Tacos de cabeza
Beef head tacos. The love of your life. Only available in the morning.
You have been eating tacos de cabeza since you were in your mother’s belly. You were born with tiny head tacos’ grease on your nose. There is a puestecito near the mercado in Obregón, Sonora. They were a few stores down from the bank. So, you went there when your paychecks arrived.
For a while, you thought that was the only place that sold tacos de cabeza. The beefy tacos are small but sufficient. Braised. Juicy. Fast. As soon as you raise your hand to ask for two more, someone is handing you a plate with your request. You always ask for a strawberry Vita. You can add diced onion, red salsa, and cilantro leaves that might stay in your teeth. You add nothing else. There are no tables at this sacred place, only one long shared bar where you can sit on a stool on any side.
Your brother still has the taquería record of eating twenty-four tacos. Your record is nine. You are greeted by name as soon as you walk in. Even if you haven’t lived in Obregón for the last eighteen years, you are always welcomed. The taqueros know your entire family.
You haven’t found tacos like that anywhere in the world. This is the only place on the whole planet that can take you back to your mother’s womb.
Tacos de carne asada
The second love of your life. Available at nighttime.
From your childhood home, you could smell the overpowering aroma of carne asada drifting away from the corner taco stands. Your belly rumbled as you walked closer to devour your dinner with your brothers and sisters. You didn’t particularly like carne asada when you were a child; you had to add some cheese, topping it with lime and salt. Your older sister topped hers with extra red sauce, cabbage, and guacamole. Eventually, you learned to love carne asada tacos more than hot dogs with mayonnaise. You didn’t add salsa to your tacos until you lived in the United States. To this date, if you visit your hometown, you’ll ask for a taco con pura carne; just the meat. Even if you eat veggies now, you still want to taste your childhood’s stubbornness.
The juicy flavor of tacos cebosos squeezed with lime can be replicated in other tacos carts around the city. But, outside of Obregón, there are no other tacos like these. No one really dabs a piece of fat into the tortillas and meat as they do in your hometown.
Tacos de huevito
Egg tacos. Available in the mornings at your home.
Everything can be made into a taco—even your morning scrambled eggs. You heat a tortilla and place the huevito inside with some salsa or avocado (you didn’t like these before, but they were an option). This is something that happened every morning at your childhood home. Huevo con machaca or chorizo or salsa would become top-notch delicias that you found later in life were charged as brunch specialties. When you were eight and complained you got a taco de chorizo again, you never imagined that you’d be paying more than $15 for breakfast like that in your adult years. Fifteen dollars is a small price to reminisce about the flavors of your mother’s kitchen.
Tacos de carnitas y chicharrón
Pork tacos. Availability: hours may vary.
You got to eat pork carnitas tacos whenever your mom had been busy the whole day. She or your dad would buy carnitas Michoacán style. Sometimes a kilo was sufficient to feed your eight-people family. Sometimes extra chicharrón was brought to your table in a greasy bag. You would eat those first, of course. The crunchiness felt in your mouth was a sensational experience. Your dad still buys these tacos every time you go home. You eat them with pleasure even if now they hurt your belly.
Golden tacos. Available when your mom buys rotisserie chicken.
You don’t like to eat anything with bones. Yes, you’re a hypocrite. You eat meat, but eating chicken with bones makes you think about the pet roosters you had wandering on the patio. What would you tell them when they ask what you had for lunch? Anything can become a taco dorado anyways. Your mom usually shredded the chicken, placed it in the middle of a corn tortilla, and then slid them into the sizzling oiled pan. Once they looked golden, she would retrieve them with metal tongs and placed them on a plate with a napkin. Once they were less oily, she would top them with media crema and voilà!
Tacos de pescado
Fish tacos. Hours may vary.
You ate these tacos for the first time in Hermosillo, Sonora. You were eating lunch with your co-workers. This was your first job so quedar bien was a must. You didn’t eat fish back then, but your mom wasn’t there to make you a special taco, so you ordered what they did. You drowned the taco in chipotle dressing to disguise whatever flavor you wanted to avoid. You liked them. You fell in love with them—the tacos, not the co-workers. Your taste buds were on an adventure. The chopped cabbage didn’t bother you. You were still afraid of finding bones, but these tacos gave you power. You felt you could do this: eat away from home.
Tacos de mixiote
Meat varies. Mainly lamb. Available at the tianguis—open market or bazaar—near your brother’s apartment in Mexico City.
You only tried them once while you sat inside a tent in a closed street of the capital. Some call these and tacos de canasta the authentic street tacos. The intense scent of mixiote arrived first to your body. Your gut wasn’t sure if it would like it. You didn’t want to say no to your brother, so you ate two. Later, you rode the metro to explore the city. Midway to the Zócalo, your stomach started to grumble, and the mixiote demanded to be out of your body. You asked for a bathroom. No, the metro doesn’t have a bathroom, your brother said. When you stopped at a station, you begged him to get off. You need to wait, he kept repeating. Your stomach twisted and churned. You stitched yourself together and breathed deeply. You clenched and prayed to the universe for this moment to fly away.
Now, every time you take the metro in any other city, the gnawing pain in your stomach comes back. You still remember feeling trapped in a moving wagon without the option of running away to let the mixiote out.
You haven’t tried this type of tacos again. Honestly, you don’t even want to. Why would you want to have to run to the bathroom in an unknown city?
Maybe some Pepto could help untie the knots in your stomach next time.
Tacos al pastor
Mainly pork. Available at different places. The best city to eat them: Mexico City.
You tried them for the first time in Monterrey—later on in Mexico City. They are okay. You still don’t understand why they need pineapple—you remove it from your taco before eating. When you do, you look around, avoiding being caught de-pineappling your tacos.
The meat comes from a trompo—a spinning top marinated with the city’s smoke and achiote. You can eat them standing up. The flavor travels through your body better that way. Also, you can ask faster for more if you are standing up. No Pepto required.
Shrimp with cheese tacos. Available at seafood restaurants.
After eating fish tacos, you have been enjoying eating other seafood-like tacos. Other people might call these governor tacos quesadillas because they are filled with cheese. They are still tacos. You order these at seafood places because you can’t eat anything raw. Tacos are your safe place. Any fried tortilla with something in the middle makes you feel secure that it is well cooked. Your belly likes comfort where no huffing and puffing is involved.
Tacos de marlin
More fishy tacos. Available at seafood restaurants.
You have been having issues finding these tacos in Arizona, where you used to live. That’s why when you went to Los Cabos to visit a client, you confessed your craving. Your client sent his assistant to find you tacos de marlin. At the end of your visit, he surprised you with them. You were in awe. You loved these tacos because they taste like marinated tuna. The shredded fish didn’t leave room for bones. The well-cooked reddish texture pleased your body. You were so grateful to your client until he called you a gordita. You pressed down your temples to avoid talking back. You weren’t as impressed anymore.
Tacos de pato
Duck tacos. Available at fancy restaurants in Mexico City.
Your job in the United States sent you often to Mexico City to visit clients. You have stayed in fancy hotels and visited elegant restaurants—away from mixiote and real pastor tacos. In a five-star restaurant, where you sipped from five-hundred-dollars tequila bottles, you tried duck tacos. You even raised your pinky finger as you bit. You covered your mouth with a cloth napkin to avoid burping in front of the CEO. Your stomach didn’t recognize the expensiveness of the duck. Rising bile in your throat, made you excuse yourself and spent the night and the next day hugging toilets—the hotel’s toilet, the airplane’s toilet in first-class back to Arizona, and the airports’ toilets. Showered by beads of sweat, this time, you were not holding anything inside. Still, you felt as trapped as you were in a moving train.
Tacos de cachete
Beef cheek tacos. Sometimes available where tacos de cabeza and carne asada are. Some Mexican restaurants in the United States have them.
So you would no longer be sad, your husband helped you find a place near your new home in Maryland. Your first time there, you snagged a table away from the door to avoid the snow interrupting your meal. After removing your three jackets, you dived into a taco you split into two. Your mouth slick with grease and the oil on your fingertips made you find the resemblance of those tacos de cabeza near the bank in Obregón. But these are just too big. They already put the onion and cilantro on top without even asking. They play fútbol matches on TV. People eat their tacos, lifting their heads to watch. Do they also remember their hometowns while they eat?
People often tell you that these are better than tacos de cabeza from México. “There’s more meat here.” In all the places you have lived, you have tried other tacos, cochinita pibil, tripas, lengua, birria, huitlacoche, and many others. You have tried them all, but none of these are the tacos you ate in your mom’s womb. Even if they are tasty and they don’t make you wince in pain, they aren’t among your best-loved ones. Nothing is.
Ofelia Montelongo is a bilingual writer from Mexico. She has a MA in Latin American Literature. Her work has been published in The Rumpus, Latino Book Review, Los Acentos Review, and elsewhere. She was a 2019 Writer’s Center Fellow. She currently teaches at The George Washington University and was a PEN/Faulkner writer in residence, a 2021 Macondista & a PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow. Ofelia can be found on Twitter @ofeliamv23 and on Instagram @ofe23.