On tacos de guisado

and finding pleasure in simple home cooking

Alex Heery
6 min readNov 11, 2021

“Tanto el más rico, cómo el más pobre, nos enchilamos con la misma salsa.” — quote from The Taco Chonicles (Netflix)

"Both the richest and the poorest get spiced from the same sauce."

I realized something the other day while stuffing my face at one of Mexico City's seemingly-infinite street food stands: the best thing to eat at any given moment is a taco.

Maybe you don't agree right now, but you will, eventually.

The first Mexican food I ate was a taco. Tex-Mex in its entirety, but nonetheless a taco that, unfortunately, would go on to shape my perception of Mexican food for the next two decades or so.

You know the one that comes in a box with no expiry date on the horizon and a seasoning packet that suggests the overall flavor profile of a country of 32 states and seven culinary regions is cumin.

Far removed from that taco is one that I think embodies Mexican home cooking better than any other — the taco de guisado.

Tacos de guisado are a labyrinth of gastronomic possibility. There are so many they're almost incomprehensible. They offer a glimpse of what's in season and what central Mexicans have been cooking at home for generations.

One story suggests that tacos de guisado came about back in the era of Moctezuma. When he was hungry, his servants would prepare up to 30 guisos cooked in clay cookware and kept warm with coals. After the arrival of the Spanish invaders, the traditional dishes were almost abolished.

What's likely to have brought the traditional guisos out of the forgotten and onto tortillas was the Mexican revolution in 1910, 400 years later. With long journeys on foot, insatiable hunger, and armed with little more than fire, tortillas, one ingredient, and a herb or two, revolutionaries put together tacos made of similar guisos once prepared for the emperor.

Some recounts also suggest that doña Felicitas Sánchez had a significant impact on the revival of the taco de cazuela, as it was called back then.

Doña Felicitas Sánchez and her son sold guisos cooked in cazuelas outside train stations during the early 1900s to support the family. The business continued to grow for generations, and the name tacos de cazuela was supposedly born around the second world war.

Pork with nopales (top) and chile relleno (bottom)

Fast forward another 100 years, and guisos of all kinds are omnipresent. As time went on and cookware modernized, guisos were no longer cooked in clay, so it was no longer valid to call them tacos de cazuela. Just as the dish evolved, so did the name, and now we call them tacos de guisado.

For the average busy person in Mexico City, tacos de guisado are a home-cooked meal when they don't have time for one. They're unpretentious, ubiquitous, and reliable. They bring people otherwise separated by routines and socioeconomic class together for a quick bite to eat that always hits the spot.

There's something special to be said about food that achieves that. Food that's so blatantly humble in its presentation, but (almost) never in its flavor. One that speaks volumes of home cooking and the flavors we prefer most of the time.

Not surprisingly, tacos de guisado are the least hyped of all tacos. They don't share the same limelight as tacos al pastor or suadero or carnitas, but they should. They're the only taco that comes with rice and the paradox of choice. There are often ten or more guisos (stews) to choose from, and they all look irresistible, even the vegetarian ones, of which there are always at least a couple. If you're up for it, you can even throw on some frijoles and call it an entire meal.

The word guiso relates to the verb guisar, meaning to cook or prepare. Many define a guiso as a "stew," but I'm not sure that's entirely accurate as most guisos are more reduced and saucy than your typical stew. Either way, we can say that a guiso consists of one or more ingredients cooked in a sauce with some kind of herb or chile.

The ingredient-sauce combinations are seemingly endless: Beef in a rich and almost raisin-like pasilla chile sauce; smoky and creamy rajas, made from charred poblano chiles and onions; and shredded beef or chicken in tinga sauce, with a sweet and smoky backbone from chipotle, are just a few of my favorites. If you're lucky, you'll even come across few-and-far-between tortitas de huazontle — cheese-filled patties made from an herbaceous and slightly bitter edible wild green, fried in an egg batter and drenched in a sauce made of dried chiles. Delicious, and an undeniable nod to prehispanic food.

These guisos eaten on tortillas are actually the same that would otherwise be an entire meal for lunch, or what they call comida corrida— the quick, affordable, and consistently delicious three-course lunch that fuels the working class of Mexico City. Tacos de guisado offer a smaller portion at a fraction of the cost.

Maybe it's the vegetarian options I'm drawn to. I'm a sucker for huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs) in guajillo sauce, chile relleno (stuffed poblano chile), and calabacitas (zucchini) in a cream sauce. A good chile relleno has me forgetting about meat altogether, and the fact that nearly all the ingredients of those dishes are endemic to Mexico seems to make them even better. Because isn't eating what's available locally the best way to eat?

Maybe what I'm obsessed with is the price-portion-quality ratio. I'm yet to find a better feed for 15 pesos max (75 cents USD).

A full-size guiso of chicken in pipián rojo (red pumpkin seed sauce). Sensational.

In a way, tacos de guisado have reminded me to simplify my cooking at home. Traditional guisos have their roots in simplicity, and it's often the kind of rustic, uncomplicated food that tastes the best. You know, soul food, or whatever you want to call it.

I'm normally one to overdeliver when cooking for friends, which often ends with me being stuck in the kitchen all night, not talking, and not letting anyone help me because it seems easier to work harder and faster than explain what I need help with.

Don't get me wrong, the food is delicious, most of the time, but is there much point if you're not enjoying your company as much as you want?

Simpler home cooking doesn't have to equate to bland food. Taste some simple Mexican classics like pollo al oregano (braised chicken w/ oregano) or mole amarillo de setas (yellow mole with mushrooms), and try to tell me they're boring.

Simpler cooking means coaxing more flavor from humble ingredients and fewer of them. It means appreciating vegetables more, all of them, not just the ones you're used to. It's getting to enjoy your friend's company and not working your ass off in the kitchen all afternoon and night trying to one-up yourself.

The idea of throwing whatever the fuck I want on a tortilla and calling it my taco de guisado was one that I'm glad I rolled with. You see, almost anything can make a delicious taco; that's the beauty of them. All your favorite flavors from memory can come together on top of a tortilla to make your very own taco de guisado.

Because nostalgia may just be the ingredient that unifies us all.



Alex Heery

Cook and food writer based in Mexico City. Thoughts on food, LATAM, and feelings. | IG: https://instagram.com/_alexheery