I love tacos. Like, really. There was a time in my life where I would leave the house in the middle of a storm because I knew there would be a short line at the taco truck in my neighborhood.
But while I love tacos, I sadly don’t speak Spanish and definitely don’t speak “taco.” Not really knowing an Adobada from a Barbacoa from a Pescado, I knew I was missing out on something and not truly immersing myself in the wonderful (and varied) world of tacos. So I decided it was time to create a sort of taco dictionary.
The name translates to “Shepard Style” and was actually inspired by slow-cooked shawarma brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants. Today, it is a slow-cooked pork marinated in pineapple, spices, and chillies that are served with onion, cilantro, and pineapple. Get the recipe.
Put simply, this usually refers to a marinated pork done in style of a Mexican adobo, which is a red chili sauce made with vinegar, oregano, and other spices. However, this term can be used loosely, so it sometimes refers to marinades that are closer to an Al Pastor. Get the recipe.
The word barbacoa actually derives from the same word as barbecue, so it usually refers to meat slow-cooked over an open fire. In terms of tacos, this refers to slow-cooked beef that is seasoned with dried chilis, oregano, and other spices. Please note: You can cook other meat in a barbacoa style. Once cooked, the meat is served shredded and usually served with onion, cilantro, and salsa. Get the recipe.
Originally from Jalisco, Mexico, it is normally made with goat. Birria means “a mess,” so it is a combination of slow-cooked meat, cooked bone-in to infuse the broth, guajillo as well as ancho chillies, and tomato. The word “chivo” just means goat, so birria is sometimes used in place of chivo as the goat meat might be implied by the style. Get the recipe.
This is the ultimate meat lover’s combo taco. It’s a mix of beef and pork. You’ll see anything from carne asada meat, ground beef, pork sausage, and chicharrones paired with salsa, onions, and herbs. In general, it’s hard to say exactly what you’ll get, but the combination will be juicy. Get the recipe.
Camarones refers to shrimp or prawns. This seafood taco usually uses garlic, cilantro, and salsa. Camarones refers more to the protein than the style, so a camarones taco will usually have additional descriptors to let you know what else you are getting. Get the recipe.
The direct translation is grilled beef. Typically, this is flank or skirt steak marinated with cilantro, garlic, citrus, chili, spices, and/or vinegar that have been grilled to perfection and then sliced. Get the recipe.
Puerco just means pork, so all puerco tacos are pork. Carnitas means “little meats” and this is usually pork butt or shoulder that is slow-braised and seasoned with household spices such as cumin, cilantro, oregano, garlic, and/or cinnamon. Get the recipe.
This a super indulgent taco as it is made from pork rinds or pork belly cooked with skin until it is crispy. If you don’t know what that tastes like, think of the pork skin or “crackling” that people serve at Christmas. In tacos, chicharrones are served with a sauce to soften them into a chewy delicacy. Sometimes you’ll be offered chicharrones a garnish or side, in which case you should always say yes.
Chorizo is smoked and cured sausage usually made of pork or beef and peppers and spices. Chorizo is typically spicy so expect a kick as you eat this taco. It can be served with just chorizo or with potatoes to cut the spice. Because the flavor is so strong, is can also be a garnish, so never say no if you like spice. Get the recipe.
Jamón is actually a dried and cured Spanish ham that tastes similar to prosciutto. In Spain, Tacos de Jamón refers to diced or leftover bits of ham that are served with bread. In a taco, this would similar to adding prosciutto to your taco.
Pescado means fish, so you are generally ordering a fish taco. However, the more authentic version is a breaded or tempura fish made from beer and flour topped with a creamy sauce. The tempura was originally created to keep the fish from falling apart and sticking to the pan while cooking, but I am sure it also just tasted great. Paired with onion and cabbage, the cream sauce is usually tart or tangy with ingredients like sour cream, mayo, garlic, and lime. Get the recipe.
Since pollo means chicken, this taco name is for your basic slow-cooked chicken taco. So, literally every pollo taco has chicken in it. The more authentic chicken taco is served “tinga” style. Originally from Puebla, Mexico, tinga is shredded chicken stewed eiyh chili peppers, onions, and tomatoes. Get the recipe.
Phew! If you can believe it, there are even more tacos out there, but, hopefully, this article is enough to get through most menus. Happy munching!