You want to talk Mexican food classics? Don’t you dare sleep on the “taco al pastor.” The dish is a straight up gem. It may not get the food media love of Baja fish tacos or even the Mission Burrito, but it has every bit as much flavor and history as those two culinary titans. Adopted from the shawarma-style cooking of the Middle East and perfected in the streets of Mexico City, tacos al pastor have hit the US in a big way over the past decade — becoming a favorite at Tex-Mex restaurants and taco stands throughout the southwest, California, and beyond.
A lunchtime staple in Mexico City, the taco al pastor (which translates to “the shepherd’s taco“), is typically made with pork grilled on a vertical spit, resembling a Middle Eastern shawarma (or a Greek gyro). Atop the spit sits a whole pineapple, trickling its sweet-tart juices onto the meat below. This addition came into play at some unknown date, but it makes all the difference in the world — it’s the pineapple’s bright, citrusy flavor that ties the taco together.
When orders come in, the pineapple-infused pork is carved off the spit in thin slices. It’s then served with diced onions and cilantro in a corn tortilla. As with any iconic dish, there are endless variations — especially in Austin, Texas, where al pastor abounds. Having eaten my way through the city five times over, I knew that every restaurant had its own unique spin on the favorite. So, invigorated with purpose, I spent a solid week going from place to place around my neighborhood (and a bit beyond for good measure), to find what I considered to be the perfect tacos al pastor.
13. El Borrego De Oro
A great hole-in-the-wall tucked away on the ever-gentrifying South Congress Avenue, El Borrego de Oro is known for their thoroughly authentic Tex-Mex offerings, with their enchiladas standing out as a popular favorite. Their al pastor, unfortunately, ends up falling a little short. It’s more of a pork stew wrapped in a tortilla, and lacks any semblance of pineapple flavor, though it did come garnished with the customary diced onions and cilantro. On the upside, the meat itself was fall-apart tender, and quite delicious in its own right, but without any pineapple it ends up last on my list.