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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

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.

1. Maiz

Seattle, Washington

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). maizseattle.com

2. José

Dallas, Texas

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. jose.mx

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. tacomaria.com

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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.

Seafood

  • 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.

Vegetarian

  • Tofu or tempeh: Scramble extra-firm tofu or tempeh with onions, plenty of chili (or ancho) powder, smoked paprika, cumin and garlic.

Meat

  • 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.
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Try these taco recipes

Corn tortillas

Corn Tortillas Recipe
(Photo: Roberto Caruso)

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-Inspired Braised Lamb Tacos
(Photo: Roberto Caruso)

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

Cauliflower-Jalapeño Tacos with Pepita Salsa
(Photo: Roberto Caruso)

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

Spicy Chipotle Chicken Tacos
(Photo: Roberto Caruso)

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

Chile-Lime Fish Tacos
(Photo: Roberto Caruso)

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.

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Salsa and slaw recipes

Cucumber Salsa with Corn and Tomatoes

Cucumber Salsa with Corn and Tomatoes
(Photo: Roberto Caruso)

This trio of cucumbers, corn and tomatoes adds a fresh snap of color. Get the recipe here.

Creamy Adobo Slaw

Creamy Adobo Slaw
(Photo: Roberto Caruso)

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.

Mango-Jicama Slaw

Mango-Jicama Slaw
(Photo: Roberto Caruso)

This tropical slaw would also pair with grilled protein at a summer barbecue. Get the recipe here.

Pineapple-Red Pepper Salsa

Pineapple-Red Pepper Salsa
(Photo: Roberto Caruso)

Fruits like pineapple, mango and even nectarine pair beautifully with fish, shrimp and pork. Get the recipe here.

Chunky Avocado Salsa

Chunky Avocado Salsa
(Photo: Roberto Caruso)

Not quite guacamole, not quite salsa, this condiment can top tacos or be scooped up with chips. Get the recipe here.