taco bar ideas and best taco recipes
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There’s no need to wait until the next Cinco de Mayo (or Tuesdays, for that matter) to get your taco on—but October 4 is National Taco Day, so it’s the perfect time to break out your go-to taco recipe.

Better yet, make your meal a full-fledged fiesta by providing a buffet of ingredients for mixing, matching, and indulging.

The versatility of a taco bar is what makes it a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Include options for meat lovers and vegetarians. Bring the heat and the mild with mix and match salsas. Raw onions and cilantro not your bag? Skip ‘em—but if you’re a fan, pile ‘em on!

Cater the experience to fit your needs. Prepare everything from scratch or swap in store bought tortillas and dips. Let your protein bathe in the slow cooker all day or saute it in a matter of minutes.

Sure, you can always do takeout, but taking matters into your own hands is so much more satisfying. Here’s how to get started:

Related Reading: 11 of the Best Mexican Food Staples You Can Order Online

Taco Fillings

carne asada

Chowhound’s Carne Asada

You can go surf or turf, carnivore or vegan, but the star of your taco needs to be able to fit within the confines of a folded tortilla. So get ready to chop, shred, or work with ingredients that are bite-sized to begin with.

When it comes to meat, you’ll definitely want to beef up your taco bar with carne asada. When it comes to the cut, go traditional with thin flank or skirt for a quick cook and tender meat. A marinade is a must and grilling is optimal for some char and smokiness.

Related Reading: 13 of the Best Mexican Recipes to Grill

Keep the flames burning for pollo al carbon. The citrus and pepper-spiked chicken will have you going loco. As for the other white meat, chile-marinated al pastor is another grill favorite (don’t forget the pineapple) but if you’re looking for an excuse to break out the Crock Pot (or Dutch oven), tender and juicy carnitas can’t be beat. After the nearly three-hour simmer, don’t forget the essential finishing touch of cooking the pork shoulder in its own fat to achieve the dish’s signature crispy edges.

easy fish tacos

Chowhound’s Easy Fish Tacos

On the seafood front, fish tacos are a no-brainer. While it’s tempting to get your fry on, they’ll need to be made-to-order because no one likes them soggy. That’s why for purposes of a taco bar, we recommend grilling—not only is it less stressful, but it’s also healthier. Stick with a firm white fish such as tilapia, snapper, cod, mahi mahi, or catfish. If it’s crustacean you crave, leave room on the grill for spice-rubbed shrimp.

Chowhound’s Vegetarian Tacos

Vegetarian tacos are a great way to make your farmer’s market haul more festive. Select your produce depending on what’s in season. Mushrooms, squash, and poblano peppers are particular favorites.

Taco Toppings

how to make the best salsa

Chowhound

Options are seemingly endless when it comes to taco toppings. You can add a wide assortment of sliced and chopped produce. A sprinkling of queso. And of course, you’re gonna wanna bring some salsa to the dance.

A simple, spicy homemade Roasted Tomato Salsa never disappoints or get a little borracho with a rich, smoky mezcal-infused sauce. For a chunkier topper, go Pico de Gallo. Fresh fruit such as mango or peach is always welcome to the mix.

Related Reading: The Unassuming Ingredient That Stands Between You and Perfect Salsa

Avocado Crema recipe

Chowhound’s Avocado Crema

You can’t go wrong with sliced ripe avocado, but you can also add some chunks to your gallo or for a saucier approach, consider avocado crema.

Onions are a must in any taco bar. Chopped white are worth the tears or use red for a quick and easy pickle addition. Cilantro is a frequent companion to the onion, and is also easy to grow yourself.

As for the queso, shredded jack and mozzarella are readily available and affordable options. But if you can find it, salty, crumbly Cotija can’t be beat.

The Tortillas

Chowhound’s Flour Tortilla

It wouldn’t be a taco without a wrapper. Corn tortillas are the standard for street tacos. While going store-bought is simple enough, why not go D.I.Y.? it’s much easier to make them than you’d think, but you’ll need to stock up on masa harina. And a tortilla press will make things a lot easier.

Uno Casa 8-Inch Cast Iron Tortilla Press, $35.95 from Amazon

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While flour tortillas have often been relegated to gringo status there are regions in Mexico where they’re actually preferred. Frontera Restaurants empresario Rick Bayless advises mixing flour, cold water, salt, and shortening to make your tacos next level.

Dietary restrictions? Not to worry. For non-animal eaters and those keeping kosher or halal, skip the lard which is traditionally used to make tortillas. There are several gluten-free alternatives to choose from and for the keto followers and calorie counters, have some lettuce wraps on hand.

Related Reading: The Best Wraps Around the World And How to Make Them All at Home

Taco Sides

Chowhound’s Easy Guacamole

Just like David Letterman & Paul Schaffer, Lil Dicky & GaTa, and Captain Marvel & Goose, a taco feast benefits with some help on the side.

You’ve made all that salsa, so you should definitely have some chips to pair with them. And while we’re on the subject, whip up some guacamole—you’ll find there are a multitude of approaches.

As for veggies, pickled carrots are a healthy make-ahead option. If you’re grilling your taco fillings, toss some green onions on the fire. Cooking indoors? Jalapeños and serrano peppers can be blistered in a saute pan. The process brings out their sweetness and, ironically, removes some of the heat.

Related Reading: 7 Fast and Easy Grilled Vegetable Sides

Chowhound’s Refried Black Beans

And lastly, any good taco bar’s gotta have beans. If it’s your cheat day, go with refried (swap in vegetable oil for the lard to assuage some of your guilt). But black beans with Mexican beer are equally irresistible.

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Header image by Chowhound

David is a food and culture writer based in Los Angeles by way of New York City. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, CBS Local, Mashable, and Gawker.
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