Main dish Tex-Mex

Pastoral tacos

Pastoral tacos | Homesick Texan

A friend was in town visiting from Mexico City last week, and we’d planned to get together and cook. Unfortunately, circumstances prevented us from hanging out, and so she said to me, “You need to come to Mexico!”

Indeed, I do.

My last trip to Mexico City was a couple of years ago, and while I ate myself silly all over town, my favorite meals were held at El Califa, a taqueria that was close to where I was staying. I had both my first and last meals at El Califa—along with a couple more in between—as their tacos are fresh and wonderful.

El Califa is a taqueria that specializes in tacos made with tender pieces of grilled steak or thin, juicy slices of al pastor pork. I love al pastor tacos but recreating them in my own kitchen has eluded me, primarily because they’re traditionally made with pork that’s been cooked on a vertical rotisserie, which is a tool I have not been able to recreate in my home.

Pastoral tacos | Homesick Texan

So imagine my pleasure when I saw El Califa’s al pastor tacos get a shout out in Joe Yonan’s new book, Serve Yourself. Now, if you don’t know Joe Yonan, you should. He’s the food editor of the Washington Post who’s won many James Beard awards. His writing is heartfelt and charming, and his recipes are always inviting. But perhaps more importantly, Joe is a homesick Texan who grew up in San Angelo and went to school at the University of Texas.

The book is called Serve Yourself because it’s intended to be a cooking-for-one cookbook. Joe’s philosophy is that even if you’re eating along, this doesn’t mean you have to eat soulless, sad meals from a microwave. Besides a host of recipes that have been scaled down to one or two servings, he offers tips on how to store leftovers, such as half an avocado or half a jalapeño. That said, his recipes could be easily upsized for more portions.

Besides the al pastor tacos, Serve Yourself also has recipes for cheese enchiladas covered in his proper Texan chili, which does not include either beans or tomatoes. Yonan also pays homage to the classic taco salad we all grew up eating (though it was known as bean salad in my house, and Texas salad in his), updating it with a bit of feta and a cilantro vinaigrette. His food, while obviously influenced by his Texas upbringing (he has a whole chapter on tacos), also shows a love of sweet potatoes, Asian flavors, fresh vegetables, pizza, bacon and cheese.

But what about those pork tacos? He calls them Pastoral Tacos, as they’re not technically al pastor tacos, but instead a hybrid of the grilled steaks and the marinated pork tacos he ate at El Califa. To make them, you take pounded pork cutlets and marinate them in a simple pineapple juice and vinegar solution that’s been made smoky and earthy with pimentón and ancho chile powder. While the pork marinates, he has you whip up a quick pineapple salsa, which when paired with the pork, makes for a combination that’s tangy, spicy and slightly sweet.

Pastoral tacos | Homesick Texan

When I made the tacos, they came together in little time, making for a quick, weeknight supper. Joe suggests serving the tacos as whole cutlets, but I preferred cutting them into strips. An added bonus to this method is that served with rice and beans, there was enough pork to feed two. And while they aren’t exactly the rotisserie meat offered at taquerias, these Pastoral Tacos are so moist and flavorful, I don’t think you’ll mind at all.

Pastoral tacos | Homesick Texan
5 from 2 votes

Pastoral tacos

Servings 2
Author Adapted by Lisa Fain from Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan


  • 3 2-ounce pork cutlets
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh pineapple juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon pimentón, smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho-chile powder or red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh pineapple chunks cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 medium jalapeño chile, seeds and stems removed, diced
  • Juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Corn tortillas


  1. Place each pork cutlet between two pieces of plastic and pound until they’re 1/8 of an inch thick. Place the cutlets in a plastic food-storage bag.

  2. Mix together the vinegar, pineapple juice, pimentón, ancho-chile powder, salt and black pepper. Pour the marinade over the pork, seal the bag and give it a good shake to coat the meat. Let it marinate for 10 minutes to 1 hour unrefrigerated.

  3. While the pork is marinating, for the salsa toss together the pineapple chunks, shallot, cilantro, diced jalapeño and lime juice. Add salt to taste.

  4. To cook the pork, heat up the oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Take the cutlets from the marinade, shake off any excess and add to the skillet. Cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned and cooked throughout. Turn off the heat, and allow the cutlets to rest for a minute. Add salt to taste.

  5. Warm up the corn tortillas. Place the pork—either left in a cutlet or cut into strips—in a tortilla, and top with the pineapple salsa.

  1. Mmm these look amazing! I'm definitely going to have to try them!

  2. We were just at El Califa the other day, and I can attest that those are some tasty tacos! Totally understand why you might be craving them. These "pastoral tacos" do look quite nice, though I imagine you don't get quite the same caramelized pork tastiness?

  3. Yum! I make a pork cutlet with similar flavors and it is always a hit, and my local taco place makes these kind of tacos. I adore them!

  4. Can't have pork but this looks great. I'm sure other red meat works fine as well

  5. There's a little restaurant in Southlake, Texas, called Taco Diner. This was my first exposure to the wonderful taste sensation known as "al pastor". We love their chicken dish Nachos de Pollo al Pastor (Black beans and queso blanco topped with pollo al pastor with pico and sour cream on the side). Of course their Chicken Nachos Nachos Mas Elegantes is hard to beat. Definitely worth a visit next time you are in the DFW area. Southlake Town Square is off 114 between Dallas and Fort Worth. Taco Diner is unlike any Mexican restaurant I've ever eaten it. And their cool white, lime green and pale violet interior is a welcome change from the, ahem, "ethnic" decor usually in Mexican restaurants.

  6. Yum! Living in the Pacific NW, we have an overabundance of fish tacos on restaurant menus so this is definitely a change of pace!

  7. Samba00

    Funny bit of trivia: Al Pastor was invented by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico who were trying to recreate schwarma.

  8. Thank you so much for this recipe! I've been searching for a while for a doable al pastor recipe. I'll be giving this a go with the excess pork I bought in bulk from Stew Leonard's.

    FYI, I used your recipes for fried pickles and spicy buttemilk dressing recently and they turned out phenomenonal. What a hit at my my Texan themed dinner! Thank you again.

  9. I LOVE tacos al pastor and I recently learned just how easy it is to make corn tortillas (no comparison to store bought!) so I am ALL OVER this one. Thanks for posting!

  10. Easy Peasey–They are indeed easy!

    Boots in the Oven–Isn't Califa wonderful? It's true, they're not quite the same but a good substitute when you have a craving.

    Kelly–You can never go wrong with pork and pineapple!

    Kulsum–It would be good with other red meat, or even white meat or tofu, I bet.

    Chen–Those nachos al pastor sound terrific! Next time I'm in the DFW area, I'll have to stop by!

    Jenn–Yep, they're definitely a change from fish!

    Samba00–How interesting!

    Heather Laurel–Aren't those fried pickles great? They're very addictive!

    CraftyCanadian–Homemade corn tortillas are indeed a snap to make, and always taste so much better!

    Susan–You're very welcome. Thank you for the kind words!

  11. These sound wonderful! On my shopping list/menu for weekend. Thanks for posting.

    Cheri-I live in Grapevine & pass the Taco Diner every day. You make me wanna stop in…bad. 🙂

  12. I love everything you do. I especially love the story behind each recipe! Thank you!


  13. I've spent many a time at the little taquerias in Tijuana and throughout Baja, eating these. Whenever I go to a taqueria now here in Txas, these are eacxtly what I look for as well. Thanks for posting this recipe so I can now make some at home!

  14. Am I reading that correctly: …pineapple chunks cut into 1/4" cubes? If I cut cubes 1/4", chances are part of one of my fingers will go in there too!

  15. Re: Pacific NA:
    Best tacos el pastor I've had in years were in a taco truck in Boring, Oregon back in February.

  16. Lisa-

    I'd love to try these with beef, since I don't eat pork.

    What changes would you suggest I make?



    PS. How was your trip to Galveston? Was the Fried Shrimp everything you'd been hankering for? I'm living in CA and I miss Fried Shrimp so much! I don't make it often because it is hard to find Gulf Shrimp out here. Most of the Shrimp is from Thailand, etc. and I just won't buy that.

  17. It that rotisserie the same thing that Mediterranean restaurants prepare the meat for gyros on?

    And why does it have to be a vertical rotisserie?

  18. One day we'll try the real thing together. And huitlacoche quesadillas on the street, and cochinita pibil tacos… and the infamous chile pasilla oaxaqueña. 🙂

  19. Mmmmm they remind me of Fuel City. But fancier of course 🙂

  20. Renee–Another vote for Taco Diner? I must stop!

    Cfootsoup–Good to know!

    Jamie–You're very welcome.

    Fredericka–That's how small I cut the pineapple, though Joe's original recipe calls for 1/2-inch dice.

    Urnotfromtx–I'd use skirt or flank steak with the marinade, and then cook them like tacos al carbon. And yes, the fried shrimp po-boy I had on the coast was the best thing I'd ever had!

    Janus–Yes, it's the same rotisserie. I think the advantage of it being vertical is the juices from the top flow down.

  21. This is now on my must make list!

  22. they look really good … i live in Kuwait so tacos are hard to come by not to mention al pastor … plus no pork for me ..

  23. Anonymous

    Made these last night and they are wonderful. Very springy fresh feel with lime and pineapple.

  24. Hey, you do know that the April 2011 issue of Texas Monthly has the headline, Cook Like A Texan, right?

    I got one this morning but haven't had a chance to read it yet.

  25. Are those shallots in the picture? I didn't see shallots (or onions or garlic) in the ingredients, but when I make a similar salsa but I always add about 1/8 of a large onion, a clove of garlic, and a small Roma tomato. I do the whole thing in the food processor (adding the pineapple after everything else is chopped), and I can have the whole salsa done in under a minute.

  26. Lesley–And I'm looking forward to that day!

    Nicole–Yes, they are very much like that!

  27. Maris–Hope you enjoy them!

  28. Randy–Since you don't have access to pork, you could substitute beef or chicken.

  29. Anon–Hurrah! I'm so pleased that you enjoyed them!

    Little Black Car–It's a terrific issue! I just want to cook everything!

  30. Ahecht–Thank you! Yes, that is a shallot and I completely forgot to add it to the recipe. That has now been corrected.

  31. Anonymous

    I can't wait to try this. I went to high school with Joe Yonan. I believe he was the most talented and nice guy in school. Glad to see he has done well. Kudos Joe!

  32. Tacos al pastor are one of my favorites, especially after the ones we had in Mexico while on our honeymoon. In the States, Guero's here in Austin has some pretty goods ones, too.

  33. Anon–What a nice thing to say!

    Melanie–I don't think I've ever had Guero's, but will get them next time I'm in Austin.

  34. Jennifer

    I had to make these AND the puffy tacos last night. I think it has been the sub 50-degree temperature still here in Seattle that has been making me crave all things Texas! You do need to try Guero's in Austin….some would call it an institution as well.

  35. Hi! I'm from mexico and I just saw your post and to be the perfect mexican tacos al pastor, you need a red sauce, but they look good (not as greasy as they do them here in Mexico, though they are delicious)

    try them with the sauce!! 😀

  36. don't do pork but they sure look good. the tortiallas looks super fresh. I think the last time I was on here, you were featuring tacos, too!! hmmm 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating