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It doesn’t get any more authentic than this, friends. A traditional tacos al pastor recipe made easy, vegan, and absolutely delicious.
Picture meat-free tacos flavored with spicy guajillo chiles, achiote paste, and fresh pineapple. You won’t believe your eyes until you try one!
Table of Contents
We made a classic Mexican street taco recipe plant-based because we think everyone should be able to enjoy this mind-blowing flavor combo!
Dried chile peppers, Mexican spices, and ripe pineapple shine through in a marinade that is not short on taste.
What are tacos al pastor?
Tacos al pastor translates to something like “tacos in the style of the shepherd” or “shepherd-style tacos.”
In the non-vegan version, pork is spit-roasted and marinated with guajillo chiles and achiote, then served on warm corn tortillas. But, who needs meat when you can easily replace it?!
The marinade absorbs super well into textured vegetable protein (or TVP), and it ends up tasting incredibly sweet, spicy, and tangy (drool).
These taco masterpieces aren’t all that old. They originated around the 1930s with the arrival of Lebanese people. In Puebla Mexico, these immigrants introduced the idea of shawarma (spit-roasted lamb served on pita).
Originally, they were known as tacos árabes.
Over the years, this method of cooking meat on an upright grill has evolved into modern-day tacos al pastor, which are now synonymous with Mexican cuisine.
What differentiates this version from traditional shawarma?
It’s all about the marinade and the type of meat used. Lamb was replaced with pork (which we’ve now replaced with TVP), and a mix of spicy red chiles became the go-to seasoning. The addition of pineapple was also added in later on.
For the absolute best taste, homemade corn tortillas are a must! Trust us, they make a world of difference.
Finish off your Mexican street tacos with diced onion, fresh pineapple, and cilantro to tie it all together.
If you’re feeling extra fancy, serve a little salsa roja or salsa verde on the side (you won’t regret it). Some people even enjoy sprinkling vegan queso fresco on top!
We also recommend serving your tacos with a refreshing glass of agua de Jamaica to help tame the spice!
Alright, now you know where tacos al pastor come from, how they taste, and what to top them with.
Next comes the fun part — eating!
🍲 Key ingredients
For a complete ingredient list and step-by-step guide, scroll down to our recipe card.
Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
Taste: also known as textured soy protein, TVP is derived from soy flour. It has a mild bean flavor but takes on the flavor of marinades extremely well! You can see why it’s perfect in this vegan taco recipe.
Health: TVP is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids. It’s a great meat replacement for vegetarians and vegans alike. In a 1/4 cup (dry), there are 12 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and 15% of your daily iron needs.
Where to buy: you can find TVP in the bulk section of most health food stores. It’s also available to buy online if you can’t find any in person.
Taste: achiote goes by many names like annatto, roucou, achuete, or urucul. It’s made from red seeds of the annatto tree and has an earthy, peppery flavor with a subtle bitterness. Achiote paste is often combined with other spices, which can further change the flavor. In this recipe, achiote creates a beautiful red hue and provides the classic tacos al pastor flavor.
Health: a single teaspoon of achiote contains 3% of your daily iron needs. There are even studies being conducted on antioxidant properties of achiote (which are showing promise).
Where to buy: you can find achiote either in the Latin section of larger supermarkets or online. We usually opt for the paste since it’s readily available in our area, but it’s also available in powdered form.
Taste: as the dried form of mirasol chiles, guajillo chiles provide a sweet and slightly jammy flavor to recipes. They appear reddish-brown in color and are about 3-4 inches long. These peppers come in at 2500-5000 Scoville Heat Units, which means mild to moderately hot.
Fun fact: there are over 150 varieties of chile peppers available in Mexico. Don’t go thinking they’re only for adding spice to dishes. These peppers create very unique and complex flavors. And to make things even more interesting, there are tons of different ways to dry and prepare the same pepper!
Taste: ripe pineapple has a very sweet, tropical flavor (kind of like a mix between apples and citrus fruit). Pineapple is a traditional ingredient used in this marinade, so it can’t be skipped. The sweetness balances out the spicy chiles and makes these tacos irresistible!
Health: pineapple contains many antioxidants, which are necessary to keep our bodies healthy. In addition, pineapple contains a special group of digestive enzymes called bromelain. These enzymes help break down amino acids, making them easier to digest!
If you have questions about this vegan taco recipe, don’t forget to check out our FAQ section at the bottom of this post.
Step 1: remove the stems and de-seed your guajillo and chipotle chiles. Toast those bad boys in a skillet over medium-low for a few minutes. Make sure to turn them frequently to prevent burning (never a fun thing).
Step 2: cover the toasted chiles with water and bring to a low boil. Once the water is boiling, lower the heat to simmer until the peppers are soft.
Step 3: add the softened chiles to a blender with the pineapple juice, vinegar, water, garlic, onion, cumin, Mexican oregano, cloves, achiote paste, and salt. Blend on high until nice and smooth.
Step 4: preheat 1-2 tbsp of neutral oil in a large skillet over medium. Add in the TVP. Pour in half of the marinade and mix until incorporated. Stir in the rest of the marinade and continue cooking until it is absorbed and the TVP appears slightly matte.
Step 5: serve your cooked TVP immediately on homemade corn tortillas with diced white onion, fresh pineapple chunks, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, and some salsa. Enjoy!
These storage instructions are mainly for the TVP taco filling. We’ll assume you know how to store the fresh garnishes.
Once cooked, the TVP can be kept in an airtight container in your fridge for up to 3-4 days.
You can eat tacos al pastor cold the next day or heat the TVP up in a skillet over low-medium. Feel free to use the microwave in 10-15 second bursts, or until the TVP is fully heated.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but don’t store the corn tortillas with toppings on them. Refer to our corn tortilla post for their storage instructions.
💭 Pro tips
Time to share our tips and tricks we learned while perfecting this tacos al pastor recipe:
- Always make corn tortillas from scratch. We promise they’re super easy!
- Make your own pineapple juice in a blender rather than buying it in the store.
- If you want to get more creative with toppings, try grilling your pineapple.
- Try serving these with your favorite salsa (like salsa roja).
🍴 Tasting notes
We could eat these Mexican street tacos morning, noon, and night (and we do). They’re:
If you try this vegan taco recipe, please rate it and leave us a comment below! Want to stay up-to-date with new recipes? Subscribe to our newsletter or connect with Broke Bank Vegan on social media. Happy eating!
Tacos Al Pastor Recipe
- Mixing bowl
- Large skillet
- Container or freezer bags
- Chef knife
- 3 dried guajillo chiles ($0.12)
- 2 dried morita chiles ($0.08)
- 1 ½ cups pineapple juice ($0.57)
- ½ cup white vinegar ($0.08)
- ¼ cup water ($0.00)
- 4 cloves garlic ($0.16)
- ½ medium white onion, chopped ($0.09)
- 1 tsp cumin ($0.01)
- 1 ½ tsp Mexican oregano ($0.05)
- ⅛ tsp cloves ($0.01)
- 2 oz achiote paste ($0.56)
- 1 ½ tsp salt ($0.02)
- 1-2 tbsp neutral oil ($0.11)
- 3 cups dry TVP ($0.54)
- 18 fresh corn tortillas ($0.36)
- ½ medium white onion, finely diced ($0.09)
- ¼ fresh pineapple, cubed ($0.57)
- 1 cup chopped cilantro ($0.24)
- Lime wedges optional
- Salsa of choice optional
- To start your marinade, remove the stem and seeds from the chiles. Toast them in a skillet over medium-low for 2-3 minutes. Make sure to turn your chiles frequently to prevent burning.
- Next, cover them with water and bring to a low boil. Once the water is boiling, lower the heat to simmer for about 12-15 minutes, or until the peppers are softened.
- Once the chiles are ready, add them to a blender with the pineapple juice, vinegar, water, garlic, onion, cumin, Mexican oregano, cloves, achiote paste, and salt. Blend until smooth, then set aside.
- Heat 1-2 tbsp of neutral oil in a large skillet over medium. Add in the TVP along with ½ of the marinade. Stir to combine and cook down for 1-2 minutes. Add in the rest of the marinade and continue cooking until it's absorbed and the TVP appears slightly matte.
- Note: add in more water a small amount at a time if you feel the TVP needs more moisture.
- Serve immediately on homemade corn tortillas with diced white onion, fresh pineapple chunks, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, and some salsa!
- If you have the time, you can let your TVP sit in the marinade overnight before cooking it down.
- If you aren’t able to find achiote paste or powder, use paprika as a substitute.
- Making your own pineapple juice tastes best! We usually blend up fresh pineapple chunks to use in our marinade.
- We don’t find it necessary to drain the pineapple juice from the pulp. That’s where all the fiber is, plus it’s more cost-effective!
- If you can’t find Mexican oregano, the closest sub is marjoram.
- Optional ingredients are not reflected in the price or calories of our recipes.
- We calculate nutritional information for our recipes with Cronometer.
- Recipe cost calculations are based on ingredients local to us and may vary from recipe-to-recipe.
- All prices are in USD.
♻️ Similar recipes
If you love Mexican food, check out our:
- Crispy black bean tacos for a simple recipe that pairs perfectly with avocado cream sauce.
- Quesabirria tacos for an unbelievable taco mess that’s worth making!
- Sweet potato and black bean quesadillas for an easy recipe that’s totally customizable.
- Jackfruit carnitas for a meat-free version of this classic Mexican dish that will challenge what you thought you knew about vegan meat!
If you can’t find TVP, use soy curls for the best substitute in this tacos al pastor recipe.
If you can’t find dried chiles, you can use ancho chile powder as a good replacement. It will emulate guajillo chile flavor the best.
The complex flavor in this recipe is due in large part to the achiote paste, so it shouldn’t be missed. If you absolutely can’t find it, substitute with paprika for a similar flavor and color.
TVP and soy curls are not the same thing. They are processed differently, but both can work in this vegan taco recipe.
We don’t recommend using tofu as a replacement for TVP if you have access to both. The texture will be too soft. But if you can’t find TVP, pressed tofu still makes a good taco filler.
These were the best tacos I’ve ever made! I can’t wait to make them again!
We’re so happy you loved them! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!
I wish you’d come up with a recipe that doesn’t use TVP, a highly-processed “food”
Thanks for the feedback! We are working on an al pastor recipe without TVP in the future, so stay tuned! Until then, you can make the marinade for other meat alternatives like jackfruit, tofu, tempeh, mushrooms, or nuts. Hope that helps!
How much guajillo chile paste should I use as a substitute for the whole chiles.
We would say approximately 3 tablespoons, but it all depends on the strength of your chile paste. Start with 3 and adjust up from there. Let us know how it turns out!