First, you've got to get the positioning right. Fold that small but crammed mini-plate up into a delicious morsel and keep a hold of it. Firm, but not too firm. Then it's attack mode, as you cram it into your mouth and feel the inevitable trickle of sauce down your arm (just embrace it, you've got this). Eating a taco isn't the most elegant of ventures, but always worth the potential embarrassment. There's been an explosion in taco love in recent times, with Taco Tuesday a now-standard concept and authentic Mexican taquerias opening up all over the world. So imagine what you can find if you make the pilgrimage to Mexico itself, in search of the best tacos in the Yucatán. Well, that's what we did - and here's what we found.
Just like any country, the states within Mexico have their own characteristics, personalities and flavours. The Yucatan Peninsula might be famous for its inviting beaches and Mayan ruins – with Chichen Itza and Tulum's beaches the crowning glory – but the Yucatán's cuisine is also worth sticking around for. A taco isn't just a taco, and no matter how many times you've been to Taco Bell, that will do you no favours here.
l pastor tacos © Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock
Lesson number one, and it could be hard one to learn for some out there: proper tacos have soft shells. In the Yucatán, you'll commonly come across corn tortillas, rather than the flour variety, and they'll be roughly the size of your palm - which is great when ordering as you can try multiple flavours. When it comes to sauces, salsa in any form will be pico de gallo (freshly chopped tomato, onion, jalapeño and coriander) often accompanied by optional spicy habanero sauce or salsa verde.
Don't leave without trying cochinita pibil, a taco filled with pulled pork that's been slow-roasted for hours, or tacos de pescado tikinxik, a fish taco in achiote sauce. Lastly, leave room for tacos al pastor, which is filled with spit-roasted pork and pineapple.
In the Yucatán, tacos are mostly eaten for breakfast or lunch. Smaller places like street food stall can often be closed by 2pm and stay closed until the next morning – so plan accordingly! A general rule of thumb is that small stands will close early, while restaurants that offer tacos may not open until 7pm.
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Wayan'e is quite possibly the holy grail of tacos from the Yucatán, making its way into the hearts and stomachs of local people and tourists alike. There are around 30-40 different kinds of tacos to choose from, including local specialities like conchinita pibil and poc chuc – pork in a citrus marinade. Once you've ordered, watch as staff heat the tortilla and load it up then top it with fresh onions and black beans. They also serve delicious fruit juices, which if you brave the habanero salsa, will be a welcome relief! Wayan'e has two stand locations, in Colonia Mexico and the other in Colonia Aleman.
Praised as the best tacos in Tulum, Taqueria Honorio comes highly recommended by top chefs – expect tacos brimming with fillings. Again, the Yucatan speciality of cochinita pibil is a strong favourite. Make sure you go early – Honorio opens at 6 am, and once they sell out they close up shop. Although the place may look quite basic and nondescript with its flimsy roof, Honorio began as a simple stall and can now proudly claim itself as a restaurant. Each table is stocked with a range of condiments to adorn your already very flavourful taco.
If you prefer to eat your tacos for dinner (or for those who want tacos all-day long... we salute you!), Antojitos La Chiapaneca is for you – they serve some of the best tacos in the Yucatán and are only open in the evenings. You'll often have to wait for a table here, but it's worth it. Once you've got your tacos, take your plate to the centre of the restaurant where there are bowls filled with condiments and sauces. If you ever tire of tacos on your trip (hard to imagine), there's a big selection of other snacks like empanadas, panuchos (fried tortillas with beans and toppings) and salbutes (like panuchos but without the beans).
A firm favourite having been around for more than three decades, Marisqueria El Taco Loco in Chetumal is a place to be reckoned with. As the name suggests, the seafood choices here are not to be missed. The tacos most worthy of a mention are the camaron empanizado (breaded shrimp) taco and the fish taco a la mantequilla (sautéed in butter). Try their four-alarm habanero salsa to test your metal with spicy food. One wall of the restaurant is covered with a manatee mural, a nice homage to the manatee sanctuary in Chetumal Bay.
La Tía is the perfect taco stop for those looking for a delicious pick-me-up after a night out in Merida. Open from 3 am to 2 pm every day, whether you come for a late-night snack or an early lunch, you're guaranteed some of the best tacos in the Yucatán. As you may have guessed (it's a recurring theme for tacos here), the cochinita pibil tacos are knockout.
Top image: Cochinita pibil tacos © lunamarina/Shutterstock