that statement is debatable, I have to admit that their pastor game is really strong. This is one of Mexico City’s traditional late night taco stops, and it can be a little bit more expensive than other places in this list, but the variety and quality of their dishes totally justify it. Try the refried beans with tortilla chips they serve as an entry and try not to finish the whole thing before your first taco arrives.
Where to find them: Campeche 362. Condesa.
6. Por Siempre Vegana
If you’re looking for the best vegan tacos in the city, search no more. Por Siempre Vegana is a tiny taco stand in the middle of Colonia Roma, just a few meters away from Insurgentes. Their menu is quite varied, offering vegan versions of traditional tacos based on mushrooms, seitan, tofu, and soy. The staff is super friendly, and always eager to help you decide what’s the right taco for you, and which salsa is the least spicy. Even if you’re not vegan, this place deserves a visit if you want to try some good original tacos. If you arrive by bike, fresh water is on the house!
7. El Túrix
With more than forty years of experience, El Túrix offers the traditional flavors of southeast Mexico in a small taco stand in the Polanco area. The specialty is cochinita pibil, one of the most recognized dishes of the Yucatan peninsula, made of slow-roasted pork seasoned with achiote and accompanied with pickled purple onions and habanero chiles (yes, it can be quite hot, but for the full experience you’ll just have to go for it). El Túrix contrasts with the high-end restaurants all around Polanco, but it has survived most of its competitors along the years. Beware though, this tiny place is always packed, so you’ll have to wait in line, and the staff is famous for not being an example of politeness…but the cochinita is wonderful.
Where to find them: Emilio Castelar 212. Polanco.
8. Los Cocuyos
Located in the bustling streets of Mexico City’s Centro Histórico, Los Cocuyos looks exactly like every other taco stand around, but has gained international recognition thanks to the variety of fresh ingredients, friendly taqueros and, of course, their salsas, holy cow, those salsas! Here you’ll find all the best taco varieties: lengua (tongue), cabeza (head), tripa (intestines), ojo (eye), and their specialty, suadero (brisket). They just close for a couple hours every morning, so don’t be afraid to show up here late at night. Just be aware there might be a line even at three in the morning.
Where to find them: Bolivar 56. Centro.
9. La Abuela
If you’ve been to Mexico City, you probably have seen these bicycles carrying a basket wrapped in blue plastic. Well, those are tacos as well. Tacos de canasta (literally basket tacos) are a special kind of steamed taco filled with chicharron (fried pork skin), potatoes, adobo (pork with chili) or refried beans. A good option for a quick bite while roaming the streets of Mexico. However, not every taco de canasta is the same. La Abuela is a brand that has been growing in the heart of locals thanks to their nontraditional take on tacos de canasta. La Abuela’s tacos are bigger, tastier, and more varied than other steamed tacos. You can even buy a whole basket if you’re having a party.
Where to find them: Find a stand near you on this map.
10. El Pescadito de Sonora
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Maybe fish tacos aren’t the first thing that comes to mind in Mexico City, but El Pescadito de Sonora will make you think differently once you’ve tried their variety of fish, shrimp, and marlin specialties. Located on the outskirts of Condesa, this taqueria is a true testimony of northern Mexico’s seafood expertise. Order a couple of shrimp tacos, top them up with their variety of salsas and veggies, get an ice-cold Pacifico beer, and enjoy one of the best seafood experiences you can have this far away from the coast.
Where to find them: Atlixco 38. Condesa.
11. El Rincón Tarasco
This is another one of those taco stands that goes unnoticed to the untrained eye, but if you come here on a weekend morning, you’ll be immediately surprised by the number of people waiting for their taco fix. El Rincón Tarasco specializes in carnitas, but unlike El Abanico, they don’t sell anything else. This is one of those places that have made locals wake up early, and drive across the whole city on a Saturday morning for generations. A lot of foodies think these are the best carnitas you can find outside Michoacan…even if fans of El Abanico disagree. Keep in mind these are early morning tacos, and the sooner you arrive, the more variety you’ll find.
Where to find them: José Martí 142. Escandón.
12. El Jarocho
Tacos de guisado
(stew tacos) are one of the street food staples of Mexico City. Wherever people gather, there’s always a car with an open trunk full of pots with different stews, rice, and tortillas. El Jarocho is a taqueria specialized in this kind of tacos. They offer a wide variety of stews and some other classics like steak and pastor. They always have freshly-made tortillas and you could easily eat here every single day without ordering the same taco twice for a long time. You can find them in Colonia Roma, just a block away from Insurgentes.
Where to find them: Tapachula 94. Roma Norte.
13. La Tonina
(shredded beef seasoned with a variety of chiles and other spices) is one of the most traditional dishes from the northern states of Mexico. When you combine chilorio with freshly-baked flour tortillas, you get one of the best culinary experiences in Mexico, and that’s precisely what you’ll get in La Tonina, a small northern-style restaurant located in Colonia San Rafael. La Tonina inherited its name from La Tonina Jackson, a Mexican luchador whose sister opened the restaurant back in 1948. This is one of the city’s best-kept secrets and a food haven for those who miss the traditional flavors of northern Mexico.
Where to find them: Serapio Rendón 27. San Rafael.
14. El Borrego Viudo
This is the place locals go after a wild night in Mexico City, and the opinions regarding the food are as varied as they come. Personally, I think the tacos are good, not great, but they do have a good variety, and an awesome tepache (a fermented pineapple drink) to go with your order. Why is this on the list? Because of the experience. Where else can you have tacos served directly to your car? El Borrego Viudo is always packed after midnight and it has that certain after-party vibe that makes you want to keep it going until the next morning. And despite what everyone says, eight out of ten locals have ended up here at least once…even if they don’t actually remember it.
Where to find them: Av. Revolución 241. Tacubaya.