Alternative Tacos – Beyond Ground Beef and Chicken

Growing up, the only ethnic foods I ever had were spaghetti and tacos. Truth be told, they were far from authentic, so I’m not really sure they should even be considered ethnic foods. Somehow, however, in my quest to become someone other than my parents, I managed to explore. I had my first bagel with cream cheese at age 21 and it has been a wild ride ever since.

Living in the southwestern United States has afforded me the opportunity to sample extraordinary Mexican fare, and even though I love to try all things new, tacos are still my favorite. The tacos I crave, however, have no resemblance to the ones served up in the kitchen of my childhood. Here are some wonderful alternative tacos that I highly recommend.

Cabeza (cow’s head) – These are absolutely my favorite, and even though cabeza technically refers to all meat coming from the head, my favorite taco stand uses just the “regular” meat (no brains, ear or tongue). They are made from slow steaming the entire head of the cow until it is tender and flavorful and rivals the best braised beef I’ve ever had. According to Karen Graber on Mexconnect, they are traditionally served as breakfast in Sonora and the Bajio, and are a popular peasant food due to the inexpensive nature of the head itself.

Lengua (tongue) – Although the idea of eating tongue may turn some people off, it’s actually quite delicious. Tongue sandwiches are a Jewish deli staple, and one of my favorite sushi restaurants in Chicago has grilled tongue on their appetizer menu. Eating it in a taco just seems natural. Again, the meat is cooked long and slow, and I prefer the shredded version to the diced.

Nopalito (cactus) – These meatless tacos are filled with sautéed strips of prickly pear cactus pads (minus the spines, of course). The taste is a little tart, and the texture can often be a bit slimy if eaten on its own. This is a great option for vegetarians, but vegans will need to be sure there is no lard used in the preparation (which there probably is if the restaurant is authentic).

Cabra (goat) – Many cultures have embraced the culinary versatility of goat, and Mexico is no exception. Top these tacos off with your choice of sliced radishes, cilantro, onions, pico de gallo and lime juice, and you may have just discovered your favorite taco.

The next time you’re at the local taco stand, mix it up a little. Who knows what culinary delights await?


Graber, Karen, ” Wrap It Up: A Guide To Mexican Street Tacos – Part I ,”