I've long held the belief that the best Mexican food comes from the more rundown looking restaurants. The more gentrified and hipster looking places often lack authenticity and real flavor that has been passed down from many generations. It's the places that have everything listed in Spanish and that have a wide variety of foods that you haven't even heard of are, in my opinion, your best bets. So when you're at these places and don't necessarily know Spanish or Mexican food lingo, you need to know what you're dealing with. You don't want to be expecting chicken and then end up with beef tongue which would definitely be an unconventional taco topping. These are the most popular types of meats at Mexican restaurants for you to spruce up your taco, burrito, enchilada, or any other tasty Mexican dish.
My personal favorite, carnitas or "little meats" are shredded pork cooked in oil or lard and contain an extremely tender taste that you can put on almost anything. Carnitas can go on a variety of different Mexican dishes but in my opinion, a burrito stuffed with carnitas is the absolute best way to go. Coming from the Michoacán region of Mexico, pork carnitas are like the barbecue pulled pork version for Mexican food and are also usually made from pork shoulder. This slow cooker carnitas recipe is an easy way to make the best carnitas tacos of your life.
A lot of people, including me, order this menu item, but sometimes don't even know what is al pastor. Al pastor actually has an interesting backstory. It is pork cooked shawarma style which is on a rotating vertical rotisserie called a "trompo". The shawarma style was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants who were originally roasting lamb for gyros. The Mexican people made their own rendition of this by using pork and adding lots of spices to it. Al pastor meat is marinated in a blend of chiles and spices and then stacked on top of each other on the "trompo" and often topped with a pineapple to add some sweetness while cooking. Tacos al pastor is a very common menu item and this recipe is a great way to prepare it at home.
Chorizo is another popular Mexican meat that you see at a lot of taquerias and restaurants. It's a spicy sausage that originated from Spain and Portugal but Mexican chorizo typically contains ground beef or pork and is seasoned with a hefty amount of chili powder and other seasonings. Chorizo sausage serves many purposes because it can be served as a main feature for both breakfast and lunch or dinner. Chorizo and eggs is a commonplace meal for breakfast in Mexico and chorizo is also prevalent in this rice recipe among other things. To learn how to cook chorizo, check out our link right here.
Carne asada translated to English is "grilled meat", and it usually comes in the steak variety. A typical carne asada marinade normally contains a lot of citrus juices and some Mexican spices. Carne asada tacos, which usually only contain the steak, some cilantro, and salsa, are a popular feature on most menus and this recipe is an easy way to make carne asada at home.
This is where the term barbecue derives from for Americans, barbacoa is more of a style of cooking than an actual meat. Barbacoa meat is typically beef head (cabeza), beef cheeks (cachete), or goat (cabrito) and is either cooked over an open fire or cooked in a hole in the ground covered with agave leaves. If you don't want to build an open fire or dig a large hole, then this slow cooker beef barbacoa recipe is a convenient alternative.
Now we're getting quinceañera level fancy here. Birria is commonly a special occasion type of food at holidays or gatherings. It is a spicy stew made from goat or mutton, i.e. birria de chivo or birria de res. Although it's considered a fancy food, there are always plenty of birria street vendors and restaurants available in your area. This recipe for slow cooker birria de res sounds heavenly.
Lengua is probably one of the most exotic Mexican meats on our list. If you didn't know what it is, you probably should now - Lengua is Spanish for "beef tongue". Now that that's soaked in, you might be shocked to know that you can find lengua in many authentic Mexican restaurants. It's a chewy, buttery, high fat meat that's chopped up into chunks. Try these lengua tacos if you're feeling adventurous.
Buche is another meat for the more bold people. Buche meat is made from pig stomach and is often stewed with spices and chiles and served in many various fashions. It comes out tender and sometimes crispy, depending on the cooking length. This tacos de buche recipe is a good way to get started on buche.
Now we're getting back to the realm of acceptability. Tinga is usually shredded chicken made in a sauce with tomatoes, chipotle chiles, and onions. From the Puebla region, it has a somewhat sweet and extremely flavorful taste. Tostadas de tingas is a popular rendition of this dish, which is tinga de pollo served on a tostada with a layer of refried beans and topped with avocado, shredded lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and salsa. This chicken tinga recipe is a great way to make your own tinga tacos.
We're finishing this list with quite possibly the most bizarre item of Mexican cuisine. Tripas is the meat of a cow's stomach or intestines that have been cleaned, boiled, and grilled. Normally called "chitterlings" in English, the origin of tripas can be traced back to Portuguese heritage. The process of cooking tripas is actually quite intricate and detailed. They are cooked in something called a "disco" which is two tilling discs connected to an iron pole in the center that forms a big wok-like bowl in the middle. The first disc is filled with water which is boiled to cook the tripas and the second disc is filled with the heat source of wood or charcoal. Tripas is prepared in three different ways: 'soft' preparation is cooking the meat until just tender enough, 'medium crispy' cooks the tripas until it has a crunchy exterior, and 'extra crispy' cooks the meat all the way through to make it extremely crunchy. Tripas can be served in many different forms, usually with additions of cilantro, onions, and chile sauce. This recipe for tripas tacos is a great way for you to make this unusual dish at home.