Your Go-To Taco Guide: Recipes for Tacos, Tortillas, Salsas, and More
Here's how to build the perfect taco, from base to toppings.
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“When it’s done properly, taco should be a verb,” declared Jonathan Gold, the late restaurant critic of the Los Angeles Times. Tacos are much more than a meal; they’re an action.
The beauty of tacos is that they’re simultaneously simple and complicated. They can be filled a little or a lot. They can be crunchy or soft. They can be folded or merely held. They’re customizable–add this, remove that. They fit right in at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They are never not messy, and they are always, always delicious.
So, top, fold, and start living like every day is Taco Tuesday with this guide.
How To Involve Kids in Creating the Ultimate Taco
Sometimes the best way to get kids to try things is to… back off. Taco night is a perfect way to offer lots of choices and let them experiment. The key is to keep it fun and pressure-free. Have a “most creative taco” contest and make your kid the judge. Place hard shells and soft corn and flour tortillas on the table, a protein or two, plus bowls of toppings and see what happens. Try these:
- Shredded iceberg or romaine lettuce
- Cheddar, jack, or Cotija cheese
- Mild salsa and/or chopped tomatoes
- Sliced radishes
- Chopped bell peppers
- Chopped white onion or scallions
- Mayo-based slaw
- Sour cream
- Avocado slices and/or guacamole
- Sliced ripe olives
- Lime wedges
- Chopped cilantro
- Assorted beans
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Top Taco Destinations
There are times when you just want to go out and order tacos. A few of our top picks from around the country.
Inside this tiny, neon-lit spot at Pike Place Market, chef-owner Aldo Góngora alkalizes dried non-GMO heirloom corn (a process called nixtamalization) in order to make his own masa. Taste the ultimate tortilla topped with any of the guisados (stews).
At José, executive chef Anastacia Quinoñes-Pittman highlights the food and culture of Guadalajara and Jalisco. Order whatever she has on special. If you’re lucky, it’ll be cilantro-lime shrimp served on a tortilla made of carrot-infused masa.
3. Taco Maria
Costa Mesa, California
Taco María is known far and wide for chef-owner Carlos Salgado’s blend of Mexican and Californian ingredients. Order the shiitake mushroom “chorizo” taco with queso fundido on a tortilla made with blue corn that Salgado nixtamalizes himself.Section divider
Create Your Own DIY Taco Seasoning
Stir together a few shakes of ground cumin, ground coriander, chili powder, dried oregano, and a bit of salt and pepper. Add a dash of cayenne if you like heat. Then stir into your protein of choice for taco time.
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Go Beyond the Basics: Taco variations
Liven up dinner with these options.
- Shrimp or lobster: Top delicately flavored shellfish with a mango- or pineapple-based salsa or slaw.
- Salmon: Dollop on some creamy adobo slaw for a perfect pairing.
- Tinned sardines, packed in olive oil or tomato sauce: Garnish with a crunchy cabbage slaw.
- Tofu or tempeh: Scramble extra-firm tofu or tempeh with onions, plenty of chili (or ancho) powder, smoked paprika, cumin, and garlic.
- Steak (beef or bison): Marinate a cut like flank in lime juice and olive oil, then toss on the grill.
- Pork or goat shoulder: Use this cut instead of lamb for birria tacos.
- Ground turkey or bison: Season with chili powder, cumin, and garlic. Sauté until cooked through.
- Tongue: A favorite in Mexico, tongue (lengua) is rich in iron and zinc. Slow cook it, or order “tacos de lengua” at your favorite Mexican restaurant.
Try These Taco Recipes
Making your own tortillas takes practice–but once you get the hang of the motions, you’ll never go back to store-bought. Get the recipe here.
Birria-Inspired Braised Lamb Tacos
Birria tacos are made from meat braised in a chile-flecked broth that’s later served as a dipping sauce. A combination of dried chiles and spices is key to its layered flavor. Get the recipe here.
Cauliflower-Jalapeño Tacos with Pepita Salsa
A pesto-like salsa of cilantro and pumpkin seeds brightens roasted cauliflower and jalapeños in these satisfying vegan tacos. Get the recipe here.
Spicy Chipotle Chicken Tacos
Oven-braised chicken thighs turn luscious in a super flavorful combination of chipotle chiles, garlic and orange juice. Get the recipe here.
Chile-Lime Fish Tacos
Fish tacos don’t have to be deep fried. Here, flaky baked cod stands in for its crispy counterpart. You can sub in any mild, firm-fleshed fish. Get the recipe here.Section divider
Salsa and Slaw Recipes
Cucumber Salsa with Corn and Tomatoes
This trio of cucumbers, corn, and tomatoes adds a fresh snap of color. Get the recipe here.
Creamy Adobo Slaw
When it comes to tacos, the crunch of cabbage is king. Here, earthy, smoky adobo sauce gives coleslaw a south-of-the-border kick. Get the recipe here.
This tropical slaw would also pair with grilled protein at a summer barbecue. Get the recipe here.
Pineapple-Red Pepper Salsa
Fruits like pineapple, mango, and even nectarine pair beautifully with fish, shrimp, and pork. Get the recipe here.
Chunky Avocado Salsa
Not quite guacamole, not quite salsa, this condiment can top tacos or be scooped up with chips. Get the recipe here.