Mexico’s superstar street food, tacos, is a Central American culinary cornerstone that was adored by the Olmec, Maya and Aztec civilisations alike.

Three meat tacos (with ingredients encased in a corn tortilla) rest on a circular black plate. The tacos are also stuffed with various vegetables and sauces.
Tacos have been a Mexican staple food for hundreds of years © burwellphotography / Getty Images

What is it?

If maize is the heart of Mexican food, then the ubiquitous taco, a soft corn tortilla stuffed with all manner of delectable ingredients, is its soul. 

Ingredients (serves 8)

500g (1lb) minced (ground) beef 
garlic salt, to taste 
16 corn tortillas 
olive oil, for frying 
3 serrano chillies, chopped (you can substitute jalapeños) 
1 medium onion, finely sliced 
1 tomato, diced 
1 bunch coriander leaves (cilantro), chopped 
2 avocados, sliced 
2 limes, cut into wedges 
salt, to taste

Three fish tacos: battered fish in corn tortillas with lettuce and sauce, served on a speckled plate.
Fish tacos are another popular variant of the dish served across Mexico © Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock / Lonely Planet

How to cook

Step 1: In a frying pan, cook the ground beef with a couple of dashes of garlic salt until browned. Drain off any fat and set aside.
Step 2: Take your tortillas and lightly brush them with olive oil. Put a large frying pan on a high heat and lightly fry the tortillas so they are still soft but have got a bit of colour on them. 
Step 3: Remove from the heat and let them drain on paper towels.
Step 4: Now to assemble the tacos. Place a spoonful of meat on each one, then add the chillies, onion, tomato, coriander leaves and avocado. Squeeze a wedge of lime across it, sprinkle with salt, roll it up and serve. You can also add grated cheese, shredded lettuce, salsa – whatever you like.

An aerial view of Mexico City's Fine Arts Museum, a grand building with a domed ceiling, which is surrounded by busy streets.
A single bite of a taco will transport your taste buds to the streets of Mexico City © Jess Kraft / Shutterstock

Tasting notes

If it’s a good taco stall, there’ll be a queue. As the scent of cooking meat and warm tortillas mingles with cigarette smoke and diesel fumes, your appetite will be honed to an unbearable edge. Don’t worry if the stall is little more than a bicycle with a propane heater, or a rundown pushcart. It’s the food, not aesthetics, you’re after. Four tacos make a civilised start, and you can always come back for more. Extra lime, salt and hot sauce will always be close by, so you can personalise and pique the palate. The taco might seem simple, but that contrast between soft tortilla and crisp pork is sublime. If food here is religion, then the taco is God.

Other recipes in this series:
Kolkata kati rolls
Japanese katsu curry
British bubble and squeak

Have you recreated any of the dishes featured in this series so far? Share your pictures with us on Twitter and Instagram by tagging @lonelyplanet. For more great recipes, check out Lonely Planet’s book The World’s Best Street Food.

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