If ever there was a dish that you could eat for literally any meal and any occasion, that meal has got to be tacos.
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This super versatile dish can handle as many or as little ingredients as you like, whether they are sweet, savory, spicy, mild – you name it, it will work in a taco.
Tacos is a traditional Mexican dish which consists of a series of different toppings or ingredients, wrapped or held in a hand-sized corn or wheat tortilla. This tortilla can be soft or crunchy like a shell.
The dish is a popular street food, eaten all over the globe and is loved due to its simplicity and ability to eat it with your hands.
The fillings used will vary, but the basic concept of a taco is a tortilla ‘shell’ or bowl, filled with a main filling (meat like beef, pork or chicken, or a meat alternative like jackfruit, rice or beans), something crispy such as lettuce or pickled onions etc., something creamy like guacamole or sour cream and an element of spice like hot sauce, salsa or Jalapeños.
The combination of these elements can vary greatly depending on how spicy a person likes it or meaty or filling, etc.
So, this article is a list of the tastiest toppings we think you need to try on your tacos, whether you like it hot or not, meaty or veggie, there’s something in this list for everyone. Keep reading to find out more!
First up, the classic taco ingredient: ground beef. Seasoned ground beef is the ultimate taco topping and is what most people think of when they hear the word tacos.
You can season your beef in a number of ways, but the classic way to season your ground beef is by using taco seasoning which is a mixture of ingredients including chili flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, and a pinch of salt.
You don’t have to use ground beef though, you could also have grilled steak coated in taco seasoning and cut it into strips for a heartier dish – this is a great option for the serious carnivores among us.
Next up, shredded chicken, another favorite taco topping. Again, you can season your chicken however you want, but a popular choice is chipotle chicken.
For this you will need to combine chipotle peppers with honey, garlic, black pepper, salt and cumin and marinate the chicken in it.
You can also season the chicken in your typical taco seasoning, too.
Shrimp tacos are a popular taco filling, especially in the U.S. Fish tacos are the less obvious topping, but the flavors provided by seafood such as shrimp and other fish are delicious and if you haven’t tried a fish taco, you seriously need to.
Shrimp tacos are typically seasoned in taco seasoning too, but to make them spicy you can add some red chilies or Cajun seasoning.
Carnitas (Pulled Pork)
Carnitas is a huge favorite taco topping – who wouldn’t want slow cooked and seasoned pork that is pulled to perfection in order to be placed neatly in a taco? Well, apart from the non-meat eaters out there but don’t worry we still have plenty of veggie and vegan options too, that are just as delicious.
Yes you read that right! Pulled jackfruit is a super tasty veggie and vegan option for the main taco topping. All tacos need some form of meaty topping so pulled jackfruit is a great option if you don’t want actual meat.
While this fruit may look strange at first, the inside actually looks a lot like pulled dark meat which makes it perfect for a plant based alternative to pulled pork.
You can either season it exactly the same way as regular meat or a common jackfruit seasoning is barbecue sauce. For this all you need to do is marinate the jackfruit meat in barbecue sauce!
Refried beans are another great meat alternative. These are a classic Mexican dish that is made up of cooked red beans or pinto beans. Once cooked they are mashed and then fried in fat.
Beans are super filling which is why they work so well as a meat alternative.
We told you there’d be plenty of veggie and vegan toppings, rice is another delicious and filling topping that isn’t meat but is just as tasty.
Popular flavors are tomato rice and lime and cilantro rice, but you can use whatever rice you like! For a less carb-heavy option you could try cauliflower rice or coconut rice.
Rice is great because it soaks up sauces and flavors very easily, so you can flavor it any way you want!
Pico de Gallo
Perfect for adding some texture to your tacos. Made up of tomatoes, onions and Serrano peppers, this topping will add a freshness to the dish and is a great alternative to salsa if you don’t want a messy taco with lots of sauce.
You can also mix in some fresh cilantro for added flavor and color.
No taco is complete without a good crunch, that’s where lettuce comes in. not only does it add a nice crunch, it also adds some freshness and color to your tacos.
Plus, it’s a great healthy addition to an otherwise rich and salty dish.
A Mexican staple, no taco is complete without salsa. The ingredients of salsa can vary massively, but the main ingredients include tomato, onion and cilantro often combined with different peppers of increasing heat. So, depending on how hot you like your tacos, you can choose a salsa as mild or as fiery hot as you like.
Hot sauce is a great way to add heat to your taco and prevent it from being too dry if you don’t like salsa by adding hot sauce.
Much like salsa, hot sauce ranges in heat from very mild to very hot, so you can choose how spicy you like your tacos.
Some of our favorite hot sauces for tacos include sriracha and Harissa – two flavor-packed sauces with delicious ingredients such as dried chili peppers, paprika and tomatoes.
If you’re not a fan of Pico de Gallo but still want some veggies and color in your tacos you can just add some chopped fresh tomatoes.
They’ll add a nice sweetness and juiciness to your tacos, too. You can use any type of tomato you like, typically, the tomatoes used are cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, and buffalo tomatoes.
You could add them in raw or grill them to make them softer. Likewise, you can fry them too with some onions and spices for a more flavorsome option.
Guacamole is another Mexican staple that belongs in a taco. Made up of smashed avocado, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice and sometimes red onion and/or jalapeño peppers to create a smooth, rich and nutty dip that will add tons of flavor to your tacos.
It’s super easy to make and store, so you can make a big batch to use throughout the week. Guacamole also tastes great on nachos and other tasty Mexican dishes.
You can purchase at the store but store-bought guacamole tends to be on the smoother side so if you like it chunkier like a lot of people do, you’re better off making it yourself, but don't worry it’s super easy to make.
Not only is sour cream a super tasty sauce in its own right, it also compliments spicier sauces perfectly.
If you’re a fan of spice, but you like to have something mild to cool your mouth down, sour cream is the sauce to pick.
Much like guacamole it adds a nice creamy texture to the dish, too.
Corn adds some sweetness and crunch to your tacos as well as some tasty nutrients and a pop of color!
You can use sweetcorn or grilled corn, both are delicious, and you can mix it in with various herbs and spices or simply serve it as it is.
You can also use corn in homemade salsa. To do this, you need corn, cilantro, red chili, scallions, tomatoes, lime, salt and olive oil. Simply chop the ingredients and mix together – it’s a super delicious alternative to more traditional salsas.
If you don’t want to add any heat you can just skip the red chilies.
Monterey Jack Cheese
This is an extremely popular cheese, especially in Mexican and American cooking. It’s incredibly versatile and is mild enough not to overpower a dish but distinct enough in flavor to add a tasty cream taste.
It melts very quickly so adding it to your tacos is a great way to bind all the ingredients together and add a satisfying gooey, cheesy texture too.
Its overall taste is mild and buttery, and it works particularly well in barbecue flavored dishes so is perfect in tacos.
Pink Pickled Onions
You’ll find most restaurants that serve authentic tacos will top them with pink pickled onions. Not only do they add a pop of color making the dish look more appetizing, they also add a lot of flavor.
Pink pickled onions are a mixture of tangy and sweet with a good crunch. They’re easy to make and go well with tons of other dishes, so they’re a great staple to have at home.
To make your own, you’ll need red onions, apple cider vinegar (or other acid of your choice), lime juice and some sugar and salt.
They only take an hour to pickle before you can enjoy them or the longer you wait, the tastier they will be.
Jalapeño peppers are some of the most popular chili peppers used in Mexican and American dishes, and they taste great in tacos too.
They add spice and texture without being too overpowering. Most commonly people like to use green jalapeños in tacos but if you find these are too hot for you, you can use red jalapeños instead.
If you like a good crunch in your tacos, but you don’t have the palette for anything spicy, you can use bell peppers instead. That way you get all of the crunch without any of the pain!
As well as texture they’ll also add a sweet taste and some juiciness. There are several ways you can prepare bell peppers for tacos. Add them raw, bake them, grill them or fry them, it’s up to you. If you want them as crunchy as possible, you should add them raw.
Cilantro can be an acquired taste for some as many dislike the taste but for those who love it, fresh cilantro is like the cherry on the cake when it comes to Mexican cuisine.
This tasty herb adds a punch of herby flavor and a lovely pop of color – no Mexican dish would be complete without a hearty sprinkling of fresh cilantro on top.
This is a less obvious option but mixing breakfast food with regular food is never a bad idea! Tacos are certainly good enough to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so why not do exactly that?
Adding a fried egg or some spicy fried egg will make for a delicious breakfast taco. Top it with some Monterey Jack cheese and some hot sauce, and you are good to go.
Not really a topping but an excellent seasoning, what doesn’t taste better with a squeeze of fresh lime juice? Nothing, exactly.
Squeezing some fresh lime on your taco will bring out all the different flavors and add a nice tart flavor to go with the creaminess of the sauces and meatiness of the fillings.
Black Beans/ Pinto Beans
We’ve already mentioned refried beans but black beans and pinto beans also make great additions to tacos.
Plus, the juice from cooking the beans adds a nice moisture to the dish and a lovely earthy flavor.
Feta Cheese (Crumbled)
Crumbled feta cheese adds a lovely tangy, rich and slightly salty flavor to your tacos, and it goes particularly well with black bean tacos but will taste great no matter what other toppings you go for.
Mango salsa is the perfect combination of sweet and spicy. It’s super refreshing and looks amazing on your plate.
Plus, it’s so easy to make! All you need to do is chop up some mango into little cubes and mix that in with some cilantro, red bell peppers, red onions, some Jalapeño peppers and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
If you’re not a fan of spice you can just leave out the Jalapeño peppers and add more sweet belle peppers or perhaps some tomatoes.
What’s the difference between a taco and a burrito?
There is very little difference between a taco and a burrito, particularly in terms of what ingredients go into them.
The main difference is the size of them. Tacos are much smaller and are more hand-sized whereas burritos are rather large.
That being said, due to the different ways in which they are folded (tacos are folded in half and left open and burritos and tightly wrapped with no openings) both are popular street foods.
Tacos are also more typically eaten as a lighter snack as their smaller size means you can fit much fewer ingredients than in burritos and burritos can be extremely filling because you can pack a huge amount of food into them.
Tacos will also tend to have a hard, crunchy corn tortilla ‘shell’ making them easier to eat and burritos will be wrapped in soft flour tortillas.
More about traditional Mexican Street Food
Tacos are a type of street food known as ‘antojitos’, which translates literally to "little cravings".
This food is traditionally prepared by street vendors at small markets in Mexico. Other foods that come under this umbrella term includes tamales (a sweet or savory dough-based dish that is filled with anything from meats to fruits), quesadillas (a dish consisting of a thin corn dough filled with cheese and sometimes other fillings and grilled flat), nachos (heated tortilla chips covered in cheese, salsas, meats and other toppings), cemita (an eggless bread roll coated in sesame seeds), and much more.
Tacos are one of the most popular traditional Mexican dishes to date. The dish is loved not just in Mexico, though, it is eaten in lots of other places including the U.S. and the U.K. and other Western countries.
As you can see from this list, the topping combinations are quite literally endless and there are options for every dietary requirement.
We hope this article has inspired you to stray away from your regular order the next time you get tacos or make them yourself, and try some of the toppings listed above.
This list is, of course, not exhaustive so get creative and see what other toppings you can come up with – enjoy!