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Authentic Mexican tacos question

post #1 of 47
Thread Starter 
Hi all,

I'd like to make authentic mexican tacos (cilantro, onion, lime, chicken, corn tortillas) of the sort you can get in Chicago and NYC, but I always see these guys adding seasoning to the chicken, and that seems to be what does it. I'm kind of suspicious of generic taco seasoning--is it the kind of seasoning they'd use on, like, American-style hard-shell beef tacos, or will it do the trick? Any recommendations on specific brands? Or can I make the seasoning from what I might have in my spice rack already?

Thank you!


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post #2 of 47
Minor gripe of someone who can't stand cilantro.

I grew up on Mexican food, I even lived a block from the biggest Mexican neighborhood in Chicago and made frequent trips for about as authentic as you can get without going to Mexico Mexican food, and in all that time I never ran into cilantro until the last 10 years or so.

The key always seemed to be very fresh steak/chicken, and only minimal seasoning in the spicy range. My mother used to make the out of the box tacos mix style tacos when I was a kid and its nothing like what I had living in Chicago.

Unfortunately I wasn't much of a foodie then and it was almost 10 years ago so I can't tell you what they seasoned with, but the feeling was always 'light'. After that I really developed a dislike for the taco seasoning mixes.

I doubt the family run place right next to my apartment remembers me after 8 years but I was on friendly terms, shame I didn't ask when I lived down there.
post #3 of 47
As a genyou-wine Mexican, I can tell you for a fact that you'll find as many seasonings for tacos as you'll find Mexicans. We're from Northern Mexico and New Mexico, and our tacos are typically made with flour tortillas, although we sometimes use corn. We sometimes make chicken, more often our tacos are either made of cabrito or carne asada. Whatever the meat, we use and have always used Goya Adobo all purpose seasoning for tacos. It's available at most any Latino market. If I were you, I'd pick out my favorite taqueria, and ask the cook what that stuff is he's shaking on the meat. Regarding cilantro, we've always used it in salsa, as an addition to menudo and posole, but never as a garnish or an addition to our tacos. Americans have sort of gone hog wild on cilantro, but it's always been around, just more in the background. Our typical garnishes are sweetened vinegar marinated red onions, shredded cabbage, cucumbers, sliced radishes and queso cotija, sort of Mexican feta. We broil whole fat green onions as a side.
Now I'm hungry again.....
post #4 of 47
Hi there...welcome :)

My favorite taco's in the Chicago area are from the vendors at the Mawell Street Market (no longer on Maxwell St.). What I've noticed is that only the Tacos al pastor were spiced (with an adobo type seasoning/marinade). The chicken and steak seems as though they were only seasoned with salt. I usually order mine simple on a corn tortilla with just onion, cilantro, squirt of lime and roasted tomatillo salsa.

take care,
post #5 of 47
Bro you should try Taco Grill on Odgen avenue in Westmont, hands down the best Mexican Fast food in the Midwest, possibly the nation.
post #6 of 47
They all do it differently, working on the South Side for many years, Back of the Yards and McKinnley park I've had lots of tacos, they put anything from dried chili power, to achiote, to types of things you'd find in mole. I like using what you mentioned above, plus a little Mexican Oregano.

Also a lot of places marinate the chicken meat first.

I would not recommend the packets of taco seasoning.

PS. The Al Pastor he mentioned is the style of cooking which is mainly only done with pork, but I guess you could do it with other meats, its the shepard style of cooking.
post #7 of 47
ho to latin or mexican grocery store, see what they have

i have a meat tenderizer consisting of salt, sugar, papain (papya enzyme)

and msg


very tasty.
post #8 of 47
You are absolutely right about the Taco Grill in Westmont. They have some really great tacos, as well as a wide range of other well-prepared dishes.

The tacos al Pastor are especially good. They also have a great serve-yourself salsa bar with about twenty-four different salsas and condiments, from mild to killer.

Taco Grill is on the south side of Ogden in Westmont about two blocks west of Cass Avenue. As a matter of fact, it's just two blocks from Katy's Dumplings, (east off Cass behind the Jewel) so you can have two great lunches in one trip! :bounce: Hang around the western 'burbs for the afternoon and you can have dinner at Lao SeChuan, a little further west on Ogden in Downers Grove.

travelling gourmand
travelling gourmand
post #9 of 47
What's Katy's Dumplings and Lao SeChuan? I haven't been there.

Get this, I was in Taco Grill and I overheard the owner talking about when Rick Bayless came in, he was asking the owner some questions, and the owner not realizing who he was said he was giving him answers to the extent of, "I'm busy, get away from me", LOL

I guess he's been there quite a few times.
post #10 of 47
Authentic tacos?

I presume that means "the way they are prepared in Mexico", correct?

Too many years ago to confess to, I ate "tacos" in Juarez, Mexico, from a street vendor, a tortilla filled with "boiled Donkey head meat", fried in lard, topped with finely chopped Iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes, and, I'm sure, a locally concocted hot sauce.

Now, I use ground beef, preferrably "chuck", cooked in water, not fat. drained, filled into a corn tortilla, folded, fried in LARD until "crisp-tender", drained, and stuffed with finely chopped Iceberg lettuce, chopped tomato, extra-sharp grated cheddar, and Sirracha.
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
post #11 of 47
I'll be sure to give them a try sometime!

post #12 of 47
Not a genuine Mexican like ElChivito, but I've lived in Oaxaca for almost 12 years, on the border before that, and have traveled all over Mexico. There is a certain essential Mexican-ness that can be tasted in all authentic tacos. I think one basic thing to remember is to slightly over-salt the filling, as it's going to be offset by the tortilla.

Don't use those taco seasonings -- they're always harsh with cumin. I think one of the secrets of real Mexican tacos is that the cooks are willing to use more grease in cooking the meat than we usually would at home. It does make for a moister, more flavorful product.

Here's a salsa I make to put on cooked chicken. You might want to experiment with briefly marinating the raw chicken for your tacos in it:
Finely smush together garlic, fresh chile, oregano and salt in a mortar. Scrape it out into a bowl, then squeeze lime juice into the mortar to get the rest of the goop. Pour that into the bowl and mix. Add a little water if you wish.

If you want a really authentic wet seasoning rub for pork, use this. The pork thus prepared is frequently cut up & cooked for tacos around here:

Adobo for cecina, Oaxaca-style. (in Oaxaca, cecina is pork, not beef)
Toast some guajillo chiles on a griddle or dry skillet.
Simmer them in a small amount of water until soft.
Put in blender jar with vinegar, salt, black pepper, oregano, garlic, cloves, and cinnamon and blend as finely as possible, adding a little water if necessary to make a smooth paste.
Smear this all over whatever pork you're using. (suggest cutting a piece of pork into scaloppine for maximum coverage & absorbtion, or use thin pork chops).
Let it set for a couple of hours, loosely covered, before using.

No two meat vendors make the same version, so vary the ingredients above to your taste.

About cilantro -- I'm sure it was always there on Mexican tacos. Maybe the reason it's been noticed more in the States in the last ten years is simply because it became more available?
post #13 of 47
Your recipe for adobo sounds really good bixaorellana, and once again points up that old bugaboo about "authentic" that's come up in several threads. There are so many kinds of tacos and tamales in Mexico that trying to pin one down as authentic is a fool's errand. I do agree with you about the use of fat, and oversalting the meat. I'd say that's pretty much a given anywhere you go, and I don't believe I've had a taco in years that had lettuce on it. Maybe in some touristy area where they're serving mostly gringos, but cabbage is what I see most often. Have you people discovered flour tortillas down there yet?:look: It's been a long time since I was in your neck of the woods, but I do remember getting almost exclusively corn tortillas at all the taqerias I stopped at in Oaxaca. In the borderlands, it's now much more common to be offered a choice of corn or flour.
post #14 of 47
ElChivito, Soriana was offering wheat tortillas, but I don't think they were ever very popular. Also the commercial bread brands have a wheat and whole-wheat tortilla product.
There is a taco here called a gringa which is puerco al pastor & (I think) cheese served on wheat tortilla. It's not rare, rare, but you would have to search for it.
I've never been offered a choice of wheat or corn tortilla here -- tortilla means corn!
And I've never seen lettuce on a taco in Mexico. (eeeeuwwww!)
post #15 of 47
Cabbage in tacos, huh? Is it common or not? Is it used raw, pickled or ...?
post #16 of 47
Shredded fine. In place of the iceberg lettuce normally found on American tacos. Very common. Like I said, no lettuce on tacos in Mexico except maybe in places catering exclusively to American tourists.
post #17 of 47
Can I just put in a quick bid for shredded, julienned, or thin-sliced radish, preferably lightly salted and allowed to drain? That's fabulous, especially with the cabbage.
post #18 of 47
I second that.

Those are good with pozole too.
post #19 of 47
PS. The menudo is really good there, they only have it on weekends though.
post #20 of 47

My mentions of Katy's Dumplings and Lao SeChuan are based on discussions in the Chicago-based foodie forum

LTHForum.com • Index page

I've eaten at both, and they're both quite good.

Also, there's a good BBQ joint just south on Cass Avenue - Uncle Bub's, just south of the Burlington tracks. Lots of choices, though I don't think you can cover them all in a single trip. :D

Hey- next time you're out this way, PM me and we can have lunch together! :bounce:

Do you remember the joke about a guy and the famous bandito Pancho Gonzales "having lunch together'?

Can't print it here. :eek:

travelling gourmand
travelling gourmand
post #21 of 47
We often put out thin sliced radishes, and sometimes we marinate them in sweetened vinegar, as we do with red onion. My grandmother always used "seasoned" rice vinegar, and I've seen it used a lot in the southwest and Sonora for the same purpose.
post #22 of 47
I dare say that what you are describing as "authentic mexican tacos" in places such as Chicago and New York are concoctions created to blend in with what the locals "think" is Mexican food.

As others have said, there are variants to the food, depending on the region of Mexico that is represented (Baja, Sonora, etc...), but your description of cilantro, onion and lime as ingredients is not what I've experienced as traditional Mexican fare.

I'd recommend a bit of research beyond 'Better Homes and Gardens' recipes for the actual ingredients and construction of the venerable (and authentic) taco...

Chicago & NYC. Sheesh...

Best of luck with your adventure.
I might be suffering from CDO.
It is just like OCD, except the letters are in alphabetical order.
Just as they should be...
I might be suffering from CDO.
It is just like OCD, except the letters are in alphabetical order.
Just as they should be...
post #23 of 47
Thank you for the info. I thought probably the local tacos here were not all that authentic even though I like some of them a lot. Seems what we have here is more like an American sandwich in tortilla clothing. Not bad, but not authentic either.
post #24 of 47

Ay yai yai

I've been following this thread since it's inception and it's getting weirder and weirder. I didn't want to jump in at the NYC, Chicago thing with "superior SoCal" knowledge, because it would have been offensive.

Look. There's no such thing as a single quintessential Mexican taco. And there's no such thing as the "best" taco stand in the US. And for all I know they make great tacos at Bannigans in Iowa City. For all you know, too.

Mexican cuisine is rich and varied. And when you talk about tacos -- even tacos in el Norte (that's the US of A and Canada for you gabachos), you've hit the motherlode.

A taco can be small, almost tiny. That's very common in taquerias with big selections, places where tacos are very cheap (those things go together); in D. F. (el Distrito Federal is Mexico City's real name) where they have big selections and cheap tacos, etc. A taco can be also be fairly large and overstuffed.

A taco, con todo, can be meat, onions, cilantro and a little salsa.
Some people might say you can't put beans in a taco, but who are they to say? Some people put lettuce and/or cabbage in theirs. Do you judge them? Some people get radishes, carrots, jalapenos either raw or en escabehe, and put them in the taco, others eat them along side. Who's right? What do you know about it?

Is a taco suave (taco in a soft tortilla) the only true taco? Tacos dorados (crispy tacos) simply don't count? Where is that written?

Of these, what's the true taco filling? And what doesn't meet (sorry, can't help myself) your standards.

Al pastor
Ropa vieja
Birria de chivo
To name a few

As of the 2000 census, there were more than 2,000,000 Mexican hispanics who live in Los Angeles County (not City). If you expand it to the megalopolis that L.A. really is (including Ventura, San Bernadino, Riverside, and Orange Counties) the number is something like 3,000,000. More if you add San Diego and Santa Barbara -- which you very easily could consider part of greater Los Angeles.

Greater Chicago had about a quarter of that. NYC has a lot of hispanics, more than 2 million, but so many are Caribbeans -- I think the number of Mexicans was actually a little lower than Chicago.

There is no best taco stand. How can you compare some place in Chicago with a place in "East Hollywood" that sets up at night in a body shop's parking lot? Especially when you've never been to East Hollywood, and even the location is unfamiliar? Who has the best buche?

There are thousands and thousands of taco stands here. There are hundreds of taco blogs for cry sakes! And by "stand," I don't just mean permanent building but carts, trucks, and the hundreds of "tables" that get set up in parking lots at night. How could anyone experience enough of them to seriously undertake the concept of "best?" And even then, how could you compare the lengua at one to the tripas at another? Plus, the quality of the taco served depends on a number of variables which vary from hour to hour. One place could be the best cabeza today, but only very good tomorrow. Of you could get a piece of gristle...

Al pastor alone... Do you only count it off the spit? Or is marinated and grilled good enough?

If El Chivito wants to eat flour tortilla tacos, that's his business. If that's how his family did it -- more power to them. My personal take on it is that flour is more Southwestern than Mexican, but who am I to say? It's not how people from the areas that feed the migration through Los Angles eat them. And you know what? If Chivito went to a taco stand and tried to order a taco in a flour tortilla in East LA, they'd just look at him -- sadly. But so what? That doesn't make him wrong. The tradition of Mexican cuisine holds his taco with as much pleasure as it does mine.

If Chris likes shredded cabbage on his, like the USC boys who go down to Ensenda -- more power to him. That may not be the way they eat them in Sinaloa, Jalisco and Michoacan, but so what? The way they eat them in Sinaloa, Jalisco and Michoacan isn't the way they eat them in Oaxaca either. Or in DF or Vera Cruz or around Guadalajara.

I mean really.

So what is a taco? The word means something cylindrical, like a bolt, a ladies shoe heel, a plug for a hole and doesn't have any culinary meaning at all in Spain. That implies that back in the 16th C., when the Dons stumbled on the tortilla, people rolled food up in them. They usually don't come rolled anymore. But if one did, would it still be a taco?

Now it's mostly some kind of food, folded into a tortilla.

At home it's frequently leftovers. Any leftovers. This expands the universe of tacos to the universe of whatever a Mexican will eat which is a pretty inclusive set of foods. You cup a tortilla in your hand, you put some food in it, you fold the tortilla, you eat the taco.

Some taquerias in DF have more than 20 choices of tacos. Probably not as good as the ones in Chicago though.

Here in SoCal, what you expect from a proper taco stand, truck, cart, or "table" is two corn tortillas, properly softened by being moistned with oil and heated on a piece of flat steel; a scoop of filling (lots of possibilities); onions, cilantro, a little fresh salsa on top; and a little bit of vegetable garnish and/or chiles to eat on the side. No cabbage, except for fish tacos. No lettuce. No tomatoes. No cheese. Not ever? Well, no. Because sometimes...

Sometimes there's one salsa, sometimes a choice. Almost always, unless there's at least three, none of them will be "fresh salsa" with chunks of fresh tomato. If there's only one, it will usually be reconstituted dried chiles, pureed in the soaking water.

And so it goes.

If you like the mystery meat, crispy tacos from Jack In The Box are the bomb, I'm not going to tell you no.

By the way, the chicken in a chicken taco is most often simply grilled (on a griddle or flat top) with salt and pepper -- then served with onions, cilantro and salsa. Unless you're at a pollo ala brasa place, then it's not ala parilla. If you know what I mean.

Experience the wonder that is the taco,
post #25 of 47
Well said boar d laze! One of my favorite tacos, that we never have any longer, is one my grandmother made. A taco dorado, stuffed with nothing more than mashed potatoes and a ton of butter, salt and pepper, then fried. They were in corn tortillas. She said she made them to remind us of when we were poor. The flour tortillas I'm speaking of are common in Sonora, that state being a large producer of wheat.
post #26 of 47
i like the al pastor and carnitas varieties

i cant remember what i had in the yucatan tho
post #27 of 47
Thread Starter 
How? In what?

Thanks everyone!

post #28 of 47
All "al pastor" is pork. Anything else is something else. "Al pastor" is actually pork shwarma (aka gyros). It was introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants probably around the 1920s. Most of the best al pastor is made on a vertical roti, and sliced fresh, just like the shwarma it is. That way you get the sweet, juicy, tender inside and a little dorado on the edges.

post #29 of 47
Thank you BIXAORELLANA for your marinate recipes, can you tell me how to prime a mexican clay bean pot, I have the powder stuff (gal) however I don't know how much to use or how long to boil it in the pot. Thanks!:crazy:
post #30 of 47
fascinating!!!!! :cool:
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