My Best Taco Recipes

three tacos de cabeza on a plate
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

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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.

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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

Homemade Flour Tortillas

How to make really good Sonoran style flour tortillas from scratch.

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How to make corn tortillas

How to Make Corn Tortillas

How to make corn tortillas at home.

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homemade masa harina

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.

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Piles of dried field corn for nixtamal.

How to Make Nixtamal

And here is how to make nixtamal, which is how you prepare corn for grinding into masa for tortillas.

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Favorite tacos

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!

three ribeye tacos in a taco holder, with chiltepin chiles and other accompaniments.

Deep Fried Ribeye Tacos

I had these in Hermosillo, Sonora, and they were so good I just had to recreate them at home with venison.

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A platter of turkey tacos

Turkey Breast Tacos

Wild turkey breast tacos with roasted poblanos and jack cheese. Simple, easy to make and delicious.

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A platter of tacos dorados, or taquitos

Tacos Dorados

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.

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All the fixings for duck tacos arrayed on a table.

Duck Tacos

Duck or goose confit tacos, with all the trimmings. A great use for legs of any sort of waterfowl.

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Pouring salsa on tacos al carbon.

Tacos al Carbon

Tacos al carbon are just carne asada tacos cooked over charcoal, and these Sonoran-style tacos, made with beef or venison, are perfect for a backyard barbecue.

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A goose taco, ready to eat.

Goose Tacos

Specifically designed for skinless goose breasts, this is a great thing to make with your Canada or snow geese.

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Holding a taco de lengua ready to eat

Deer Tongue Tacos

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.

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A plate of tongue tacos

Tongue Tacos

Another version of tacos de lengua, where you smoke the tongue first, then braise and chop it.

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A plate of arrachera tacos with salsa

Arrachera Tacos

Classic Northern Mexico arrachera tacos, made with skirt steak from an elk. Use any flank or skirt steak here.

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A platter of venison tacos.

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!

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A trio of pheasant tacos.

Ultimate Pheasant Tacos

If you hunt pheasants, or any white meat bird, you need to make these. Yes, you do.

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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.

A bowl of chicharron en salsa verde

Chicharron en Salsa Verde

Arguably the most common, loved, humble taco filling in Mexico. It’s pork (or duck) cracklins’ simmered in salsa verde.

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Chilaca pork stew in a bowl

Chilaca Pork Stew

Roasted chilaca or poblano (or Anaheim) chiles with pork and tomatoes. Mexican comfort food.

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A bowl of Mexican picadillo

Mexican Picadillo

A Sonoran version of classic picadillo, this is my version of ground beef tacos.

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A platter of Mexican chorizo in casings

Mexican Chorizo

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.

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Fresh green chorizo on a platter

Green Chorizo

The green version of Mexican chorizo, this is from Toluca near Mexico City.

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Shredded turkey Yucatan in a bowl

Shredded Turkey Yucatan

Slow simmered turkey legs, shredded and sauced in a Yucatecan sauce. Fantastic on a taco.

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A bowl of turkey carnitas.

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.

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venison barbacoa recipe

Venison Barbacoa

Maybe the ultimate venison taco filling, this is slow braised shoulder, neck or shank, shredded just like you get at Chipotle, only better.

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Venison birria in a bowl

Venison Birria

Birria, traditionally done with goat or beef, is fantastic with venison. It is a specialty of Jalisco.

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A plate of shredded jackrabbit with some rabbit quesadillas and salsa.

Shredded Jackrabbit

Similar to the barbacoa recipe above, but specifically designed for jackrabbits and hares. This is a Yaqui Indian recipe from Sonora.

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A bowl of venison carne guisada

Venison Carne Guisada

Texans will be familiar with this one, although my specific recipe is from Durango, Mexico.

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A bowl of chile colorado

Chile Colorado

Use this recipe for any meat, or even big mushrooms. It’s a classic for a reason.

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Chile verde in a bowl, ready to eat.

Pork Chile Verde

Here’s the green version of chile colorado, and it’s just as good.

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Fish and Seafood for Taco Recipes

Three lobster tacos on a platter.

Lobster Tacos

Lobster tacos are a thing in Baja, and this is my version of this fantastic taco.

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Tacos gobernador with a beer and hot sauce

Tacos Gobernador

Tacos gobernador is a classic shrimp taco of Mexico’s Pacific Coast, originating in Sinaloa.

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These are elaborate sauces for various meats. There are many kinds, and all are excellent on a tortilla!

Venison mole recipe

Venison Mole Chichilo

Skip the masa dumplings in this recipe and just serve the shredded venison on a taco. You won’t be sad.

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A plate of mole coloradito with duck

Mole Coloradito

A light, bright mole great for not only tacos, but even as a salsa for chips.

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Mole amarillo recipe

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.

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A plate of mole negro with turkey.

Mole Negro

The ultimate mole, mole negro is the Queen of All Moles. Make a big batch and save some for tacos.

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