12 Ways to Make the Best Tacos of Your Life
A few expert taqueros gave us their best taco-making advice.
The taco is one of life’s greatest treasures. A gift from Mexico, the taco is a many-splendored thing that works as a meal or as a snack. It’s versatile, satisfying, portable, delightful, and something you can make from scratch at home if you have the right tools and tips. You may never master taco-making like a real taquero, but you can try your best and enjoy the delicious fruits of your labor. We asked chefs to share their best advice for making perfect tacos, so you can enjoy tacos at home that aren’t from the box.
If you’re buying tortillas, choose the right ones
Grocery stores are full of tortilla options. They are not all created equally. “Pass on the name brand tortillas and grab something authentic,” says Eduardo Ruiz, executive chef at L.A.’s Chicas Tacos and director of F&B at BLVD Companies. “If you don’t have a tortilleria close by, grab some masa and a tortilla press and try your hand at your own.”
Try making your own tortillas
Since tortillas are the cornerstone of good tacos, take the extra step and try making them yourself. Katy Smith, executive creative chef at Puesto in Southern California, suggests starting with making corn tortillas. “No rolling pin required. Cut ziplock bags in half and place your masa in between to press your tortillas,” Smith says.
Don’t dry out your masa
Ivan Vasquez, owner of Madre restaurant, also recommends experimenting with yellow corn the first time you make tortillas. “It’s my personal favorite and is most traditional in Oaxaca, where I’m from,” he says. “You have to stir the masa several times and make sure the mixture is not dry—do not leave masa out of the fridge for too long or it dries out! Use a tortilla presser to flatten them out.” To take things up a notch, Vasquez adds hoja santa leaves before pressing the masa. “They add so much flavor.” Cook your tortillas for 45 seconds to one minute per side, flipping only twice or they’ll be overcooked.
Tortilla heat matters
Once you have the best tortillas on hand, prepare them properly before serving. “Heat up your tortillas properly just before serving your tacos,” says Teo Diaz-Rodriguez, co-owner of Sonoratown in Downtown Los Angeles. “Too little heat will result in dry doughy tortillas. Too much heat and they get tough, crunchy or scorched. They are the base of your taco, treat them with respect!”
Tacos at Sonoratown in Los Angeles Natalie B. Compton
Avoid pre-made essentials
According to Vasquez, buying pre-prepped ingredients is going to result in subpar tacos. "I see so many people buying pre-sliced meat, which are less tender and more likely to be overcooked,” Vasquez says. “Another common mistake is buying pre-made salsas—it’s more convenient, but nothing rivals the flavor of homemade salsa made from fresh, local ingredients. No matter how good the meat is, the salsa is 50% of the flavor!”
Pick up a molcajete
To make excellent salsa, Ruiz suggests buying a Mexican mortar and pestle. “In my opinion, the best way to make salsa at home is in a molcajete,” he says. "Like my grandmother, I cook the tomatoes, onions, and peppers on a comal or over the burners. I’ll then mash garlic and salt with the cooked onions in the molcajete. I finish it with the cooked peppers and tomatoes and as always, finish it with fresh cilantro.”
Grill your salsa ingredients
Before you start making your salsa, grill the ingredients—like Roma tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic, jalapeño—ahead of time. “It is a longer process, but worth it for the flavor,” Vasquez says. “Blend the tomatillos, tomatoes and garlic first, then add raw onions (blend at slow speed). Blend the jalapeños separately with a bit of water. Next, mix all ingredients together for chunky, spicy, roasted salsa! Add salt to taste. Top with micro cilantro (more flavor) and onions.”
Tacos at Quetzalcoatl in Los Angeles Natalie B. Compton
Pork goes a long way
As far as fillings go, Ruiz recommends going for pork to get the most bang for your buck. “When it comes to versatility, pork rules. Braised, grilled, al pastor, carnitas, and even pig skin. Pork is king,” he says. “I enjoy pork belly a lot. The ratio of meat to fat ensures an amazing finish that melts in your mouth. I would suggest roasting pork belly in a simple marinade and once it’s done, make tacos with finished belly and salsa. The following day I’ll add the belly to a stew or pot of beans for a second helping.”
Char your fillings
The expert touch on your tacos comes from the grill. “Char your proteins and char your veggies,” Ruiz says. “Char is the secret ingredient in some of the best tacos in the world.”
Choose well-marbled meat for carne asada
The right fat content is integral to good carne asada. “I love to buy a nice quality cut of meat for my carne asada, something with good marbling and high fat content like short rib,” says Diaz-Rodriguez. “We’re going to be cooking on a mesquite grill, and so fat is essential to the flavor of the finished product. Season liberally with salt and cook through—carne asada shouldn’t have any trace of pink. You’ll know you did it right if your fat goes crispy instead of chewy.”
Prep carne asada ahead of time
Don’t wait until the last minute to start preparing carne asada. “I always use angus beef for my carne asada tacos. I marinate for 24 hours with steak seasoning and fresh slices of onions, oranges, and cilantro leaves between each layer,” Vasquez says. “Cut marinated meat in ¼ inch slices and grill to medium/medium-rare. If you cut the meat in too thin, it overcooks extremely fast.”
Try veggie fillings, too
Tacos don’t always have to be meat-heavy. “I love making vegetable taco fillings,” Smith says. “Rojas con crema is my all-time favorite, and you can fold in whatever seasonal or leftover veggies you have, spinach, chopped up asparagus, summer squash, etc.”
Try our: 70 Incredible Taco Recipes