Taco Town

The Dozen Essential Taco Terms You Need to Know So You Don't Look Like a Gringo

Consider this your taqueria dictionary.

By Katharine Shilcutt March 28, 2018 Published in the April 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Trompo jeccwp

Trompo, in all its glory.

Image: Alice Levitt

Knowing when to say para aquí and para llevar can mean the difference between getting a handy foil lid for your plate of tacos and accidentally slopping them all over your car’s front seat while you schlep them home. Here, our by-no-means-comprehensive guide to getting by when ordering:

  • Aguas frescas: The tropical-hued drinks often sold out of large glass jars, sweetened with fruits (cantaloupe, guava, mango, melon, tamarind) or other natural flavorings (hibiscus flowers, cinnamon) and a ton of sugar, sold in giant Stryofoam cups when you’re really lucky.
  • Barbacoa: Not barbecue; braised beef, goat or lamb, typically from the head and/or cheeks, that’s often far better than barbecue.
  • Cilantro y cebolla: The good stuff that you definitely want on top of those tacos. Say yes when they ask if you want it, onion breath be damned.
  • Harina, tortillas de: Flour tortillas, which aren’t necessarily the superior tortilla option here and, in fact, are usually best on breakfast tacos and fajitas.
  • Hola / gracias / por favor: The politeness trifecta; your mother would be proud.
  • Lengua: The best and tastiest beef that you’re missing out on by being weirded out that it’s well-griddled and perfectly seasoned cow’s tongue. 
  • Maíz, tortillas de: Corn tortillas, which are almost always way better from taco trucks than anywhere else on the face of the earth; opt for these.
  • Mollejas: Sweetbreads, i.e., the most tender bits of beef, which melt in your mouth so deliciously, you momentarily forget they’re pancreas and thymus glands.
  • Nopales: Cactus paddles cut into strips and sautéed, often with onions and often the only vegetarian option—though quite tempting in their own right.
  • Para aquí: For here.
  • Para llevar: To go.
  • Trompo: A style of cooking in which seasoned pork is cooked on a vertically spinning skewer, then shaved to order into a tortilla (similar to shawarma and gyros). See also: al pastor. 
Show Comments