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Tacos versus fajitas - is there really any difference?

There's a current thread about what kind of beef to use for fajitas. We never use that term, rather soft tacos. But it seems the fillings are all the same. In restaurants I see the fajitas comes out on a sizzling platter but the sides are the usual ones. Is there a true difference or is it just semantics?

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  1. For me, tacos are served in corn tortillas, fajitas in (slightly larger) flour tortillas. Also, fajitas are served with grilled bell peppers and onions.

    As for toppings, I suppose guacamole, cheese, and sour cream (among tons of other items) can be used for either.

    1. With fajitas I expect a DIY aspect - you get the ingredients and assemble yourself, whereas with tacos they come pre-assembled. I also expect flour tortillas with fajitas and corn with tacos (depending on the restaurant).

      Other than that, I suppose you COULD find the same ingredients in both, but I usually don't. Fajitas are almost always grilled meat with grilled onion and peppers, all tossed with some type of seasoning, and the accoutrements are always lettuce, cheese, tomato, beans and rice. Tacos can be just about anything - sometimes braised meat, sometimes breaded/deep-fried meat, sometimes slices from the pastor, etc. - and the toppings range from standard lettuce/tomato/cheese to various types of slaw, salsas, avocado, etc.

      1 Reply
      1. re: biondanonima

        Thanks. I should have noted that my comparison is with all meats being grilled.

      2. I agree with Philly Ray. Tacos crisp or soft = corn tortillas. Flour for fajitas.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Candy

          We can get high quality, locally made corn tortillas so that's our preference. If we can't get those, then we use flour. Since the crisp shell is an American invention, popularized by Taco Bell :), I don't EVER have that.

          1. re: c oliver

            I was eating crisp corn tacos since I got teeth, that is way before Taco Bell. My family is from the Arizona& Mexican and also the New Mexican borders. The the southeast corner of AZ. Sonoran Mexican style of cooking is what I was raised with. Stacked enchiladas instead of rolled, the corn tortillas for the enchiladas are lightly fried, leathery, then get dipped in the sauce. Then usually cheese, onion, etc. They get stacked up popped into the oven, shredded lettuce garnish and my favorite, a fried egg on top. You won't normally find these north of Tucson.

            1. re: Candy

              Crispy fried tortillas, sure. But as I understand it the crispy taco shell was invited on THIS side of the Mexican border and was popularized by Taco Bell.

              http://blogs.sfweekly.com/foodie/2011...

              And I'm also familiar with the "stacked enchiladas" which originated in New Mexico:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enchilada

              1. re: c oliver

                I am glad you clarified that because as a child in the late 50's I distinctly remember dining on *real* tacos that were crispy and fried in San Francisco. My late brother and I spent partial summers there with my much older sister and her husband. They lived out in Excelsior. We would all get on the Muni bus and go dine at dives/cafes/lunch counters/diners all over the city.

              2. re: Candy

                That's what I'm talkin' about...

                I don't like fajitas because the meat is all mixed up with onions and bell peppers, and I like my ingredients separate, minus the bell peppers, which to me have no right being there- should be roasted green chiles or nothing.

                To me, they all get the corn tortilla treatment, if it's a flour tortilla, it's a burro, burrito, or chimichanga (when it's fried, but I do't even think that's from Mexico)

          2. For me, tacos are a "sandwich" and fajitas are a type of filling. So fajitas can be served as a taco but not the other way around.

            Fajitas, literally "little sashes", are strips of beef/chicken and strips of peppers/onion.

            I prefer tearing piece of tortilla to accompany my fajitas instead of composing a complete taco. Some bites get more guac, some bites get more cheese.

            2 Replies
            1. re: seamunky

              Oh, I think that's a good distinction. When I make a taco, everything gets added in the kitchen. If I'm out and order a "plate," (I never order fajitas but do other things.) then like you I'll pull off pieces of tortillas or a chip and pile things on that. Thanks.

              1. re: seamunky

                Yes, that's exactly the difference. Fajitas refers to the style of cooking the meat and vegetables. Fajitas need not be served with tortillas at all.

                Taco and fajitas as terms are not parallel nor interchangeable.

              2. One could argue that all Americanized Mexican is the same (see, e.g., The Onion's great headline "Taco Bell's Five Ingredients Combined In Totally New Way").

                But there are subtle differences, as described below. Most beef tacos are ground beef. Once you get into carne asada then you're closer to steak fajitas (minus the grilled veggies). In any case, why bother getting hung up on terminology?

                3 Replies
                1. re: ferret

                  Ah, but I NEVER fix or order ground beef tacos :) Not hung up at all.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    I did a couple of weeks ago, for the first time in years. We had a pound of ground beef and no other meat, but otherwise all the makings for great tacos. Semi-soft shell. They get griddled for a minute or so

                    1. re: EWSflash

                      We go for the super (un)healthy way. VERY lightly fry the (always) corn tortillas in lard. Just til they have a few spots of color. Block between paper towels, sprinkle with salt and go for it!

                      There's a very small, relatively local chain in our area and their ground beef tacos are 99 cents and the shredded beef are maybe 30 cents more. Those ground ones are quite tasty. (I'd forgotten that when I posted previously.)