Your Guide to Terrific Freestyle Tacos

March 12, 2018

Where I’m from—Houston, Texas—not only is it acceptable to eat a taco for every meal, it’s encouraged. Our city has no shortage of options where you can enjoy one: stands, trucks, counters, cafés. And they’re all good—like, really good.

A [taco is a beautiful thing. A bound parcel bearing the juiciest and sweetest of gifts. One of Mexico’s many culinary gifts to the world, they’re versatile, customizable, portable, and go down in a pinch. Far from home, I’ve taken taco-making duties into my own hands. New York, if you know where to look, has no shortage of stand-up tacos; still, I find the DIY approach exciting and stimulating. I’ve become the master of my own taco, playing with combinations of sauces, condiments, and fillings. Sometimes, I even make my own tortilla (ooh, ahh).

If you, too, feel compelled to assemble your own taco—which you should, it’s supremely easy—then consider this your guide. A few things to keep in mind: Start from the bottom and work toward the top, never skimp on sauce, and when in doubt, keep it simple. Now get going!


Here’s your base, treat it well. I usually opt for a corn tortilla. However, the majesty of a homemade flour tortilla should not be overlooked. This Genius recipe is oh so simple but oh so Dang, that’s good. If it’s corn you seek, then reach for the masa. Follow only the first half of the tortilla chip recipe and stop just short of cutting and crisping. Meanwhile, here’s some light tortilla history.


Now here’s where you get to have fun with things. It’s hard to get the filling wrong, but it’s worth a bit of effort to get the filling right. Right? Right. Some of the suggestions below weren’t even originally intended for tacos but would be great wrapped up in a warm, homemade tortilla. Make a few to mix and match, or experiment with your own inspired taco take.


I’m a sucker for a good salsa. I can’t toss back my taco without first topping it with a generous drizzle, plus a squirt of lime. If you’re a fan of spice, then this is your chance to get that heat going. Pack some peppers into your salsa and let the flames roar. Go creamy, go chunky, go both!

Okay, now that that’s all set, don’t forget to garnish with some chopped cilantro and a spritz of lime juice. Your taco, and your taste buds, will thank you.

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What’s your winning taco combo? Tell us how you roll in the comments below.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


laurie S. March 18, 2018
You are spot on Valerio! Taco nite at our house is a highlight. Great recommendations!! xo Mrs. D
HalfPint March 13, 2018
I love street-style tacos with any filling, cilantro/onions, a squeeze of lemon/lime, and some of those spicy pickled onions that you see at the salsa bar. BTW, anyone got a recipe for those addictive pickled onions?