What Is a Tostada? How Is It Different Than a Taco?

They are both delicious, but tacos and tostadas do differ in how they are prepared and enjoyed.

Beef Tostadas
Beef Tostadas | Photo by Meredith.

Compared to tacos, tostadas are underrated, mostly become they aren't as widely known or understood. Now is the time to change that!

Tostada quite literally means "toasted" and typically refers to dishes made over crispy flat tortillas that are either oven toasted or fried. "They can be compared to an open faced sandwich in how the toppings usually lay over one crispy tortilla, though sometimes you'll find layered varieties too," says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.

Tacos and tostadas are very similar. "The main difference is that a tostada is flat and made on a crispy tortilla shell, usually corn. Tacos, while they can be made in crispy corn shells, are most commonly seen soft, folded, with either corn or flour tortillas," says Jessica Formicola, chef and blogger at Savory Experiments. Since the word "tostada" means toasted, a toasted, crunchy base is a necessity for tostadas. The other difference?

"Because they are folded, tacos are typically less messy and easier to eat with your hands," Jones adds.

How to Cook a Tostada

The base can be fried or baked, but it needs to be crunchy, and this is much easier to attain by frying. "They do need to be assembled, cooked and eaten fairly quick so the ingredients don't soften the base," says Formicola. "While I eat mine with a fork and knife, it should be crunchy and hard enough to pick up and eat as finger food, too," she adds.

The easiest way to make tostadas is to start by purchasing soft corn or flour tortilla shells. Then to bake, you'll just lightly brush each side of the tortilla with oil before placing on a baking sheet in the oven at 375-400 degrees for about 5 minutes, or until crispy, says Jones.

"Alternatively you can heat 1/4 inch of avocado oil in a skillet and fry the tortilla on either side until golden brown," Jones says. Lay it on a towel to absorb excess oil. Then you can add your favorite toppings just as you would for a taco.

Baked tostadas on a baking sheet
Baked Tostadas | Photo by Meredith.

How to Create a Tostada

Once you go with the right tortilla shell, from there, the toppings and/or fillings can be very similar, if not the same. "I like to start mine with the heaviest ingredients or something sticky or creamy like ground beef, a thick crema Mexicana or guacamole. The hot ingredients go on first and the fresh, cold ingredients last," says Formicola.

And consider nutrition and pair with protein and veggies to fill you up. "I recommend starting with a protein, then adding vegetables, a fat such as cheese, avocado, guacamole or crema, and an acid such as salsa, pico de gallo or a squeeze of lime," says Jones. A chicken tostada with sour cream and veggies would be perfect.

Play up the toppings and mix the temperatures to create an amazing creation that highlights both hot and cold features, as well. "The combination of hot and cooked with fresh, lush and cold makes these extra special. Some of my favorite toppings are pickled red onions, fresh cilantro and Maldon sea salt," says Formicola.

Can You Buy Them?

It can definitely be challenging to find pre-made tostada shells but stream taco product companies do sell them. "You can also look to local Latin markets and see if they have any available to pick up. The latter would need to be eaten soon so they don't spoil," says Jones.

You may not have great luck, so try making your own if you can learn the technique. Plus, you get more control over the flavor and texture too. "They are actually kind of hard to find on restaurant menus in my area," says Formicola.

Some Tostada Recipe Ideas

You can go with a mix of conventional and modern when making tostadas to highlight Mexican cuisine and bring about some originality too. "I like using a combination of traditional Mexican flavors, but also more modern and American tastes like BBQ pulled pork, roast duck, buffalo chicken or even seared scallops," says Formicola.

"A good, fresh salsa is key and can be a classic tomato base, but fruit salsas like pineapple or strawberry are also awesome. Spicy, sweet and salty elements make the best tostadas," she adds. Don't be afraid to go on that sweet side, even it seems unconventional!

And you can always just take your favorite taco recipes and add the ingredients to a tostada for a change of pace. "You can add shredded seasoned chicken with cheddar, onions, shredded lettuce and salsa to keep it simple," says Jones, or go with a beef and bean tostada that is high in fiber, protein, and hearty flavor. You can even swap out the chicken for ground turkey instead. I love to make a pescatarian version with chile lime shrimp, avocado and pico de gallo," says Jones. Or swap for tuna, instead.

For a vegan option, add Mexican seasoned lentils, pickled red onion, and guacamole. You can even make a breakfast tostada with eggs. "Spread refried black beans on before topping with a fried egg, some cotija cheese and cilantro," says Jones. Yum!

Crispy Oven Beef-and-Bean Tostadas
Crispy Oven Beef-and-Bean Tostadas | Photo by Buckwheat Queen.

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