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Excellent Taco Recommendations

I have some friends coming to visit in a week and I plan on making tacos. I have on vegetarian in the group so some tacos will be tofu and some will be flank steak or pork.

I always see good advice on this site so I am looking for any and all recommendations on how to build unique awesome tacos. In particular I'm looking for toppings or sauces to put on them other than just lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream and salsa.

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  1. I'd set it up as a taco bar and people can pick and choose what they want. We even add rice and black beans to our 'tacos.' Also avocado rather than guacamole usually. And offer various hot sauces in addition to salsa/pico de gallo. You can also do chicken or fish or shrimp. Really the skies just about the limit. With something like this, I never worry about 'authenticity." 'Course since you're already doing tofu, you obviously don't care about that :) And the vegetarian might not even eat the tofu. I find them satisfying just about any way. Have fun.

    1. Black beans or calabacitas would be nice alternatives to tofu. Calabacitas is basically sauteed zucchini, corn, onion, and green chiles or poblanos if you want them. Maybe a little garlic, cumin, S&P.

      1. I do a taco bar a couple times a year. In addition to what you are offering, I have refried beans warming in a crockpot, chopped scallions, jalapenos, homemade pico, homemade 'spanish' rice, guac, lime wedges, and (I can't believe I am admitting this, but people go crazy for it) velveeta mixed with salsa in a warmer.

        I have the tortillas warm (I wrap both flour and corn in foil packets of 6 to 8 and stack them in the oven @175 - 200 about 45 minutes before serving).

        I use smaller tortillas, not the burrito sized, so people won't hesitate to make more than one. And I always have a bowl of tortilla chips, too, so people can make a plate of nachos, if they want.

        4 Replies
        1. re: jeanmarieok

          Ditto re the small tortillas. I like to have a couple with different ingredients and that's the only way I can.

          1. re: jeanmarieok

            Do you normally use corn or flour? I was leaning towards small corn tortillas.

              1. re: MyKitchenBroke

                I offer both - I have a girl friend with celiac, so corn tortillas are an easy solution.

            1. Here's a great vegan taco:

              A bit of minced onion and garlic sauteed lightly in olive oil in a sauce pan. Add red potatos, skin on, and vegetable broth to cover. Boil/simmer the potatoes in the veggie broth until tender.

              Add Soyrizo, and roasted, chopped poblano or other mild green chiles, some chopped green onion, and smash - don't fully mash - the potatoes and mix to incorporate everything together. Season as needed with salt, pepper, cumin, whatever suits your fancy. If you like cilantro add some chopped.

              Then put this mixture into small corn tortillas, seal them closed and fry 'em in vegetable oil until golden brown.

              These are great with guacamole by the way, and your vegetarian friends and meat eaters will love them.

              25 Replies
              1. re: EarlyBird

                How do you seal a tortilla please? And I think that sounds great without Soyrizo!

                1. re: c oliver

                  With these tacos the smashed potato mixture will keep it all together and relatively sealed closed.

                  I am not a vegetarian, but the Soyrizo rocks. You get all the flavor and texture from (Mexican) chorizo without the fat.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      A quesadilla then? I can't get over the sealing and frying and still calling it a taco. I've seen what Early Bird makes in DF (with different ingredients inside), and it's called a quesadilla. Hmm.

                      I know, I'm splitting hairs, and so long as it's good (and Early Bird's looks very good), it's not important what it's called!

                      1. re: Cachetes

                        I've not ever seen a quesadilla like that either. But I don't pretend to be an expert.

                        1. re: Cachetes

                          Many tacos are fried. This is classic Mexican cuisine. Basic stuff. A quesadilla uses cheese, "queso," and is not fried, but broiled.

                          1. re: EarlyBird

                            From my experience, quesadillas are pan fried.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              I have had bags of masa harina printed with a quesadilla recipe where you mix the corn flour with water and press a small amount as if for tortillas, then put the filling on it, fold/seal it, and deep fry it. I tried them a couple of times and they are pretty good - they don't get crisp all the way, just sort of chewy-crisp.

                            2. re: EarlyBird

                              Yes I have had and made tacos fried with the filling inside. Delicious, but maybe impractical for a crowd.

                                1. re: Bada Bing

                                  One of my guilty pleasures are the deep fried tacos at Wendy's. They fry the whole damn thing, lettuce and all. It is more of a 3 am thing, if you know what I mean.

                                  1. re: rudeboy

                                    Wow. Fried lettuce, and tomatoes. Imagine the splatter. Those workers must smell like tacos at home for days. (I recall from McDonald's day bak in the 70s...)

                                  2. re: Bada Bing

                                    I have done deep-fried, but it's messy. Shallow (pan-fried) works better. And the cool toppings are added after frying by prying the shell open a bit. Messy but good.

                                    There was a Mexican (-American) place in Indianapolis many years ago that did a fried filled taco with a flour tortilla that was very good.

                                    1. re: sandylc

                                      My friend, first generation Mexican-American, smokes a chuck roast with mesquite, then shreds and braises that meat in a red chile sauce, then puts it in his mother's hand made corn tortillas and pan fries them. Dear God that's good.

                                      1. re: EarlyBird

                                        Wow. That sounds more than awesome.

                                        1. re: EarlyBird

                                          That sounds fabulous. Adding to the list of things to try out with the new smoker....

                                          1. re: Kontxesi

                                            Fantastic. I've also seen him smoke a pork butt rubbed with various chili powders, cumin, S&P, then shred and make carnitas out of it and use a green chili-tomatillo sauce on them.

                                            1. re: EarlyBird

                                              Smoked pork shoulder is our fave thing to do.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                Do you smoke it for tacos? If so, how do you season it?

                                                1. re: EarlyBird

                                                  I have Jamison's book "Smoke & Spice" which has loads of rub recipes. The following is a pretty general one:


                                2. re: Cachetes

                                  Have you heard of taquitos? Same concept, but rolled and fried. What is DF by the way?

                                  1. re: EarlyBird

                                    DF = Distrito Federales? AKA Mexico City?

                              1. re: Cachetes

                                No. It's a classic taco. Note the use of a corn tortilla.

                            3. Wow, I was going to make a similar recommendation, but others beat me to it. Taco Bar is so fun for everyone. c oliver has it down. Also, the velveeta/salsa thing works well - there's a white velveeta now. Just follow the directions......one thing that I've noticed is that the women will congregate around the queso. Not being misogynistic, but it is something that I have noticed.

                              1. Lots of limes cut into squeezable pieces.

                                  1. You could do shredded cabbage or a spicy slaw instead of or in addition to lettuce. A creamy chipotle sauce (mix mayo, sour cream and pureed chipotle in whatever proportions you prefer and thin as necessary to get a drizzleable consistency) is delicious. I love habanero salsa with pineapple - the sweet offsets the heat. Chopped olives are a favorite, caramelized onions also. Fried sweet plantains could be fun, even!

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: biondanonima

                                      good advice here, biond....habanero and fruit are awesome. Plaintains are easy and have that "exotic" appeal.

                                        1. re: biondanonima

                                          Slaw and chipotle sauce is instantly going on the menu. Thanks!

                                        2. Good suggestions, a lot of my ideas have already been said so I'm going to try and not repeat the ones already said.

                                          A variety of peppers: Bell Pepper, Jalapeno, Serrano, cubanelle. etc.
                                          Re-fried Beans
                                          Carrot shreds

                                          Salsa Verde
                                          Adobe Sauce
                                          Chipotle Sauce
                                          Avocado Sauce
                                          Chimishurri Sauce
                                          Yogurt Cumin Sauce

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                            2nd chimichurri, no taco is complete without it. Also to your list I'll add…
                                            pickled red onions
                                            mashed skin-on potatoes (maybe mashed with some green chilis)
                                            feta cheese
                                            Mexican crema
                                            chopped avocado marinated in lime and olive oil
                                            pork belly
                                            sauteed mushrooms

                                            1. re: schrutefarms

                                              Yes I was thinking the steak would be awesome with the chimichurri.

                                              I like the idea of the rest as well.

                                              Lots of different flavor combos

                                              1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                                Steak with chimichurri is my absolute favorite combo!!!!

                                            2. re: Sandwich_Sister

                                              Chimishurri sauce is also now on the menu. Just looked at the recipe and it sounds delicious.

                                            3. If you're grilling the steak and pork, grill some wedges of pineapple too. Then cut it into small pieces. Goes great with pork and is traditional with pork "al pastor". Mango is nice too.

                                              1. All great replies so far, I am using a lot of ideas on this list. Including but not limited to: pickled red onions, Chimichurri sauce, chipotle sauce, spicy slaw, pineapple with the steak, small tortillas...

                                                (and of course the taco bar)

                                                1. For something really different you could make Korean Style Beef Tacos. To make it really easy, I make the beef in a crockpot using bulgogi seasonings (onion, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, and a little brown sugar), You can put the beef in a corn or flour tortilla topped with some kimchi, pickled radish, cucumber and spinach banchan. You can also provide some nice lettuce leaves (Bibb, Red Leaf, Boston, Romaine) to sub for the tortillas.
                                                  Here is the crockpot recipe I use -- I add roasted sesame seeds, use less sugar, more ginger, and low-sodium soy.


                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Divalicias

                                                    that looks interesting, I would eat that.

                                                  2. A nice vegetarian taco is steamed or roasted sweet potato cubes and black beans, with all of the standard toppings.

                                                    1. Some toppings: goat or feta cheese or queso fresco, slivered radishes, fresh cilantro, green sauce, pumpkin seeds, fresh lime wedges, black and pinto beans, crema or sour cream, roasted sweet onion petals and/or minced and soaked white onion....

                                                      1. I just hosted a taco night for 8 people (1 vegetarian) at my house last night. What I offered:
                                                        - ground beef tacos, from Cooks Illustrated recipe
                                                        - half pinto, half black slow cooker beans from allrecipes.com/recipe/refried-beans-without-the-refry/, which the vegetarian was more than happy with and everyone else RAVED about
                                                        - 3 kinds of salsa: tomato, cucumber, roasted corn & bell pepper
                                                        - sour cream
                                                        - shredded romaine
                                                        - two kinds of hand made guac: one with tomato salsa, one with minced green onion and cilantro
                                                        - pickled red onions from www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-quickpi... which everyone loved for the texture it added to the tacos
                                                        - small corn tortillas
                                                        - Kirkland organic tortilla chips

                                                        People ate tacos, then they started making their own dips on their plates by mixing the beans with various other items and enjoying that. It's the second taco night I've hosted and the beans have ended up the favorite both times!

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: bobabear

                                                          I really love putting bits and pieces of 'toppings' on chips. When I don't want another taco I can still nibble.

                                                          1. re: bobabear

                                                            I make those beans all the time!! Very good!!

                                                          2. Oh, and shredded beef and shredded pork and also a red salsa, obviously. And guac.

                                                            1. Your emphasis in the post is on toppings and there are great recommendations already.

                                                              I would add that my favorite taco shell is a fried corn tortilla, but they were always hard for me to make in quantity until I gleaned a tip from Cooks Illustrated: spray them on each side with oil and the bake them quickly in a high-heat oven on sheet pans.

                                                              You can crank out a lot of pretty worthy corn tortilla shells that way in short order. You just have to make sure they cook to the point of stiffness but not where they will no longer fold.

                                                              6 Replies
                                                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                What temp and for how long please?

                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  I cannot locate the recipe from CI offhand, but the method is pretty simple and requires more plain old vigilance than instruction-following. Various corn tortillas cook differently, no doubt.

                                                                  In my experience, it works best to use a high-heat spray oil but one could also just brush oil on each side of the tortilla, have an oven at 375-400 or so, liberally salt each side of the oiled tortilla, and then lay them out on a sheet pan. Parchment paper couldn't hurt, but I don't think I use that always. (It's been a while.) After about 3 minutes, flip the the tortillas in order to get a sense of how quickly they're stiffening. After another few minutes, flip them again with the same purpose. The point is to oven-fry them as far as you can before they become unpliable.

                                                                  I keep a couple of long, thick wooden dowels in the kitchen for no other purpose than this, but it's okay as they take up little space: I lay the dowels across my sink and stabilize them not to roll, and when the shells begin to stiffen, I remove them from the oven and drape them over the dowels, salting some more, if need be. That way the shells begin to tend toward a proper shape.

                                                                  Depending on your tortilla sizes and sheet pans, you can make between 10 and 16 tortillas at once this way (with two sheet pans).

                                                                  1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                    I have done something like this before using a cooling rack with long gaps rather than little squares in it. I just put it on the baking sheet and fold the oiled tortillas into inverted "U" shapes, hooking them into the slots of the rack, then bake them.

                                                                2. re: Bada Bing

                                                                  If you fold the tacos over when you bake them and bake them to the point "where they no longer fold," how do you prevent the tacos from being closed? I would guess you have to insert something in each taco to hold the edges open while you are baking them. What do you use?

                                                                  1. re: gfr1111

                                                                    Sorry if I was unclear. The tortillas bake flat, not folded. When they start to stiffen, I take them out and the dowels and cooling do the forming.

                                                                    They never get to that cracker-crispy character of "hard-shell" tortillas, which I loathe, incidentally.

                                                                  2. re: Bada Bing

                                                                    About cooking methods, I should add that last year I finally got a decent quality electric griddle (Broil King), and that's a great tool for cooking multiple tortillas, too. Not sure why I forgot that in my reply above, because it's really good to be able to salt and flip and test the tortillas on the counter rather than opening and closing an oven.

                                                                  3. Fresh pico de gallo is a must.
                                                                    Also just a small bowl of rough chopped fresh cilantro.

                                                                    Not sure if you cook tofu often, but be sure to season as you sautee,and its a good idea to add some onions and garlic in the mix as well as a bit of cumin. A well drained block (or 2?) of extra firm will make good sized crumbles that keep a nice texture.

                                                                    1. We've been making a egg and spinach taco that is good. Saute the spinach with evoo, garlic, and a little vinegar. Scramble your eggs. serve with a slice of avocado, and some cotija cheese. Use corn tortillas. We wipe the tortillas with a little oil and fry them on a griddle until there are a few brown spots. We're not wanting to make the tortillas hard, just wanting to toughen them up so that they don't crack and fall apart.

                                                                      I'm also working on a zuchini, and corn taco in a smoky tomato sauce.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: csacks

                                                                        This sounds like tomorrows breakfast to me.

                                                                      2. get wacky - I like the slaw suggestions, but you might consider a mild kimchi.

                                                                        lately I've been thinking a spicy hoisin tinged with sesame oil goes good on most everything.

                                                                        and citrus. always with the citrus.

                                                                        ('what is UP with him and citrus?' 'I don't know but he puts it in just everything')

                                                                        1. I love jicama slaw with my tacos, nice crunch and fresh taste.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: Ally Cat

                                                                            I like that idea. Do you have a recipe you use?

                                                                          2. I'm a carnivore, but I was recently introduced to a dish of fried yucca with garlic and salt that I could have made a meal from. It would make a great veggie taco.
                                                                            Also, I recall a cheese filled, battered and fried jalapeno taco I bought at a roadside stand in Q. Roo near Tulum that was so delicious I almost had to turn around to get another, but I was pretty far down the road.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: Veggo

                                                                              I was there is Q roo, Veggo, and I had that same taco in Tulum!

                                                                            2. This is a delicious veg taco filling. Meat eaters won't even miss the meat :) I've changed a lot of the recipe over the years. A version of this was given to me over a decade ago. Easy and delicious. You can use whatever lentils you like.

                                                                              Lentil Taco Filling

                                                                              Ingredients: cooked lentils
                                                                              1 small onion chopped
                                                                              2-3 garlic cloves minced

                                                                              2 T chili powder
                                                                              1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp cayenne

                                                                              1 small can plain tomato sauce
                                                                              1/2 cup veggie broth
                                                                              1 tbs brown sugar
                                                                              2 tsp cider vinegar

                                                                              salt and pepper.

                                                                              Cook one cup of lentils in water until almost done (you want a little bit of bite so that they can cook in the taco sauce and they will absorb the flavors.)

                                                                              Saute onion in a tablespoon of olive oil until very soft but not colored. Add spices and minced garlic cloves. Saute until fragrant - minute or so.

                                                                              Add 1/2 cup broth and 1 small can of plain tomato sauce, 1 tablespoons brown sugar and 2 teaspoons cider vinegar. stir to combine and bring to a simmer.

                                                                              Add the cooked lentils and let simmer until fully cooked 5-10 mins. Taste along the way, don't let them get too mushy :)

                                                                              Season with salt and pepper to taste. Fill tacos,burritos or it makes a lovely vegan nacho topping, etc.

                                                                              1. Thank you everybody for the recommendations. I used quite a few of them and all of my friends were impressed. You guys and girls rock.

                                                                                I used the taco bar idea and served:

                                                                                Flank Steak (7 spice rub, sear, bake to medium)
                                                                                Shrimp (marinaded with lime, pepper and oil)
                                                                                Pickled Red Onions
                                                                                Jicama Slaw
                                                                                Queso Fresco
                                                                                Chimichurri Sauce
                                                                                Chipotle Sauce
                                                                                Small Corn Tortillas

                                                                                The steak went over especially well. The only thing I would have changed is to find better corn tortillas or make my own.

                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: MyKitchenBroke

                                                                                    How was the Chimichurri?

                                                                                    Corn tortillas can fall apart easily. you can double them up if they are too thin.