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What Is Al Pastor and Where To Get It in OKC

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#PigOutOKC is brought to you by the Oklahoma Pork Council. Twice a month we’ll be delving into restaurants and recipes that bring home the bacon (among other delicious cuts of pork). Experiencing your own pork-fueled adventure? Use the hashtag #PigOutOKC to let the rest of us in on the fun.

When you start eating at taquerias, you’ll note a certain directness about the ingredients. Cabeza tacos are made with the head of the cow. Buche is stomach. Carne asada is literally “grilled meat.”

So you’d be forgiven for thinking that al pastor tacos, aka “shepherd-style,” are made with mutton. They aren't, but I forgive you. Go now and sin no more. Or maybe just a little. Whatever you're comfortable with.

As this is sponsored by the Oklahoma Pork Council, you’ve likely deduced that al pastor is made with pork, but it’s done in that shepherd style brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants. The cooking method is similar to shawarma, doner kebab and gyros, though the flavors are quite different.

Pork is marinated and stacked in layers with seasonings on a vertical spit, then cooked while slowly rotating. The inverted cone shape (called a trompo, or “spinning top”) sends fat trickling down, basting the meat and blooming the spices for a big burst of flavor. The meat is then shaved off the cone, exposing interior meat to the heat and starting the process again.

Every restaurant is different, so you can expect a lot of variations on what your al pastor will be like, but my preference is for the pork to still be juicy and have noticeable spicing. Too little spices can lead to lackluster flavor and cooking too hot or too long will leave the meat dry and tough.

Al pastor tacos from Taconazo

Taconazo

944 SW 29th St., OKC

(405) 604-3181

Fairly new on the scene, this taqueria serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with some of my favorite al pastor in the city. English is a second language here, but as long as you’re polite and patient, you won’t have any problems. Patience is a virtue that pays off when you taste this al pastor, which has a bright red burst of spice and a lovely tenderness that makes these far too easy to eat. Tacos are small-ish, but packed with meat. I love the burritos, but they definitely don’t have that same spicy pop you get from the minimally dressed tacos.

Al pastor taco from Carnitas Michoacan

Carnitas Michoacan

306 W. Edmond Road, Edmond

(405) 341-0356

If you’re looking for great breakfast burritos in Edmond, the pickings are pretty slim. Thank the taco gods for Carnitas Michoacan, nestled right next door to C’est Si Bon, in Edmond. The meat is tender and moist with spicing on the lower end of the spectrum. I like to supplement with some of Michoacan’s delicious homemade red sauce, but it’s great with just diced onion and cilantro, too. Taco size is pretty decent, too, so don’t feel like you have to buy 17 just to be satisfied. But if you do, please invite me along.

Al pastor tacos from Taco Loco

Taco Loco

2117 NW 39th St., OKC

(405) 595-1582

Taco trucks truly embody my own personal American dream: fleets of restaurants pulling over and feeding me whenever I want. And at the front of the procession, you’ll find Taco Loco. Parked in the Angles dance club parking lot, Taco Loco has a winning menu of your regular ol’ tacos, burritos and tortas, and then a ridiculously large SUPER BURRITO ($8, large enough to commit a crime with). The al pastor is well regarded here. I like the flavor, but it’s on the drier end of what I prefer.

Al pastor taco from Taqueria Rafitas

Taqueria Rafitas

1222 N. Pennsylvania Ave., OKC

(405) 604-5040

I love Taqueria Rafitas. Finding something I don’t like would take work. But the al pastor is at the head of the pack. Whether you’re getting it in a taco, burrito or just smeared on your face like an animal, this pork is THE STUFF. The meat is crazy tender and juicy, with a tart twist of pineapple and a huge hit of spice. Also, these tacos are pretty big, so probably two are enough.

Al pastor taco at Taqueria La Original

Taqueria La Original

1143 N. Rockwell Ave., OKC

(405) 603-3800

Always. Ask. What’s. Best.

People who work at a restaurant know the best stuff at the restaurant. We’ve been over this. But it’s even more clear when you get al pastor tacos at Taqueria La Original. I asked, “What’s good?” and he said, “You should get the al pastor.”

So we did. And he was right. The spice was on point, dying the pork a bright red hue and imbuing each piece with tons of flavor. It’s so tender it offered to share its teddy bear with me if I had nightmares. Just...wow. So good.

Taqueria Los Desvelados

1516 SW 29th St., OKC

(405) 616-2115

Man, the al pastor game in this town is strong. Like...grandpa who enjoys woodworking strong. Taqueria Los Desvelados is another one of those “No duh” choices when it comes to great tacos, but this al pastor was beyond even that. Here’s what I wrote in The New OKC Taco Tour Part 2:

“The al pastor was so tender it must have been illegal. Each bite was like eating a Boyz II Men slowjam.”

C’mon. You want that in your mouth.

The Oklahoma Pork Council represents the interests all of pork producers throughout the state, promoting pork and pork products, funding research and educating consumers and producers about the pork industry. Learn more about the OPC, find recipes and more at OKPork.org.

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About the Author

Founder and Eater-in-Chief of I Ate Oklahoma, Greg Elwell has been reviewing restaurants and writing about Oklahoma’s food culture for more than a decade. Where a normal person orders one meal, this guy gets three. He is almost certainly going to die young and those who love him most are fairly ambivalent about it. You can email Greg at greg@iateoklahoma.com.

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