Tacos aren’t something Mom makes on Wednesday night with the help of the Old El Paso Express Kit. They don’t come covered in pre-shredded four-cheese blends and they don’t crunch when you bite down. The taco is a union of warm crushed corn, savory filling, and spice-charged condiment. They are soft and drippy and four-bites big, a love letter waiting for you on every street corner in Mexico. Few fillings escape the tortilla’s grasp: rosy char-grilled chunks of carne asada, crispy curls of fried pork skin, spicy tangles of roasted peppers and cooked cream, squishy mounds of slow-simmered eyeballs. But no tortilla has ever known a better friend than the spit-carved, chile-rubbed pork at the heart of the al pastor taco, perhaps Mexico’s most heroic hand-held food.

The al pastor taco is Mexico’s take on the spinning-meat traditions of the Middle East, brought over by Lebanese immigrants who fused their penchant for vertical meat cookery with Mexico’s generous pantry of spices and condiments. All throughout Mexico City you’ll find late-night taquerias outfitted with giant spits of stratified pork turning slowly around an open flame. Most wear a pineapple crown, the warm fruit juices dripping down to commingle with the rendered pork fat—a glorious union of smoke and spice and sweet.

A talented taquero can construct a perfect taco in a single sweeping movement, using his right hand to shower thin slices of the pork onto the griddle-warmed tortilla he cradles in his left. It’s an economy of motion used to bang out hundreds of tacos a night to crowds of taxi drivers and cops and pulque-soaked revelers. Each taco is then anointed with a slice of pineapple and a sprinkling of raw onions and cilantro, and served with a battery of different salsas and a few wedges of lime—that DIY element that makes Mexican cuisine so damn sexy.

Recipe: Tacos al Pastor

While no al pastor taco can be a true al pastor taco without a trompo, the vertical spit upon which the layers of chile-slathered pork are suspended, I’ve been refining this home-friendly recipe for years and think it makes something that nearly captures the beauty of the real thing.

You’ll Need:

1 lb pork loin, sliced into 1/2 –inch rounds
2 tbsp white vinegar
½ tbsp orange juice
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
2 tbsp chipotle pepper in abodo
½ tbsp guajillo pepper powder
Pinch cinnamon
Salt and pepper
1 avocado, peeled and pitted
1 cup prepared salsa verde
2 thick slices pineapple
1 handful cilantro chopped
8 corn tortillas
Lime wedges

In a food processor or blender, combine the vinegar, orange juice, onion, garlic, chipotle pepper, guajillo, and cinnamon and pulse until you have a uniform puree. Season the slices of pork all over with salt and pepper, then combine with the marinade in a sealable plastic bag. Refrigerate for at least one hour (and up to four) before cooking.

In a small mixing bowl, mash the avocado into a smoothish puree, then stir in the salsa verde to form a thick sauce. Reserve.

Preheat a grill or grill pan over high heat. Remove the pork pieces from the marinade and cook for 2-3 minutes a side, until browned on the outside and firm to the touch. While the pork cooks, grill the slices of pineapple until light grill marks develop on the flesh, about 2-3 minutes per side.

Warm the tortillas (on the grill, on a cast-iron skillet, or in a clean, damp towel in the microwave), then fill each with pork and pineapple and top with salsa and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges on the side. Makes 4 servings.