If you don’t speak Spanish, it is not uncommon to stare down a taco menu and wonder what exactly it is that you are about to order. What follows is a quick and dirty guide for the taco layperson, a field guide to what exactly is wrapped in that warm, soft corn tortilla.
Adobada: Marinated pork, often done in a red chili sauce.
Al Pastor: Shawarma-inspired, spit-roasted pork cut thin and typically served with grilled pineapple and onion.
Barbacoa: Historically, this is the meat from a cow head wrapped in leaves and slow-cooked over an open flame or in a cook pit. In the States, however, it is a slow-braised and shredded beef that has been tenderized and then pulled apart. It is often cooked in mixture of chicken broth and/or a soda of some sort, and mixed with cumin, garlic, and other herbs. The end result is beef that seems to be steamed or smoked as well as grilled.
Buche: Broiled or steamed pig stomach/esophagus.
Cabeza: Meat from roasting or steaming a cow head.
Cachete: Steamed cheek, generally from a cow.
Carne asada: Mildly marinated and grilled steak. Typically rib or sirloin cuts.
Carnitas: Pork shoulder seasoned with lard and herbs then braised and pulled apart before being oven roasted until lightly crisp.
Cecina: Dried and salted, jerky-like beef.
Chicharrón: Fried pigskin and/or pork belly.
Chorizo: Spicy pork sausage.
Chuleta: Pork chop.
Labios: Steamed lip.
Lengua: Steamed cow tongue, often braised or browned first.
Ojo: Steamed cow eye.
Pescado: Fish, typically a white fish of some sort. More often than not, talapia in California.
Rajas: Roasted poblano chiles cut into strips and served with cooked onions and cheese.
Suadero: A thin cut of beef, usually from the trapezius muscle or thereabouts, that has been stewed and then lightly grilled. Similar to carnitas.
Tripas: The small intestine of a cow or pig that has been cleaned, boiled, and then grilled.