Let me start by saying that the concept of taco recipes is something of a misnomer, because, well, as the great Mexican chef Gabriela Camara notes, “everything can be a taco.” That means you can put anything you want in a taco.
I’ve been inspired by scores of Mexican cookbooks, both in English and in Spanish, as well as the Mexican chefs I have known, especially my friends Patricio and Cinthia of Nixtaco, here in the Sacramento area.
After having made hundreds of tortillas and countless taco recipes, after reading all those books and talking with all those chefs, here are some guidelines for the best tacos no matter what is in them:
- Good tortillas, flour, corn or whatever. It’s important. (Here’s an essay I wrote about the importance of mastering the tortilla.)
- A centerpiece, usually meat or fish but it can be mushrooms or a vegetable.
- A mix of textures — crunchy, crispy, soft, dense, etc.
- Different colors, ideally. Not necessary, but nice. Remember people eat with their eyes first.
- Something spicy and something tart. Salsa and lime are usual here, but you could in theory do horseradish and vinegar if you want to.
- Fill generously but not so much you can’t eat the taco.
Oh, and one more thing. Like sandwiches where I grew up in New Jersey, once you pick up a taco, you never set it down. This is why real-deal tacos are always small. They are antojitos, little cravings, not giant discs that are a meal in itself.
A word on the term “street taco.” It’s generally an American name for a small taco that isn’t made in the American style, i.e., with chopped lettuce, pre-shredded cheese and diced tomatoes. A street taco will typically be on a corn tortilla, and is normally very simple, with the meat in question, plus white onions soaked in lime, cilantro and whatever salsa you like.
A proper taco night has lots of options for you to choose your own adventure. Maybe more than one meat or fish or whatever. Definitely chopped herbs, usually cilantro. Definitely a crunchy thing, usually radishes. Often crumbly or shredded cheese. And always salsas, ideally at least two.
Here are a bunch of my salsa recipes you can choose from.
Let’s start with the tortilla.
Your call, flour or corn. Flour is more common on Mexico’s northern tier, as well as in our states that border that region. Corn is the rule everywhere else.
Homemade Flour Tortillas
How to make really good Sonoran style flour tortillas from scratch.
How to Make Corn Tortillas
How to make corn tortillas at home.
How to Make Masa Harina
If you want to go even farther, here’s how to make your own masa harina, the powdered masa to make corn tortillas on a weeknight.
How to Make Nixtamal
And here is how to make nixtamal, which is how you prepare corn for grinding into masa for tortillas.
And here are my personal taco recipes. They range from meat and fish to vegetables and even wild mushrooms. They’re what I do, and they can guide you to many great taco nights in the future!
Wild turkey breast tacos with roasted poblanos and jack cheese. Simple, easy to make and delicious.
Taquitos or tacos dorados, these are small corn tortillas filled with a little chicken or whatever, then fried to set them into a cigar shape.
Duck or goose confit tacos, with all the trimmings. A great use for legs of any sort of waterfowl.
Specifically designed for skinless goose breasts, this is a great thing to make with your Canada or snow geese.
Venison Tacos de Lengua
Classic tacos de lengua, using whatever tongues you have available: beef, elk, bison, deer, pig, lamb. All are good. You braise the tongue, then chop it and then sear it just a little so you get a combination of soft and crispy.
Another version of tacos de lengua, where you smoke the tongue first, then braise and chop it.
Grilled Skirt Steak Tacos
Classic Northern Mexico arrachera tacos, made with skirt steak from an elk. Use any flank or skirt steak here.
Grilled Venison Tacos
Seared or grilled venison tacos. Make sure you chop the venison better than in this picture, so it will not all pull out when you eat it!
Ultimate Pheasant Tacos
If you hunt pheasants, or any white meat bird, you need to make these. Yes, you do.
Meats for Taco Recipes
These are recipes for fillings for tacos, burritos, quesadillas, sopes… hell, they’re all great just poured over rice. As a general rule, 1 pound of taco meat will make around 8 to 10 tacos.
Chicharron en Salsa Verde
Arguably the most common, loved, humble taco filling in Mexico. It’s pork (or duck) cracklins’ simmered in salsa verde.
Chilaca Pork Stew
Roasted chilaca or poblano (or Anaheim) chiles with pork and tomatoes. Mexican comfort food.
A Sonoran version of classic picadillo, this is my version of ground beef tacos.
Not a full taco filling in and of itself, but homemade chorizo forms the basis of the best breakfast burrito or taco, along with cheese and eggs.
The green version of Mexican chorizo, this is from Toluca near Mexico City.
Slow simmered turkey legs, shredded and sauced in a Yucatecan sauce. Fantastic on a taco.
Wild Turkey Leg Carnitas
Another way to go with wild or domesticated turkey legs. Slow cooked in broth and fat, then shredded and crisped up. You need this in your life.
Maybe the ultimate venison taco filling, this is slow braised shoulder, neck or shank, shredded just like you get at Chipotle, only better.
Birria, traditionally done with goat or beef, is fantastic with venison. It is a specialty of Jalisco.
Similar to the barbacoa recipe above, but specifically designed for jackrabbits and hares. This is a Yaqui Indian recipe from Sonora.
Venison Carne Guisada
Texans will be familiar with this one, although my specific recipe is from Durango, Mexico.
Use this recipe for any meat, or even big mushrooms. It’s a classic for a reason.
Pork Chile Verde
Here’s the green version of chile colorado, and it’s just as good.
Fish and Seafood for Taco Recipes
Lobster tacos are a thing in Baja, and this is my version of this fantastic taco.
Tacos gobernador is a classic shrimp taco of Mexico’s Pacific Coast, originating in Sinaloa.
These are elaborate sauces for various meats. There are many kinds, and all are excellent on a tortilla!
Venison Mole Chichilo
Skip the masa dumplings in this recipe and just serve the shredded venison on a taco. You won’t be sad.
A light, bright mole great for not only tacos, but even as a salsa for chips.
Mole Amarillo, Mexico’s Golden Sauce
This is the yellow mole, perfect for white meats or pork. It’s a lighter, more tart sauce that really becomes special if you can get the yellow chiles.
The ultimate mole, mole negro is the Queen of All Moles. Make a big batch and save some for tacos.