The history of tacos and a guide to the best tacos in Mexico

Uncover the history of tacos on a food tour of Mexico's top cities

We all know that tacos come from Mexico, but did you know that the taco has a vast cultural history that supposedly dates as far back as pre-hispanic times? So, whether you like your tacos al pastor with a heavy helping of ‘picante’ washed down with tequila or, you prefer a more Americanized version, it is time to discover the best tacos in Mexico. But of course, you cannot go on a hunt for real Mexican food without first understanding the origins of this UNESCO award winning cuisine. The history of tacos is not only an enticing insight into the early formations of modern-day Mexico. But it also takes us on a journey through the heartland of this incredible country and lets us discover the unique culture and traditions of the towns and cities along the way. Are you ready to enjoy a tantalizing whistle-stop tour of Mexico’s foodie scene?

The original taco - back to its pre-hispanic roots

While there is little evidence to claim the birthplace of the taco, there are two theories about this beloved dish which make great stories to tell on taco day. The first takes us to pre-Hispanic Mexico to a time when the Nahuatl people used the word ‘tlahco' to refer to what we now call the taco. Tlahco is said to mean ‘half’ or ‘middle’ and the first recorded mentions of this come from the Aztec emperor Moctezuma and the way he used the tortilla as a spoon when eating. There are also references to tortillas being used to wrap up the food taken to the farmers in the fields. There are later references to the taco from the Spanish conquest when Hernán Cortés held a dinner of tacos in Coyoacán for his captains.

The modern day history of tacos

The second theory believes the taco to have originated from the silver mines of Mexico during the 18th century. These are typically found sprawling across Sonora, Chihuahua, and all the way down to San Luis Potosí. They say that the taco word origin is linked to the plugs ‘tacos’ of dynamite that were placed in the cracks of the rock to open up the mines. Sticks of dynamite were wrapped in paper, just like how the ingredients of the taco are wrapped in a corn tortilla. The popularity of the taco gave way to taqueria culture and eventually this iconic Mexican food was carried over to the US by the railway and mine workers who crossed the border. Eventually, in 1950, the taco went mainstream with the creation of Taco Bell. So, with these two fantastic theories in your back pocket it is time to hunt down the best tacos in Mexico.

Mexican street tacos

Where is it possible to taste original tacos in Mexico?

While the taco was becoming a fast-food sensation, Mexicans continued to enjoy watching the evolution of tacos in their homeland. During the mass migration of Mexicans to the US, Mexico also saw an influx of Lebanese migrants who brought with them their tasty traditional dishes. This saw the beginning of the tacos al pastor history and the invention of a Mexican national dish. Tacos can be found anywhere from the palm-fringed beaches and turquoise waters of Puerto Vallarta to the bustling metropolis of Mexico City. But if you are looking for an authentic flavor made with fresh, high-quality ingredients you will want to visit only the best places. So, pack your bags, brush up on the history of tacos, and head to the tacos country of origin.

Best tacos in Cancun

To hunt down the best taco in Cancun you need to venture outside of the luxury resorts. Head downtown and look out for Tacos Riga which has been a local favorite for the last 30 years. It is a well-known fact that Mexicans love to add sauce to their food and rumor has it that here the tacos are made from 50% filling and 50% salsa and you cannot leave without trying their ‘end of the world’ spicy hot sauce.

Best tacos in Cozumel

Fancy trying an island version of this classic Mexican dish? Well, you are in for a treat and there is no better place to spend national fish taco day than in Cozumel. As all locals and well-traveled tourists know, Diego’s is the only place on the island to try authentic fish tacos. Located conveniently across the road from the airport, it is easier than ever to discover the history of tacos when visiting Cozumel.

Best tacos in Tulum

Best tacos in Tulum

Of course, no holiday to Tulum is complete without sampling the very best tacos that this seaside resort has to offer. As you venture into the jungle-like overgrowth and head to the downtown area be on the lookout for Taqueria Honorio. This place is SO popular amongst locals that there are often always queues to order. If you are visiting Tulum, try the cochinita pibil (slow-cooked pulled pork), the best taco in Tulum, but be sure to head there early so that they don’t sell out. Breakfast tacos anyone?

Best tacos Merida

If you are planning to visit the Yucatan Peninsula don’t leave Merida off your list. Dive into local life and enjoy an authentic Mexican experience in this ancient city. One of the central attractions of Merida is the vast, bustling market where you can enjoy a mix of Mayan and Colonial cultures. Follow the history of tacos and head to Taqueria La Lupita located inside the market. You may recognize this eatery from Netflix’s Taco Chronicles series and if you are lucky enough to grab a table be sure to order the cochinita pibil - a Yucatan delicacy that slowly cooks underground for 7 days. Top tip - this is best ordered on a Sunday, the day of the taco, for the freshest flavor.

Best tacos in Guadalajara

Carry on your history of tacos studies and venture into the heartland of Mexico with a trip to Guadalajara. Here it is possible to eat tacos everyday thanks to the wide variety of flavors on offer. But for the real deal, don’t pass up the chance to visit La Tomate Taqueria. This buzzing fast-food joint nearly always has a line of hungry customers snaking out of the door, but don’t let this put you off. The speedy service and mouth-wateringly good tacos make everything worth it.

Best tacos in Oaxaca

Oaxaca is undeniably the food capital of Mexico so there is no better place to continue your history of tacos tour than here. Since there is such a vibrant foodie scene here, it is best to go where the locals go. The Oaxaca street food stand, Lechoncito de Oro is the place to eat. Only open in the evenings and with only two types of tacos on the menu, both pork, you know you are in for a truly Mexican experience. Make a late-night pit stop here after exploring the city’s nightlife and enjoy taco Tuesday everyday.

Best tacos in Mexico City

There is stiff competition in the capital since Mexico is considered to be the truly authentic place to try tacos. So, if you are visiting Mexico City, don’t leave without trying the best tacos cdmx has to offer. The history of tacos al pastor dates back to the city and the Taqueria El Tizoncito is said to be the inventors of this national dish. As well as being the birthplace of the Al Pastor taco, this restaurant has also been awarded a Guinness world record for the largest number of tacos served. With so much fame, it is a must-see when on vacation in Mexico.

Did you know that in Mexico, approximately 60 kilos of tortillas are eaten every year... per person!?

Best tacos in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta appears to have everything. From luxury beach resorts to off-the-beaten-track foodie hangouts - there is everything for the perfect vacation. Since this resort is a gay hotspot, it should come as no surprise that the best taco stand can be found right in the heart of the gay district. Panchos Takos is one of the most popular spots in Puerto Vallarta for tacos and is widely mentioned whenever the topic of the history of tacos is mentioned. It is the place to try the best fish tacos in Puerto Vallarta and here it is quite common to be serenaded by Mariachi bands who are eager to gain extra tips from those waiting in line.

Best tacos in Los Cabos

Nothing beats tucking into a plate of tacos after a long day at the beach. If you are visiting Los Cabos and are looking to discover more about the history of tacos then make a beeline for Casa Calavera, a seafront restaurant with delicious tacos as good as the panoramic sea views. Be sure to sample their vast cocktail menu while deciding on which of the tacos to offer. But, if you can’t decide, rest easy knowing that the tacos here are the best tacos Los Cabos has to offer, or so the locals say.

Best tacos in Todos Santos

Todos Santos has that laid-back Baja California vibe that attracts a bohemian scene to its shores year upon year. So, when you are not taking it easy on the stretches of paperwhite sand, be sure to try the local cuisine. If you are visiting Todos Santos you will notice that the history of tacos has evolved to include the scrumptiously fresh seafood that Baja California is famous for. To get a taste of the authentic flavors head to El Tacos y Mariscos Sinaloense where Jose Luis Ibarra Grimaldi and his family will rustle up a truly fantastic menu of traditional food. Remember to bookmark this place for national fish taco day 2021.

Prawn tacos... Yummy!