Last Updated on December 7, 2022 by Janine
As you know, in 2017, I relocated to Mexico. There were many reasons why I decided to leave my life in the US behind and start a new one down here. The most significant of these reasons was to reunite with my one true love… tacos.
I am deeply devoted to tacos. My affections run so deep that I struggle even to try other dishes. If I’m in a restaurant that serves tacos, muscle memory kicks in, and I’m asking for dos de pastor before my brain even realizes what happened.
The only issue with ordering tacos everywhere I go is that I am often disappointed by the quality. I mean, don’t get me wrong, tacos are usually good even when they’re bad (kind of like pizza!), but GREAT tacos will blow your mind. I have learned, through a lot of trial and error, how to identify a taquería that won’t let you down and I’m here to share that knowledge with you now.
Keep an eye out for these visual cues the next time you’re on a hunt for tasty tacos.
1. The view from the street
The look of a taquería is often a great indicator of the quality of the tacos. Don’t be deluded by beautiful restaurants with white tablecloths and decorative centerpieces, they probably do something well, but it’s not going to be tacos.
What you’re looking for in a taquería is plastic furniture, usually with soda or a beer company logos. This is extra handy because you can choose your taquería based on your beer brand preferences (personally, I prefer the Modelo group.)
The casual, down-to-earth décor of these eateries tells me that the restaurant owners believe their food will speak for itself, and, more often than not, it does. The tastiest tacos of my life have been consumed in places just like these.
A comparable alternative to plastic furniture is a restaurant with hard wooden chairs that appear to be extremely uncomfortable. Maybe you know the ones I’m talking about… they’re all 90-degree angles and yet somehow when you sit down they seem to be stabbing you. How I don’t know.
These torture devices will make you hate your life… until you sink your teeth into a truly delicious, expertly crafted taco and the rest of the world melts away.
2. A trompo
If you’re a fan of tacos al pastor, you’ll want to keep an eye out for a trompo, which is basically a vertical rotisserie.
Trompo tacos are particularly delicious because they are freshly roasted moments before landing on your plate.
The origins of the trompo in Mexican cuisine are quite interesting. It was introduced to the city of Puebla by immigrants from Lebanon and Iran.
A good quality taquería will feature a healthy selection of salsas. Usually, there are 3 or 4 to choose from: pico de gallo, habanero, salsa verde, and salsa roja.
Almost every Mexican restaurant you visit will provide a few salsas as part of the place setting, however, more often than not most of them are kind of lame. A truly great taquería will serve you salsas that are so incredibly delicious you won’t be able to choose which one to put on your taco. You’ll find yourself ordering more tacos just as a vehicle for salsa!
One of the most exciting things about salsa is that you’ll probably never taste the same flavor twice. Almost every single Mexican food establishment I’ve ever visited has served salsa verde, but I’ve never become bored of trying it because it’s always different. That is what makes tasting salsas such a great adventure.
4. Handmade Tortillas
Maybe this goes without saying, but a tortilla can make or break a taco. Sometimes literally. Like those shitty dry tortillas that break in half when you try to roll them. What. A. Nightmare.
The most important factor when it comes to tortillas is how fresh they are. The tastiest taquerías usually have someone stationed up front making tortillas all day long. If you spot one of those you’re in for a treat!
If there is no tortilla maker visible in the restaurant DON’T PANIC. Sometimes they work in the kitchen! Generally speaking, Mexicans take tortillas pretty seriously, and any decent eatery will serve fresh ones. Of course, it’s always ideal to have made to order tortillas.
5. Plates in Plastic Bags
The most authentic taco eateries will serve your food on plates covered in plastic bags. For visitors to Mexico this may seem weird, but once you’re here for a while you adjust. This is just a way to speed up the turnover of plates — often these places have a limited number! If the plates are in plastic bags it often means the food is in high demand and will undoubtedly be delicious!
By now you should have a pretty good idea of what to look for in a quality taco shop. In my experience, the best tacos are found in hole-in-the-wall restaurants. These are the types of places where the decor probably turns you off, but the scent of delicious food will make you think twice.
But don’t forget, tacos are about a lot more than the meat filling. Tortillas and salsas work together to round out the experience. These elements can make even the blandest tacos unforgettable.
So, next time you see an unattractive storefront, don’t be afraid to take a second look. Otherwise, you may never taste a truly excellent taco.
Share the wealth! Pin this post so your friends can find great tacos too!
Yep delicious! I love a good taco. But like an authentic street taco. Great post.
Street tacos are the best! <3
OMG I so want Tacos now. Great post and hopefully I get to visit Mexico soon!
Yes, do it! It’s worth it just for the food, but there’s SO much to do!
OMG, Tacos would be the first thing I’d search for when in Mexico. Thanks for this helpful guide! The el trompo especially looks fabulous!
Yes! El trompo is especially good for tacos al pastor!
Now, I want some tacos! Nothing like eating on a plate covered with a plastic bag. Those tend to be delicious. The other thing is that tacos in Mexico are inexpensive (that is the point). Here in the States I am getting a bit tired of seeing $5 tacos. That is insane!
$5 tacos is crazy! I’ve been complaining that tacos in the Mayan Riviera are expensive, at 25 pesos 😛
Mmmm tacos!! The street tacos in Mexico are the best! Thanks for sharing this, will have to check out some of these spots next time I make it down to Mexico!
Glad you liked it! Hopefully you can come back soon!
We are in Mexico now! You are correct the food is amazing. We mixed it up today and had BBQ instead of tacos. ha!
Yum! When I want a break from antojitos I go for Italian, but BBQ sounds great too! Where are you guys?
This is an awesome guide. I always find it’s hard to pick where to eat when traveling. I’m glad the best tacos can often be found in what sounds to be very kid friendly places!
When in doubt just follow the delicious smells!
Awesome. I’m spending a week in Merida, Mexico next year and I’m going to be on the lookout for great tacos. Any tips on what kinds of tacos are best?
That’s so exciting! I haven’t been to Merida yet but I’ve met many people from there and they have all cooked amazing food, so I think you’re going to love it. The traditional dish in Merida is Cochinita Pibil. It’s pork in a special sauce (I think it has peanuts so I hope you’re not allergic!) and it is VERY delicious! You can have it in tacos, and many other formats!
I am going to Tulum in January and will definitely be referencing this guide, thanks!
That’s awesome! Tulum is gorgeous and has tons of great eateries 🙂 Have you been before?
That taco looks delicious! I have found all the best tacos in the US come from places that look like a hole in the wall. My favorite Mexican restaurant serves burritos in tin foil. Yum. Yum.
That’s so true! Tin foil burritos are the best — it’s the only way to keep them from falling apart!
Just like everyone else, I am dying for a delish taco right now! Your tips, with a dash of humor, were spot on and exactly what this foodie needs when visiting somewhere new! I have been to Mexico several times (years ago – am certainly due for another visit) and have never had a bad taco – mostly because I followed similar recommendations! Great post! Love your style.
Thank you so much! I’m glad I can say this post is “foodie approved!” Thankfully it’s pretty tough to go wrong with tacos, but when they’re good, they’re REALLY good!
This is amazing! I know exactly what you are talking about when you say to find a place with plastic covered plates and spiky wooden chairs ? Without a doubt this is a great guide to finding the best tacos anywhere! Not just Mexico.
Ohh! Good to know it applies to other places too! I’m glad you got the spiky chair anecdote!
Thanks for the information! I have found the best food in divy looking restaurants.
Totally! Divey places always have so much character.
I can so relate! I love tacos!!! And that is probably an understatement. And thanks for the plastic bag/plate tip. I didn’t realize that. I had some great fish tacos at The Royal in Playa Del Carmen. Probably some of the best I’ve ever had. I look for a place that serves Sol. 🙂
Ohh! Thanks for the tip! I haven’t been to The Royal (yet!) but I love fish tacos!
This taco guide is perfect for me; an absolute taco lover!
Yay! I’m so glad you like it!
This is such a great post! Like an actually helpful, full of real tips post. I love how you mentioned choosing your taqueria based on your favorite beer brads — this is the same in Germany and I LOVE it. Like how every bar in Germany sells ONE kind of beer and they always have the sign outside. Why can’t everything in life be this simple?
I’m so glad you thought so! I didn’t know that about Germany, but I like it. When it comes to eating and drinking, I feel like the simpler the decision-making process the better. I appreciate restaurants that are named things like “Comida rica y economica” or “Waffle House,” it sets clear expectations!