Tacos Árabes is one of the most well-known dishes to come out of Puebla, Mexico. These pork tacos are a blending of two cultures—Iraqi and Mexican—and the result is a flavorful taco infused with the flavors of shawarma.
What are Tacos Árabes?
As many of the best dishes in the world, Tacos Árabes are the offspring of a delicious fusion of cultures. We learned in Rick Martinez book, Mi Cocina, that the Tabe and Galeana familes are credited with creating this dish. In the 1920s they emigrated to Puebla, Mexico and with them came their expertise for making shawarma.
The technique of roasting layers of meat and spices on a spinning vertical spit is what makes shawarma, well, shawarma. In Iraq they often used Lamb, but in Mexico they found pork to be much more readily available. In addition to changing the protein they cooked with, they also had to change the herbs and spices used.
The resulting dish tastes a lot like shawarma but served in a Mexican-style yeasted flatbread meant to resemble something between pita bread and flour tortillas.
Why This Recipe Works
For starters, most home cooks don’t have a vertical spit set up in their backyard (our test kitchen sure doesn’t). So we needed to find a way to improvise. Our testing leaned heavily on a recipe from the book Mi Cocina by Rick Martinez.
His method marinates thin pork shoulder steaks in a citrusy onion mixture and relies on the ‘ol trusty cast-iron skillet to achieve a lovely char. Once cooked, and rested, the pork is then thinly sliced to resemble shaved shawarma meat.
To emulate a pillowy and chewy yeasted bread, we layered two flour tortillas together before layering the juicy pork.
And finally, we found a few simple toppings—smoky salsa, Greek yogurt, raw onion and cucumber— was all these tacos needed to be a homerun.
Test Kitchen Tips
- To cut down on prep time, make the salsa ahead of time and store it in a glass container in the refrigerator. Stored this way, the salsa will last up to 1 week.
- For more flavor and freshness, add some chopped fresh parsley or cilantro to the meat mixture right before serving.
In order for the pork to cook through before smoking out your kitchen, you’ll want to use fairly thin boneless pork shoulder steaks. Look for 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch thick steaks. If they’re thicker, we recommend pounding them out a bit.
If you can, try to use Mexican oregano. If not, marjoram or regular oregano can be used.
Canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce dried jalapeños that have been smoked and then rehydrated in a tangy and spicy tomato sauce. For this recipe you will need both the chipotle peppers and the adobo sauce it’s packed in. Look for chipotle peppers in the Mexican section of the grocery store or at any Mexican market.
Other Taco Recipes to Try
We are obsessed with our Chicken Barbacoa recipe. The tender shredded chicken is perfect stuffed into a tortilla with all the fixin’s.
If you love a fun taco recipe, then you’ve gotta make Tacos Gobernador. They’re crispy shrimp tacos with a delicious tomato-y tang.
Keeping with the theme of hybridizing dishes, check out our Harissa Lamb Tacos. They’re spicy, bold and totally savory.
- 3 limes
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano, dried marjoram or regular dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- Morton kosher salt and black pepper
- 2 boneless pork shoulder steaks, 1/2-inch thick (12–16 ounces each)
- ½ large white onion, thinly sliced
- 6 scallions, cut into 3-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil
Chipotle Tomato Salsa
- 4 roma tomatoes
- ½ large white onion
- 2 large cloves garlic, peel intact
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 3 chipotle peppers in adobo + 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
- 1 ½ teaspoons honey
- ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- Thinly sliced English cucumber or mini cucumbers
- Mined white onion
- Lime wedges
- 16 Frescados taco flour tortillas
- Zest 2 limes and juice all 3 limes. In a large bowl, stir together ⅓ cup lime juice, 2 teaspoons lime zest, garlic, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, coriander, cumin, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Toss the pork and onion in the lime marinade until completely coated. Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours. (This is a good time to make the salsa.)
- Heat a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, over high heat for about 2 minutes, or until very hot. Cook the scallions in the dry pan until charred on both sides, 3–5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in hot skillet over high heat, add half of pork, and cook until pork is charred bottom side, about 3 minutes. Flip pork, add half of onion mixture and half of marinade, and continue cooking until browned on second side, about 3 minutes. Transfer cooked pork and onion to a large plate and repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, pork, and onion mixture. Let cooked pork rest 10 minutes.
Chipotle Tomato Salsa
- Preheat broiler with rack set in upper-middle position. Arrange tomatoes, onion and garlic on a baking sheet; broil until charred all over, 10-15 minutes. (*remove garlic cloves if they start to burn at all.)
- Transfer charred vegetables, cilantro, chipotle, adodo, honey, coriander seeds, oregano and ½ teaspoon salt to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse until minced, about 15 (1-second) pulses.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Just before serving, chop scallions and very thinly slice pork. Toss scallions, pork and cooked onion mixture together. Serve pork mixture in double-layer flour tortillas with chipotle salsa, cucumber, onion, and lime wedges for squeezing.