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More than just fun to eat, tacos are fun to make because they offer a ton of creative options.

By Vanessa Greaves
Updated September 21, 2020
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two chicken soft tacos with toppings on a plate
Credit: Baking Nana

So long as you're filling or topping a tortilla, you're making a taco. But which filling should you use? And what type of tortilla is best? Here's your guide to making mouthwatering tacos at home, from choosing the right shell to creating the filling. And what's a taco without all the extras that go with them. We'll cover that, too.

Choosing the Right Taco Shell

While fast food restaurants have helped popularize crunchy, pre-formed shells, there are other fine options for the outermost layer, including soft corn or flour tortillas, and even opting for lettuce instead.

This recipe for copycat Double Decker Tacos uses both crisp tacos shells and soft flour tortillas. Watch the video to see how easy they are to make:

Warming up Your Shells: No matter which tortilla you choose, it's best to warm it up before proceeding with your taco project. You can fry a tortilla in a skillet; briefly warm it over a stove's gas burner (using tongs for safety's sake); microwave it beneath a damp paper towel, or wrap it in aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15-20 minutes.

Hard Corn Taco Shells

These are best for ground meats, holding up well to warm, wetter fillings. Try these homemade taco shells:

Hard Taco Shells: Here's how to make the crispy U-shaped corn tortilla shells you know and love.

three crispy tacos on a plate
Credit: FoodFan

Puffy Taco Shells: See how to make crunchy corn tortilla taco shells from scratch that puff up when you fry them.

Soft Corn Tortilla Taco Shells

Across much of Mexico, the standard is a corn tortilla, about the size of a bread-and-butter plate. Those tortillas are sometimes doubled up, ensuring that toppings won't crash to the ground if the top tortilla cracks. You can avoid that messy situation by purchasing fresh homemade tortillas from a local bakery or tienda; major supermarket chains usually stock a range of regionally-produced white and yellow corn tortillas.

Corn tortillas are traditional for fish tacos and street tacos, and taste great with grilled meats. They're also gluten-free!

Fish Tacos: These tacos start by making beer-battered, fried cod. Serve these delicious fish tacos with all the fixings, including fresh pico de gallo and a squeeze of lime.

two fish tacos with toppings
Credit: thehappening

Also delicious on soft corn tortillas:

Soft Flour Tortilla Taco Shells

Flour tortillas are sometimes dismissed as inauthentic, but that's the grain that reigns in Sonora. Depending on how you're planning to complete your taco, the softer texture and milder flavor might serve you well.

Steve's Roasted Chicken Soft Tacos: Use up leftover rotisserie chicken in these easy soft tacos.

two chicken soft tacos with toppings on a plate
Credit: Baking Nana

Low-Carb Taco Shell

Inventive veggie shells help you skip the carbs without sacrificing taco goodness. Here are two faves:

Lettuce Leaf Tacos: Halfway between a lettuce wrap and a taco lies this delicious dish, which also skips the beans for a low-carb taco feast.

taco filling in lettuce leaves instead of taco shells
Credit: Molly

Or try Taco Stuffed Zucchini Boats for even more veggie with your taco.

Taco Meat

At a traditional taqueria, meat choices typically include slow-cooked pork, grilled beef, chicken or sausage, and simmered beef cheeks. And don't forget fish or shrimp tacos, and plant-based tacos. But home cooks aren't bound by tradition in the taco-sphere: So long as your base and tortilla are in harmony, almost any combination of meat (or non-meat) and cooking method will do.

Pork/Carnitas Tacos

To get traditional shredded pork, you have to cook it for the better part of a day, but these highly-rated traditional roast pork recipes are well worth the wait.

Beef Tacos — Carne Asada

Flank steak marinated in lime, soy, cumin, cilantro and a host of other flavors produce this traditional taqueria flavor. Try making one of these top-rated recipes.

Beef Tacos — Tacos de Lengua

Beef tongue is very tender when slow cooked overnight. Find it at any Mexican market or ask your local butcher.

Chicken Tacos

This versatile meat is delicious, whether you use ground, roasted, or grilled chicken. Browse our big selection of chicken taco recipes.

Fish Tacos

Wrap tortillas around shrimp, tilapia, cod, halibut, mahi mahi, salmon — or any white, flaky fish, either fried or grilled. They're traditionally served with cabbage slaw and a creamy sauce. Catch all of our fish-taco recipes.

Vegetarian Tacos

Fill your tacos with these healthy alternatives:

Taco Garnishes

Be sure to include crunchy toppings such as crisp diced onion, sliced radish, chopped cabbage, or pickled vegetables.

To add color or crunch, top your tacos with finely diced vegetables and cilantro. Then pile on crumbled or shredded cheese. Try pepperjack, cojita, queso fresco, Cheddar, or Monterey Jack.

Top with a hefty dollop of guacamole, crema (Mexican sour cream), or sour cream. Or, if your taco needs a final boost of fiery flavor, try a dash of one of these:

Salsa

Salsa, which should always have at least a hint of heat, is what unifies a taco's ingredients and gives them character. Cooked tomato salsa is a popular choice, but fresh pico de gallo, salsa verde, and fruit salsas (including peach and mango salsas) are also excellent salsa picks.

Salsas come in many formulations, but the most common varieties are:

  • Salsa roja (red sauce), is the most common variety, usually made with cooked tomatoes, onion, garlic, and other herbs like cilantro.
  • Pico de gallo (also called salsa fresca) is made with raw tomatoes, lime juice, and other raw ingredients such as chilies, onions.
  • Salsa verde (green sauce) is usually made with cooked tomatillos.

Taco Side Dishes

Popular side dishes for tacos include rice and beans. Browse our Mexican bean recipes and Mexican rice recipes to find loads of ideas, both for filling your tacos, and for serving alongside.

Mexican Rice: This top-rated dish is ready in only 30 minutes.

tacos, rice, and beans on a platter
Credit: Melissa Goff

Refried Beans Without the Refry: Let your slow cooker do all the work; all you have to do is mash up the beans at the end.

Refried Beans Without the Refry
Credit: CookinBug

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