23 Tasty Taco Recipes to Celebrate Cinco de Mayo
If you’re going to be breaking out the tequila come Cinco de Mayo, it’s only responsible to make sure you have plenty of food on hand. All sorts of Tex-Mex and Mexican recipes are appropriate for the holiday, but for my money, nothing beats tacos.
Not only are tacos the most iconic Mexican dish in America, there are plenty of taco variations out there to please every palate. Whether you favor tender and juicy carnitas, crispy beer-battered fried fish, or a vegetarian version with fried avocado, we’ve got 23 taco recipes to help you celebrate a delicious Cinco de Mayo. For more recipe recommendations, including drinks, dips, and non-taco main courses, see our full guide to Cinco de Mayo.
Traditional carnitas are made by cooking pork butt in a couple gallons of lard, which is not something I tend to have around the house. But by packing the pork tightly in a small container, you can cook moist, rich, unbelievably tender carnitas using a much more reasonable amount of fat. If you have an immersion circulator, sous vide carnitas are an even easier option.
Typically made by stacking sliced marinated pork shoulder on a huge spit, tacos al pastor are even more challenging than carnitas to re-create at home. Rather than trying to build our own miniature spit, we pack the meat into a loaf pan, roast it until tender, then crisp it up in a skillet. Rubbing the accompanying pineapple with rendered pork fat before broiling it gives the fruit extra flavor. The result may not match traditional al pastor in process, but the flavors and textures are spot-on.
This recipe flips the script on tacos al pastor, elevating the pineapple to a starring role and relegating the pork to a supporting part. We cut the pineapple up into chunks, rub it with a savory adobo-style marinade, then roast it in the oven under strips of bacon, which baste the pineapple with their rendered fat. Pile both up into a double layer of corn tortillas; add cilantro, chilies, Cotija, and salsa verde; and you’ve got a reimagining of al pastor that feels both new and familiar at the same time.
Tacos al pastor bear more than a passing resemblance to Middle Eastern shawarma and, in fact, likely have roots that can be traced to Arab immigrants. Tacos árabes are the missing link between the two: cumin-marinated meat, wrapped in pita bread. Here, we thinly slice and pound the pork to keep it tender; marinate it in a mixture of onion, lime juice, and spices; and serve the tacos with both chipotle and yogurt sauces, in a nod to the dish’s dual origins in Mexico and the Middle East.
These tacos start with fresh Mexican chorizo, cooked down until the fat is well rendered and the meat is nicely browned. Once the chorizo is done, we remove it and cook diced russet potatoes (parboiled first in vinegar-spiked water, to ensure they fry up extra crispy) in the rendered fat. For those who like the idea but don’t eat pork, the recipe works just as well with our homemade vegan chorizo.
There’s nothing wrong with sprinkling shredded cheese onto a taco just before eating, but there is a better way: Crisp up the meat on a griddle, then add the cheese there so that it melts onto the meat and starts to crisp up. You can use this technique with any taco filling, but here we choose classic Yucatecan-style pork belly, or castacán.
To make real-deal cochinita pibil, you’ll need a whole pig and a stone-lined fire pit. Don’t have either of those kicking around? This recipe will provide a close and pretty tasty approximation, using slabs of pork shoulder, banana leaves, and a smoker. What really sets this pork apart is its sweet, earthy marinade, made with bitter Seville oranges, achiote, and charred garlic.
Like cochinita pibil, traditional barbacoa is made by cooking a whole animal, often a sheep, in a pit oven. This recipe produces a simpler, distinctly Americanized take on the dish: braised beef flavored with chilies and cumin. To get a deep, seared flavor without overcooking the meat, we add well-browned oxtails for flavor and skip the sear for the meat that will actually make it into the tortillas.
Carne asada translates to “grilled beef,” so it should come as no surprise that there are virtually infinite ways to make the dish. Our version is made with skirt steak, marinated with a whole host of flavorful ingredients—rehydrated dried chilies, orange and lime juice, olive oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, cilantro, cumin seed, coriander seed, and brown sugar—before it’s cooked over a blisteringly hot grill.
You already know what you get when you fry a cooked tortilla: a hard-shell taco. Fry up uncooked masa, though, and it balloons into the kind of puffy taco shell that’s popular in San Antonio. Though shredded meat is the more typical filling, here we use ground beef, flavored with onion, garlic, jalapeño, and an earthy spice blend.
Inspired by classic Jamaican beef patties, these tacos are made by piling ground beef, seasoned with onion, garlic, and hot Scotch bonnet pepper, onto golden turmeric- and curry-rubbed tortillas. To balance out the heat of the tacos, we spoon on a refreshing, fruity slaw made with mango, pineapple, radish, red onion, and cabbage.
While chicken tinga usually gets a boost of flavor from Mexican chorizo, this quick and easy version omits that sometimes-tough-to-find ingredient in favor of more widely available ones. The result is a delicious taco filling of shredded chicken doused in a sauce made from tomatoes, tomatillos, and onion, flavored with smoky chipotles, tart apple cider vinegar, and a bit of fish sauce. The kicker? It all comes together in one pot for easy cleanup.
This recipe is best made with fresh Hatch chilies, the green peppers that residents of New Mexico are rightly proud of. But they’re elusive outside that state, so if you can’t get them, use a Poblano and a wax pepper instead. To make the chicken, first char the peppers, tomatillos, onion, and garlic under the broiler, then purée them all into a flavorful sauce, in which you’ll finish cooking browned chicken thighs. Shred the chicken, stuff it in a taco, and top it with a mixture of minced raw white onion and cilantro, pickled onions, and a sprinkling of Cotija cheese.
Inspired by the desire to eat a meal that tastes like it took a lot of effort, but in fact requires no effort at all, this braised lamb shoulder is perfect as a taco filling. We deeply score the fat cap on the lamb, allowing the fat to render out gently and baste the meat while it cooks. The roast is smothered with a flavor-packed paste made from smoky dried morita chilies, fruity guajillos, sweet and sticky dates, and a few tart tomatillos. Place the lamb in a Dutch oven, cover it, put it in a low oven, and five hours later (we said it was easy; we didn’t say it was fast), you’ve got a taco filling fit for a queen.
One of the biggest perks of moving from NYC to LA is the accessibility of terrific fish tacos. If you’re not so lucky, consider taking matters into your own hands. The secret to making extra-crispy fish tacos that keep their crunch until the last bite is a two-stage battering process, dipping the fish in a beer batter before coating it in extra flour.
When it comes to grilled-fish tacos, whole fish is a great choice, since it’s more flavorful and tends to hold up better and cook more evenly than fillets. Here, we stuff the fish cavity with lime slices and cilantro and season it with salt, pepper, ancho chili powder, cumin, lime juice, and olive oil before grilling it. Serve the fish whole with lime vinaigrette, fresh veggies, and, of course, a stack of warm tortillas.
If you’re going to grill fish fillets, a firmer fish like mahimahi is your best bet. For these grilled-fish tacos, we rub the mahimahi with an earthy blend of chili powder, paprika, cumin, and other spices. A grilled-mango salsa provides some brightness to cut through the hearty fish and intense spices.
A vegetarian alternative to fried-fish tacos, this recipe instead calls for battering and frying slices of rich, creamy avocado. Avocado by itself is a little on the bland side, though, so we season it generously with salt and pepper and assemble the tacos with lots of flavorful toppings: salsa verde, pickled red onions, serrano chilies, and chipotle cream.
Don’t let the fried egg fool you—these sweet potato tacos are as good for dinner as they are for brunch. Sage and sweet potatoes are a classic pair, so a handful of chopped sage goes into the potatoes as they’re sautéing. Rather than spending our valuable time preparing a salsa, we just let the liquid egg yolk mix with hot sauce and crema to make an easy sauce.
My Texan friends would kill me if I left migas—tacos filled with scrambled eggs, chili peppers, onion, and tortilla chips—off this list. Freshly fried Homemade Tortilla Chips work best here, but I won’t blame you for substituting store-bought ones. Better yet, ditch plain tortilla chips in favor of Nacho Cheese Doritos.
As far as scrambled-egg dishes go, migas is one of the easiest to turn vegan. Not only is the soft texture of the eggs easily mimicked by silken tofu, with all the intense ingredients in the mix (onion, cumin, paprika, serrano chilies, and Poblanos), you’ll barely miss the flavor of the eggs. Serve these “vigas” with Spicy Vegan Refried Beans and charred tortillas.
This potluck-friendly dish, sold by street vendors in Mexico City, features corn tortillas stuffed with any sort of filling, layered with onions and hot chili oil, and wrapped up in a basket to steam. It’s important to use fillings that aren’t too wet—refried beans and potatoes are good options that happen to be vegetarian-friendly, but drier meats, like barbacoa and chorizo, work as well.
These tacos aren’t exactly traditional, but they are entirely delicious. They seamlessly combine Mexican and Korean flavors and ingredients, pairing soft flour tortillas with crispy sweet-and-spicy tofu, tangy quick-pickled cucumbers, and a fresh, crunchy slaw. Crumbling the tofu before cooking it gives it more surface area to crisp up and for sauce to cling to.
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