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

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
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.

A close-up of three birria tacos in a white takeout container. The tacos are filled with succulent shredded meat and lightly toasted. A lemon wedge and a small container of dipping sauce accompany the taco feast.
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.

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.

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).

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.


Origin: Mexico City

“Wow” ingredient or cooking method: Grilled

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Looking for more things to do in the area?

Visit our What to Do in Northern California page!

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