A Beginner’s Guide to Making Tacos at Home
If I had to eat only one thing for the rest of my life, it would be tacos.
Few other foods have a whole day of the week named for them. Few other foods are so widely accessible and cheap, yet can also be gourmet dishes at upscale restaurants. Few other foods are as indulgent as they are healthy (kinda).
Tacos are yummy. Tacos are friends. Tacos are life.
In recent years, the love of tacos has grown into a movement, a whole subculture in which Tuesdays are sacred days, tequila is a ritual drink, and bitter infighting revolves around the eternal question: flour or corn?
Eateries have leaped to capitalize upon Tacoism, adding tacos to their menus even if nothing other vaguely Tex-Mex graces their kitchen. The taco movement has embraced its own ridiculousness, seeking new heights of eclecticism in its recipes. BBQ tacos? Yep. Asian tacos? Yep. Pizza tacos? You betcha.
Tacos have become the ultimate world food, no longer restrained to one bastardized cuisine, but rather a celebration of all the world’s spices, meats, and toppings. The magic of tacos is that their consistency allows their variation: all it takes is to put things you like in a tortilla, wrap it up, and eat it. If only the rest of life were so simple.
However, if you love tacos as much as I do, it adds up quickly — especially when you count the margaritas and extra guac. If only you could have that taqueria experience at home!
Good news, you can. Here’s how to make it happen:
- Store and prep your tortillas properly. Keep them in a cool, dark place. If you’re a fan of soft shells, place a short stack between damp paper towels and microwave them for about 15–20 seconds, depending on your microwave. Hard shells can be heated in about 5 minutes in a conventional or toaster oven.
- Use more cumin than you think you need. Cumin is the magic taco filling spice. It gives an earthy flavor to both meat and beans.
- Pair up cream and crunch. The best tacos have both. Add some fresh bell pepper slices or radishes to your ground beef and cheese. Try wonton chips or crushed up tortilla chips as a garnish. And never feel ashamed for adding sour cream.
- Don’t overdo it on fillings. You may have felt like restaurants were skimping (ONLY THREE SHRIMP?), but truth be told, when tacos are overstuffed, they become more of a chore to eat. Plus, you miss it on the chance to add more variety to your taco if it’s completely filled up with ground beef and cheese. Speaking of…
- Go easy on the sauce. Professional taco-makers add only a bit of sauce or salsa to tacos. Tortillas get soggy FAST. Don’t ruin your perfect taco by drowning it in sauce
- Think outside the box. Notice how those “fusion” places offer unconventional toppings on their tacos? Try it out yourself! Kimchi or pickled napa cabbage give tacos an Asian vibe, while blue cheese crumbles or goat cheese are a luxurious departure from your typical cheddar or monterey jack.
- Make your own guac. It’s as easy as mashing up some avocadoes with some veggies: bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, a spicy pepper of your choice. Then add in some lemon or lime juice to help preserve and some salt to taste. And you’re done! It spoils quickly, so only make what you and your taco buddies can eat that day.
- Dress up your tortillas. Try sautéing them in a thin layer of oil and parmesan; the parmesan will stick to the tortilla and give it some extra flavor (and calories, but oh well).
- Whip up a cocktail. Skip the margarita mix and take a fresh approach: try combining tequila with lime juice and simple syrup. (It’s easy to make simple syrup: heat up equal parts of sugar and water until the sugar dissolves into the water.) Try adding in fruit puree or, in a pinch, a splash of juice.
- Cultivate the taqueria vibe. Eat those tacos with friends, good music, and the windows open (or on your patio, if you’ve got one).
For me, tacos were always a staple of family dinner nights (Wednesdays was spaghetti and Thursday was tacos — that was before the decree that Tuesdays shall be the Day of Tacos) and of late-night trips to Chili’s, but they’re increasingly my go-to meal. As someone with dietary restrictions and an active, busy lifestyle, I need a meal that happily combines high protein with complex carbs, that’s easy to make and filling, that I can eat with one hand while writing on Medium with the other.
Tacos are also universally appealing; in a divided nation, they represent our shared appreciation for good food and conversation, our melting pot culture, and our fondness for silly things that we can meme about. They give us something to enjoy — as long as avocado crops can withstand climate change, anyway. And they’re cheap enough that everyone can afford them.
Forget açaí and kale. Tacos are the true superfood.
Rachel Wayne is a writer and artist based in Orlando, FL. She earned her master’s in visual anthropology from the University of Florida and runs the production company DreamQuilt. She is an avid aerial dancer and performance artist, and also dabbles in mixed-media. She writes nonfiction stories about herself and other awesome people, as well as essays on feminism, societal violence, mental health, politics, entrepreneurship, and whatever cultural topic strikes her fancy.