Marinated, Spit-Roasted Tacos (Tacos Al Pastor)

By Lesley Téllez | October 02, 2015
Tacos al pastor—made from marinated pork that’s been roasted on a vertical spit—are wildly popular in Mexico City, particularly at night. The best taqueros put on a show, slicing off bits of caramelized meat and catching it in one hand (or behind their back!), and then reaching above the meat to slice off a piece of warm, juicy pineapple. According to city folklore, these tacos were invented in the capital. The dish is a direct descendant of shawarma, brought by Lebanese immigrants who arrived in Mexico in the early twentieth century. The marinade in this recipe comes from Tacos Don Guero in the Cuauhtémoc neighborhood, whose taqueros were kind enough to explain their ingredients to me at six a.m. one weekday morning. Obviously very few people at home will have a vertical spit—part of what gives tacos al pastor its signature flavor—but a grill would work well, or a blazing-hot cast iron skillet or griddle greased with a little lard.


2 pounds pork butt roast, sliced into 
very thin steaks
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 medium onion, plus 1 cup chopped
2 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
1/2 bar achiote paste
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 heaping teaspoon whole cumin seed, toasted
2 tablespoons raw unsalted peanuts, toasted
1 small fresh Mexican bay leaf
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
2 cloves
2 allspice berries
2 cups chopped fresh pineapple
5 limes, cut into wedges
salsa of choice
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup chopped onion
lard or vegetable oil
24 corn tortillas

1. The day before you plan to eat, place the pork in a large bowl and toss with the lime juice and salt. Heat a comal or nonstick skillet to medium-high heat. Add the onion wedge and garlic, placing the garlic near the edge, away from direct heat. Cook until soft and blackened in spots, turning occasionally, about 7 minutes. Peel the garlic and place both items in a blender jar. Crumble the achiote paste into the blender and add the vinegar, cumin seed, peanuts and bay leaf along with the cinnamon stick, cloves and allspice. Blend until smooth. Pour the marinade over the meat and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.

2. The next day, prepare the garnishes: Chop the pineapple, slice the limes into wedges, prepare the salsa, and chop the cilantro and onion.

3. Heat a large heavy skillet to high heat and add 1 teaspoon lard. When smoking, add one piece of marinated steak. The meat should sizzle and smoke, so make sure you have a working fan and vent on your stove. Cook until the meat starts to release its juices and lighten slightly in color, 2 to 3 minutes, then flip and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Both sides should have dark-brown charred spots; if they don’t, raise the heat higher. Transfer to a cutting board and repeat with the remaining steaks, scraping the pan well to remove any burned bits between frying.

4. Scrape out the pan once more and cook the pineapple until soft and charred in spots. Remove to a bowl.

5. Warm the corn tortillas on a comal or nonstick skillet and place in a dishcloth to keep warm. Chop the meat into small pieces. Serve on a platter and let guests feed themselves, passing the tortillas and garnishes.

Excerpted from Eat Mexico by Lesley Téllez. Published by Kyle Books. Photography by Penny De Los Santos.

  • Marinated, Spit-Roasted Tacos (Tacos Al Pastor)