Tacos are one of the most popular and beloved foods in Mexico. A taco is a traditional Mexican dish consisting of a corn or wheat tortilla folded or rolled around a filling. Tacos can be filled with a variety of ingredients, including meat, vegetables, cheese, beans, and more. Some of the most common taco fillings in Mexico are carne asada (grilled beef), carnitas (braised pork), pollo (chicken), chorizo (Mexican sausage), pescado (fish), camarones (shrimp), nopalitos (cactus), papas (potatoes), frijoles (beans), and queso (cheese). The filling options are practically endless and allow for great creativity and variation. So what should you put in your tacos for an authentic Mexican taco experience? Here are some of the most traditional and popular taco fillings found throughout Mexico.
Meat is one of the most common fillings for tacos in Mexico. Here are some of the most popular meats used:
Carne Asada (Grilled Beef) – Thinly sliced grilled beef is a taco staple, often marinated in lime juice, garlic, cilantro, and other spices before grilling. It provides a satisfying meatiness with lots of flavor. Carne asada can be found in tacos across Mexico.
Carnitas (Braised Pork) – Slow braised, tender and juicy pulled pork is another popular taco meat. Pork is marinated then braised until fall-apart tender, providing a rich and savory flavor. Carnitas tacos are especially common in Michoacán.
Pollo (Chicken) – Shredded or grilled chunks of chicken are commonly used for tacos. They provide a milder flavor and lighter texture compared to beef and pork. Marinated chicken tacos are an easy and satisfying option.
Chorizo (Mexican Sausage) – Spicy Mexican chorizo sausage makes a great taco filling. Made with ground pork and bold chili seasoning, it provides tons of robust flavor. Chorizo tacos are a breakfast staple.
Al Pastor (Spit Roasted Pork) – Inspired by Middle Eastern shawarma, thin slices of spit roasted marinated pork is another iconic Mexican taco filling. Often topped with pineapple, al pastor offers sweet and savory flavors.
Lengua (Beef Tongue) – Braised beef tongue might sound unappealing but it makes for wonderfully rich and tender tacos with meaty flavor. Lengua tacos are especially popular in northern Mexico.
Cabeza (Beef Head) – Beef head meat such as cheek and head meat cooked until tender makes for gelatinous, robust tacos. Cabeza tacos are most commonly found in central Mexico.
Tripa or Suadero (Beef Tripe or Cut) – Offal meats like beef stomach (tripe) and cuts like brisket are also used for tacos in some regions. They have intense flavors and textures.
Sesos (Beef Brains) – Brains might not be to everyone’s tastes but beef brain tacos have a unique, creamy and rich flavor for the adventurous. Found mostly in northern Mexico.
Lengua de res (Beef Tongue) – Don’t knock it ’til you try it! Slow-cooked beef tongue makes for insanely tender, beefy tacos. It’s more common in northern Mexico.
Being a coastal country, seafood tacos are also very popular, especially in beach destinations. Some typical seafood fillings include:
Pescado (Fish) – Light white fish like tilapia, cod, haddock, and snapper are typical choices. Grilled or fried, fish tacos are often topped with cabbage and creamy sauces.
Camarones (Shrimp) – Plump, juicy shrimp make excellent tacos, either grilled or fried. They have a sweet, briny seafood flavor.
Pulpo (Octopus) – Chewy, tender octopus with a mild ocean flavor makes unique tacos, especially popular along the Yucatan peninsula.
Jaiba (Crab) – Lump crab meat, real or imitation, adds rich seafood flavor to tacos. Popular in Baja California.
Pescado Zarandeado – A specialty taco from Sinaloa featuring grilled white fish basted in a spicy adobo sauce. Intense smoky flavor.
Baja Fish Tacos – The iconic Baja California style features fried fish, cabbage, pico de gallo, and creamy sauce. Usually made with cod, mahi mahi or halibut.
Coctel de Mariscos (Seafood Cocktail) – Not your typical taco, seafood cocktail combines shrimp, octopus, fish, oysters, and avocado in a tomato-based sauce on a corn tostada.
Vegetables also make delicious taco fillings, adding freshness and healthy options. Some to try:
Nopalitos (Cactus Paddles) – Prickly pear cactus paddles are trimmed of spikes, sliced and cooked to make tender veggie tacos with a bright green flavor.
Papas (Potatoes) – Diced or shredded potatoes are commonly fried or roasted then used for heartier tacos.
Calabacitas (Zucchini) – Sautéed or grilled zucchini, possibly mixed with other veggies like corn and peppers, make fresh veggie tacos.
Rajas (Sliced Peppers) – Thin strips of mild green chile peppers, sautéed with onion and cream is a classic, mild veggie taco filling.
Champiñones (Mushrooms) – Sliced mushrooms sautéed with garlic add hearty flavor to tacos.
Esquites (Corn) – Grilled corn kernels combined with lime juice, chili powder and cotija cheese make sweet-tart tacos.
Frijoles (Beans) – Refried pinto or black beans are one of the most popular veggie taco fillings. They provide protein and fiber.
Verdolagas (Purslane) – This thick-leaved succulent tastes similar to spinach. Lightly cooked, it makes fresh veggie tacos.
Cheese and Egg
Cheese and egg are also used as fillings either on their own or paired with meats and veggies:
Huevos (Eggs) – Scrambled or fried eggs make breakfast taco favorites. The richness pairs nicely with beans and potatoes.
Queso Fresco – Fresh, crumbly cheese adds mild flavor, creaminess and protein to tacos. Often paired with warmer fillings.
Queso Panela – Salty fresh cow or goat milk cheese that softens when heated. Adds bold flavor to meats or veggies.
Quesillo/Oaxaca Cheese – Stretchy string cheese is melted on meats like chorizo and adds gooey texture.
Requesón (Ricotta) – Mild, fresh cheese with a bit of tang is delicious in sweet or savory tacos. Common in western Mexico.
Cotija – Hard, crumbly aged cheese sprinkled on tacos for a sharp punch. Goes great with beans and vegetables.
Salsas and Toppings
No taco is complete without salsas and toppings to add extra flavor, texture and freshness. Some typical Mexican taco accompaniments include:
Salsas – Tomato-based red salsa, fiery green salsa, roasted chile salsas, and vibrant tropical salsas like salsa verde, habanero, mango, pineapple, etc.
Pico de Gallo – Fresh diced tomato, onion, chili and cilantro topping adds crunch.
Cebolla (Onions) – Thinly sliced raw white, red or purple onions.
Cilantro – Chopped fresh cilantro leaves.
Limón (Lime) – Fresh lime juice brightens up tacos.
Radish – Thinly sliced radishes for crisp, peppery bites.
Jalapeño – Fresh sliced or chopped jalapeños for heat.
Cotija Cheese – Crumbled Mexican cotija cheese for sharp, salty flavor.
Crema/Crema Agria – Thick Mexican sour cream for tangy creaminess.
Aguacate (Avocado) – Rich, buttery avocado slices or guacamole.
Lechuga (Lettuce) – Shredded lettuce for cool crunch. Cabbage also popular.
While the classic fillings above can be found all over Mexico, different regions also have their own specialties and styles of tacos. Here are some examples:
Northern Mexico – Known for tacos with flour tortillas and meats like carne asada, cabeza, and tripas.
Baja California – Specializes in seafood tacos with beer battered fried fish or shrimp.
Sinaloa – Famous for marlin and shrimp tacos with spicy red chili sauce.
Sonora – Known for carne asada and “dorado” style golden tacos with melted cheese inside.
DF/Central – Mix of traditional fillings, plus al pastor and barbacoa (pit roasted lamb).
Oaxaca – Mole sauce, chapulines (grasshoppers) and tlayudas (large crisp tortillas).
Yucatán – Tropical flavors like cochinita pibil (achiote pork), habanero salsa, and escabeche oriental (onion/carrot relish).
Puebla – Green chili strips (called rajas) and potatoes feature heavily. Thick, saucy fillings.
Guerrero – Pozole and other stews folded into tacos, as well as roasted insects like chicatanas (ants).
Jalisco – Birria (chili spiced goat stew) the star filling, along with tequila/beer marinated meats.
Michoacán – Carnitas (braised pork) reigns supreme. Tacos plabazados cooked on corn husks.
Types of Tacos
Beyond fillings, there are many different forms and styles of tacos found across Mexico including:
Street Tacos – Small taco stand or cart tacos on double corn tortillas. Simple, fast and flavorful.
Breakfast Tacos – Hearty tacos with fillings like eggs, potatoes, beans, chorizo, served morning time. Flour tortillas common.
Soft Tacos – Filled corn or flour tortillas without frying. Often larger and more sauce/toppings than street tacos.
Fried Tacos/Flautas – Tacos fried into crispy rolled tubes, then filled/topped. Also called taquitos or dorados.
Gringas – Flour tortillas with melted cheese inside, grilled until crispy.
Tostadas – Flat, fried thick tortillas topped with various ingredients and salsas.
Sopes – Thick masa rounds, fried into cups then filled with meat, beans, cheese, etc.
Gorditas – Puffed up, fried masa pockets split open and stuffed with fillings.
Quesadillas – Filled folded flour tortillas, filled with melted cheese and other ingredients.
Mulitas – Like quesadillas made with two corn tortillas and filled ingredients in the middle.
Tlacoyos – Fat oblong shaped masa cakes filled with beans, cheese, meat, etc then grilled.
Campechanas – Tacos with a mix of meats like chorizo/steak/al pastor on the same taco.
When to Eat Tacos
One of the best aspects of tacos is that they can be eaten any time! Here’s when you’ll typically find tacos being consumed in Mexico:
Breakfast – Beans, eggs, potatoes and meats like chorizo and steak for the first meal of the day.
Lunch – Midday meals featuring classic meat and veggie fillings. Take a break and grab some tacos!
Dinner – Heartier fillings like carnitas, brisket, shrimp or fish tacos make satisfying dinners.
Late Night – Tacos are perfect after evening antojitos (street food) snacks!
Hangover Meals -Mexicans will often turn to greasy tacos lined with cheese and avocado to soak up the night before.
Game Days – Whether it’s soccer, boxing, bullfights or baseball, tacos are a staple food while watching sports.
Parties – No fiesta is complete without a taco bar! Easy to make tacos for a crowd.
Holidays – Tacos make appearances at celebrations big and small, from birthdays to Christmas, Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo and more.
Basically any time is taco time in Mexico! They are the ultimate versatile and crowd-pleasing meal.
How Authentic Do You Want to Go?
While traditional Mexican taco fillings and styles provide an amazing experience, don’t be afraid to get creative and make fusion tacos too! Mix and match flavors, fillings and shells to create tacos that are uniquely yours. Some ideas:
– Korean: Bulgogi beef, kimchi, siracha crema, cucumber
– Greek: Lamb, feta cheese, tzatziki sauce, olives, tomatoes
– Indian: Tandoori chicken, mango chutney, cilantro raita, pickled red onions
– Thai: Satay chicken, peanut sauce, basil, bean sprouts
– Chinese: Orange chicken, hoisin glaze, shredded lettuce and carrots
– Italian: Bolognese meat sauce, fried ravioli, parmesan, basil
– American: Pulled pork, coleslaw, bbq sauce, crispy onions
– French: Boeuf bourgignon, blue cheese, caramelized onions, arugula
– Cajun: Blackened fish, remoulade, pickled okra, Louisiana hot sauce
The options are endless! Use your favorite international flavors to put a unique fusion spin on Mexican tacos.
Tacos are an incredibly versatile Mexican staple that can be filled with almost anything you can imagine. When visiting Mexico, you’ll find countless taco stands slinging up quick, flavorful tacos stuffed with traditional meats, seafood, vegetables and more. Each region puts its own spin on tacos too. While you can’t go wrong with the classics, don’t be afraid to get creative and fusion-style tacos too. At the end of the day, tacos are fun, flavorful and best enjoyed in good company. With an endless array of fillings and styles, there is a taco for every occasion in Mexico. ¡Buen provecho!
Tacos are an integral part of Mexican cuisine and culture. From Mexico City to the beaches of Baja, you’ll find these hand-held treats being enjoyed any time of day. While the fillings and styles vary from region to region, the basics remain the same – a protein or veggie filling wrapped in a soft corn or flour tortilla. By exploring the typical taco fillings in this article, you now have a solid foundation for creating authentic Mexican tacos. Feel free to stick to the classics or use your favorite international flavors to put a fusion twist on tacos. However you fill them, tacos are meant to be customized and enjoyed. The next time you’re in Mexico or craving the flavors of Mexico, try out some new taco recipes from this guide. ¡Qué disfrutes! (Enjoy!)