The Best Taco Recipes You Can Make for Dinner Tonight

Tacos may originally come from Mexico, but America has embraced this humble street food and made it our own. Today, you can find tacos stuffed with any number of ingredients, from the traditional meat, onions, and cilantro, to creative fusion options with bulgogi or raw tuna. With so many permutations out there, picking the perfect taco recipe might be impossible. But half the fun of trying to create the best taco is trying out all the different recipes on your quest for perfection.

While taco fanatics might disagree on exactly what makes the perfect taco, one thing they will agree on is the importance of a good tortilla. It’s worth your time to “search out good tortillas, preferably made by a local tortilla factory, available at Mexican groceries and in some grocery stores,” chef Rick Bayless advises in Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. You can also try making your own. For corn tortillas, you need just two ingredients (masa harina and water). The Kitchn has an easy-to-follow recipe.

Once you have your tortillas, it’s on to the fillings, which is where things really get fun. Whether you prefer beef, fish, or vegetarian ingredients, here are six taco recipes sure to make your mouth water.

1. Grilled Chicken Tacos

Grilled chicken tacos

Grilled chicken tacos | iStock.com

When you need a quick weeknight dinner, this recipe for grilled chicken tacos with a charred tomatillo salsa verde from Epicurious comes to the rescue. You’ll use boneless chicken thighs in this dish, which are more flavorful than breasts and cheaper to boot.

Ingredients:

For salsa:

  • ½ small white onion, halved lengthwise, keeping root intact
  • ½ head of garlic, unpeeled, halved crosswise
  • 1 jalapeño
  • 1 pound husked tomatillos
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ bunch cilantro, leaves and tender stems only and ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

For the tacos:

  • 1 medium onion, cut into wedges, keeping root intact
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, coarsely crushed
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 corn tortillas, warmed, for serving
  • 2 avocados, sliced, for serving
  • Charred tomatillo salsa verde
  • Cilantro sprigs, sliced radishes, and lime wedges, for serving

Directions: To make the salsa, prepare grill for medium-high heat. Toss ½ small white onion, halved lengthwise, keeping root intact, ½ head of garlic, unpeeled, halved crosswise, 1 jalapeño, 1 pound husked tomatillos, and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large bowl. Grill vegetables, turning often, until tender and charred, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool slightly.

Squeeze garlic cloves into a food processor and pulse with onion, stemmed jalapeño, tomatillos, ½ bunch cilantro, leaves and tender stems only, and ¼ cup fresh lime juice just until a chunky sauce forms; season with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and more lime juice, if desired. (Salsa can be made up to five days ahead; store covered in the refrigerator.)

To make the tacos, prepare grill for medium-high heat. Toss onion, garlic, chicken, cumin, oil, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Grill onion and chicken until cooked through and lightly charred, about 4 minutes per side.

Let chicken rest 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with tortillas, avocados, charred tomatillo salsa verde, cilantro, radishes, and lime wedges.

2. Spicy Yucatecan Beef “Salad” Tacos

beef tacos

Tacos | iStock.com

Beef brisket or flank steak is slowly steamed until fork-tender and then mixed with a tomato habanero salsa for a light and mildly spicy taco filling. Be sure to let the beef-and-veggie mixture (called dzik) come to room temperature before serving. Recipe from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen.

Ingredients:

For the beef:

  • 1 pound bones beef brisket, flank, or skirt steak
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ small white onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • A scant 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 (18-inch) piece of banana leaf (optional)
  • 16 to 18 corn tortillas
  • 3 to 4 leaves of curly lettuce, for garnish

For the tomato-habanero salsa:

  • ½ small red onion
  • 5 tablespoons fresh sour orange juice (or substitute 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice plus 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice)
  • 6 ounces red ripe tomatoes (1 medium-small tomato or 2 to 3 medium plum tomatoes)
  • 3 radishes
  • ½ fresh habanero chile (more or less, depending on how hot you’d like the salsa)
  • 6 large cilantro sprigs

Directions: To prepare the meat, dry the beef on paper towels. Heat the vegetable oil in a 8- to 9-inch heavy skillet. When the oil is very hot, add the meat and brown thoroughly on all sides, about 10 to 15 minutes.

A 1 inch of water to the bottom of a steamer pot. Add the onion, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of salt to the water. Set the steamer in place. Loosely wrap the meat in the banana leaf, if using. Place meat in the steamer, cover, and steam over medium-low heat until the beef if fork-tender, between 1 and 2 hours. Check the water level frequently and add more if it gets low.

Remove the meat from steamer and let cool. Unwrap and shred into thin strands.

To make the salsa, finely mince the red onion and transfer to a strainer. Rinse under cold water and shake off excess liquid. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the juice.

Core the tomatoes and cut in half crosswise, scraping out the seeds. Finely chop the tomatoes and transfer to a large bowl. Slice the radishes very thin and chop into small dice. Add to the bowl with the tomato.

Carefully cut out the seed pod from the chile, then mince into very small bits. Bunch up the cilantro sprigs and slice the leafy part of the stems to a thickness of one-sixteenth of an inch. Add the chile and the cilantro to the tomato along with the onion.

Mix the beef into the salsa along with the remaining 4 tablespoons of juice. Taste and season with roughly 1 teaspoon of salt. Cover and let stand at room temperature ready to serve, preferably no longer than 1 hour.

Add about ½ inch of water to a steamer and bring to a boil. Wrap 2 stacks of tortillas in kitchen towels and lay in a steamer. Cover tightly. Boil 1 minute, then turn off heat and let stand for 15 minutes (do not uncover).

Line a serving bowl or dish with lettuce leaves. Toss the meat with dressing and transfer to serving bowl. Serve with warm tortillas.

3. Tacos de Carnitas

carnitas tacos

Tacos de carnitas | iStock.com

Slow-cooking a pork shoulder transforms it into the perfect filling for simple street-style tacos. Just top with some salsa and cilantro for garnish, and you’ll be pretty darn close to taco perfection. Recipe from The New York Times.

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds pork shoulder, either butt or picnic
  • 7 strips orange zest
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped, plus finely chopped onion for garnish
  • 1¼ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cinnamon stick, preferably Mexican canela
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1½ teaspoons crushed dried oregano leaves, preferably Mexican
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 24 small corn tortillas, warmed, for serving
  • Chopped cilantro for garnish
  • Salsa for garnish

Directions: Trim any thick fat from surface of pork. Cut meat into 1-inch cubes, discarding any that are pure fat. Put pork in a large pot. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches, orange zest, garlic, chopped onion, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, bay leaves, oregano, 1½ teaspoons salt, and the cloves.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Skim off any scum that forms on surface. Simmer uncovered for 1½ hours, until pork is very soft; add water if necessary to keep meat submerged. Season with salt, then continue to cook until water has evaporated, about 30 minutes. Cook a little longer to fry meat slightly; cook even longer if you prefer crisper meat. Stir often and add a bit of water if meat sticks or seems about to burn.

Remove bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Spoon a few tablespoons of carnitas onto each tortilla. Top each taco with cilantro, finely chopped onion, and salsa. Serve.

4. Beer and Chipotle-Battered Fish Tacos

Two fish tacos with two sliced limes on a white plate

Fish tacos | iStock.com

While there’s some debate about who exactly invented the fish taco, there’s no question that this Baja-style treat is delicious. In this traditional recipe from the Food Network’s Michael Chiarello, cod or another whitefish is lightly battered and deep-fried and then served on tortillas with a cabbage slaw and chipotle crema.

Ingredients:

For the batter:

  • 2 ounces canned chipotle peppers
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups Tecate or other pale beer
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons gray salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the tacos:

  • 3 cups sour cream
  • 1½ bunches cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice, plus 6 limes, cut in wedges
  • 1 teaspoon gray salt
  • Corn oil, for frying
  • 3 tomatoes, small diced
  • 12 red radishes, thinly sliced
  • 24 corn tortillas
  • 1½ pounds cod or other whitefish cut into 1-ounce strips

For the slaw:

  • 1 head green cabbage
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon toasted caraway seed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bunches scallions (green parts only), for garnish

Directions: Prepare the cabbage slaw one day before you plan to serve the tacos. Core the cabbage and shave thinly. Peel the red onion, cut in half, and slice thin and mix well with the cabbage.

Boil the cider vinegar and sugar together, whisking to dissolve sugar. When hot combine with olive oil, caraway seeds, salt, and pepper. Place cabbage and onions in a non-reactive baking dish and pour hot dressing over the top. Place another pan of equal size on top and place a weight on top to press the slaw. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Before serving, add chopped scallions.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

To make the batter, puree the chipotles and egg together in a blender. When well blended, transfer to a bowl and whisk in the beer. In a separate mixing bowl combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, whisking well to prevent clumps. Add freshly ground pepper. Set the batter aside while preparing the other ingredients.

In a small mixing bowl mix together the sour cream, 2 tablespoons of the chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons lime juice and 1 teaspoon gray salt. Mix well and remove to a serving bowl.

To make the fish, add 1 to 2 inches of corn oil to a large pot or skillet. Over medium heat, heat the corn oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

On a large serving plate arrange the tomatoes, lime wedges, chopped cilantro, and sliced radishes to garnish tacos.

Wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and heat in the oven while frying the fish.

With your fingers dip the fish strips into the batter and carefully place in the hot oil. Fry until golden brown all over, about 2 minutes on each side. With a slotted spoon remove the fish to a paper towel. To assemble the tacos place 1 piece of the fried fish on a warm tortilla and garnish with tomatoes, chopped cilantro, radishes, and sour cream. Serve with lime wedges and slaw.

5. Fried Avocado Tacos

avocado

Avocado | iStock.com

Even meat eaters will love these vegetarian tacos, made with crispy fried avocado and refried beans and topped with spicy poblano ranch dressing. It’s the perfect meat-free main dish. Recipe from Bon Appetit.

Ingredients:

For the poblano ranch dressing:

  • 1 poblano chile
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

For the tacos:

  • 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 avocado, halved, pitted, cut into 8 wedges
  • Kosher salt
  • Vegetable oil (for frying, about 4 cups)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can refried beans, warmed
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
  • 1 cup prepared pico de gallo
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack

Directions: To make the dressing, char chile over a gas flame, turning occasionally, until skin is blackened; transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let steam 15 minutes. Peel, seed, and finely chop. Whisk chile, scallions, buttermilk, sour cream, and lemon juice in a medium bowl; season with salt and pepper.

To prepare the tacos, place eggs, panko, and flour in three separate shallow medium bowls. Season avocado with salt. Working in batches, dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Coat with egg, allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Coat with panko, pressing to adhere.

Pour oil into a large deep skillet to a depth of 1½ inches and heat until thermometer registers 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Working in batches, fry avocado, turning occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes per batch. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Spread beans on tortillas and top with fried avocado, lettuce, pico de gallo, and cheese. Serve with dressing alongside.

6. Tacos de Nopales

Nopales on a wooden cutting board with knife

Nopales | iStock.com

Nopales, or the edible leaves of the prickly pear cactus, make the perfect filling for vegetarian tacos. The most difficult part of preparing this dish from KCET is removing the spine from the cacti, and you may even be able to save yourself that step if you can find already cleaned nopales at your local Latin grocery store.

Ingredients:

  • ½ pound nopales
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 small spring onions or 1 white onion
  • 3 small garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 1 large, fresh green pepper (such as Anaheim chile), stem and seeds removed, sliced
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 16 (5-inch) corn tortillas
  • Sliced radish, for topping
  • Crumbled queso fresco, for topping
  • Lime wedges, for squeezing

Directions: To clean the nopales, grasp the narrow end with a potholder or kitchen towel. Scrape the blade of a knife down the cactus paddle to remove all the spines. Use the tip of the knife to cut out any remaining spines. Using a vegetable peeler, trim off the entire perimeter edge of the paddle, including the base where it was once attached to the cactus. Slice the cleaned nopales into ½-inch strips.

Heat a wide pot or pan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Trim the root end of each onion, peel away any papery layers, and slice the onion. Swirl the oil into the pot, then add the sliced onion, garlic, pepper, and cleaned nopales. Stir to coat the vegetables in the oil. Cover the pot with a lid, and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the lid, stir in the salt, and continue to cook until most of the liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes.

To serve, char the tortillas on a gas burner or in a hot skillet. For each taco, stack 2 tortillas, scoop some warm nopales filling into the center, and top with radish, queso fresco, and lime wedges.

Follow Megan on Twitter @MeganE_CS