Tackling Taco Terminology

by Courtney Carlson

Tacos are a classic Tuesday night staple that is so good that Taco Tuesday was almost trademarked by basketball star LeBron James. But, how authentic are the tacos you consume weekly? You might’ve seen places with generic names such as El Sombrero claiming to have authentic Mexican food, but what does that really mean? Navigating the world of tacos can be tricky with regional variations and several options to choose from, but we’re here to break down the different styles of tacos and what they consist of.

American Taco/Fast Food Classic: American tacos are typically similar to the ones sold at Taco Bell. They consist of a hard-shelled tortilla filled with meat – usually ground beef, lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese, and tomato. Honorable mentions for this taco include sour cream and a mild salsa. Respectfully, this taco has its moments, but other options are much better.

Tex-Mex: Simply stated, Tex-Mex food is Americanized Mexican food that originated in Texas. Although Tex-Mex style tacos vary quite a bit, they typically use a soft flour or fried corn tortilla stuffed with steak, pulled pork, or shredded chicken. These tacos also tend to have unique sauces such as chipotle ranch, barbecue sauce, or queso, and place a big emphasis on cheese, whether it be cotija or a form of cheddar. Other fillings may include pickled onions or peppers, pico de gallo, and rice or beans.

Green Chile Pork Taco, Missionary Style from Texas chain Torchy’s Tacos

Traditional Mexican: Traditional tacos vary depending on the region, but they are most commonly prepared on a soft corn tortilla. Fillings include carnitas (braised pork) or chorizo (sausage), cilantro, and white onion. A homemade salsa or hot sauce is sometimes used as a topping as well to add an extra kick.

Chicken tacos from Habaneros The Taco Revolution in North Texas

California Style: These tacos usually include corn tortillas and are healthier than Tex-Mex tacos. They use more veggies, such as avocado, and are served with lighter proteins like fish. Sometimes they can appear similar to Tex-Mex tacos, but the main indicator of a California style is that it is usually more green in color, according to Mattito’s Tex-Mex restaurant.

Photo by Lucas Swinden on Unsplash

Fusion Style: These tacos basically combine Mexican food with another type of food. In the United States, people typically fuse Asian cuisines with tacos. For instance, Velvet Taco, a national taco chain, uses chicken tikka masala and fried paneer tacos, implementing traditional Indian flavors into a taco dish. Asian cuisines typically have the most fusion style tacos in the United States.

Southern Soul taco from Cris and Johns in Dallas, Texas

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