Taco Terms: A Glossary of the Most Popular Styles in California

If you don’t speak Spanish, you might want to learn some of the common words to describe taco styles and meats before you set off on your dream taco road trip. You’re likely to encounter at least some of them quite a bit along the way, and you don’t want to miss a bite!

Featured Photo: Tacos El Patron/Tamara Palmer
Al Pastor-Cali-Taco Glossary-credit Al Pastor Papi-800x450
Photo: Al Pastor Papi/Tamara Palmer

Al Pastor

Origin: Puebla, Mexico

“Wow” ingredient or cooking method: Pineapple/spit-roasted

Marinated pork that’s cooked on a trompo (rotisserie), thinly sliced and topped with pineapple. Al pastor was influenced by what was originally a Lebanese technique.

Photo: Taqueria Vallarta/Tamara Palmer


Origin: Texcoco, Mexico

“Wow” ingredient or cooking method: Fire, steam or burying in the ground

Meats such as goat, beef and lamb that have been either pit-buried, steamed or slowly fire-roasted.

Birria Cali tacos
Photo: Tacos El Patron/Tamara Palmer


Origin: Jalisco (birria de chivo)/Tijuana (birria de res)

“Wow” ingredient or cooking method: Slow-cooked stew

A traditional stew of shredded goat meat (birria de chivo) or beef (birria de res). The latter has spawned trends like birria pizza and birria ramen in recent years.

Carne Asada-Cali-Taco Glossary-credit Larry Miller-800x450
Photo: Courtesy of Larry Miller

Carne Asada

Origin: Sonora, Mexico

“Wow” ingredient or cooking method: Marinated and grilled

Flank steak that’s marinated in citrus juices, grilled and thinly sliced or chopped for tacos.

Campechanos-Cali-Taco Glossary-credit Tacos Garcia Yountville-800x450
Photo: Courtesy of Tacos Garcia Yountville


Origin: Campeche, Mexico

“Wow” ingredient or cooking method: Grilled (the “wow” is in a mix of beef and pork parts)

If you’re craving a little bit of everything, try a taco campechano, which usually contains a texturally varied mixture of beef (often carne asada or cecina) and pork (such as chicharrón, chorizo or longaniza sausage).

Chorizo-Cali-Taco Glossary-credit T. Tseng-800x450
Photo: Courtesy of T. Tseng


Origin: Toluca, Mexico

“Wow” ingredient or cooking method: Cured and cooked

Ground pork that’s cooked, cured and used like sausage.

Gringa-Cali-Taco Glossary-credit Tamaulipas-800x450


Origin: Mexico City

“Wow” ingredient or cooking method: Grilled

A grilled flour tortilla taco, topped with cheese, al pastor and pineapple.

Pescado-Cali-Taco Glossary-credit Taco Maria Costa Mesa-800x450
Photo: Tacos Maria, Costa Mesa/Tamara Palmer


Origin: Baja California

“Wow” ingredient or cooking method: Grilled, steamed or fried 

The Spanish word for fish, a popular taco protein that you’ll often see grilled or battered and fried.

Tacos de Canasta-Cali-Taco Glossary-credit Deliciosos Tacos de Canasta, Anita W.:Yelp-800x450
Photo: Courtesy of Deliciosos Tacos de Canasta, Anita W./Yelp

Tacos de Canasta

Origin: Tlaxcala, Mexico

“Wow” ingredient or cooking method: Fried and steamed

Corn tortillas that are filled, folded, fried and then steamed to order.

Tacitos-Cali-Taco Glossary-credit Nopalito-800x450
Photo: Courtesy of Nopalito


Origin: San Diego, CA

“Wow” ingredient or cooking method: Rolled and fried

A rolled and deep-fried taco on a corn tortilla that may alternatively be billed as flautas or tacos dorados; the latter is also used to refer to crispy tacos in general.

Vampiro-Cali-Taco Glossary-credit La Grana Fish, Emma W.:Yelp-800x450
Photo: Courtesy of La Grana Fish, Emma W./Yelp


Origin: Sinaloa, Mexico

“Wow” ingredient or cooking method: Grilled (“winged” tortilla is a wow factor)

Corn tortillas sit on the grill until crispy and edges form an approximation of bat wings, then topped with carne asada or other proteins.

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