You know those ground beef tacos with cheese and lettuce that your kids love? Friends, it's time to say good-bye. Small but mighty taco trucks nationwide invite you to try a real, grown-up taco. If you haven't had one of the seriously creative tacos they're churning out, don't worry. We chatted with taco truck chefs across the country to get the dish on how to make authentic tacos at home.
Not sure where to begin? Start with these big-picture tips from our taco truck experts.
Go for flavor: "It's that umami that we try to create in a couple bites -- sweet, spicy, and sour flavors," says Tina from Kimchi Taco Truck in New York City. She recommends piling boldly flavored meats with cool toppings like pico de gallo.
Sauce it up: If the spice in Mexican cooking intimidates you, don't worry. At Yayo's OMG taco truck in Nashville, all the heat comes from the sauces, rather than the meat, which is the typical Mexican preparation. This way, taco-lovers can choose their spice level.
Take your time: While they're easy to make, authentic tacos require more attention than you may be used to. "It's the time it takes to cut the veggies, mix the flavors, and season the meat that makes tacos different from American food," says Jack from Jefe's Original Fish Tacos and Burgers in Miami.
Put down the seasoning packet. The first rule for authentic tacos is fresh ingredients, always. From Florida to Oregon, taco truck chefs named these five ingredients as must-haves for delicious tacos.
Cilantro: Love it or hate it, this fragrant herb flavors Asian and Tex-Mex tacos alike.
Mexican Oregano: This herb is related to lemon verbena, rather than mint like Mediterranean oregano. The flavor contains more citrus than its savory cousin.
Chiles: Like those in adobo sauce, chile peppers are essential for bold, spicy tacos.
Red onion: Sliced ultra thin, juicy red onions top any taco with tang.
Corn tortillas: Rather than a plate-size flour tortilla, stick to saucer-size corn tortillas. They're more traditional, and they'll help you control portions.
Taco truck chefs don't stick to tradition. Often they infuse their taco recipes with favorites from their own cooking or community. "I always like taking what you would normally eat, or your favorite dish at a restaurant, and putting a spin on it," says Nelson Miu of Domo Taco in New York City. If you're not sure where to start, steal some inspiration from our other experts' stomping grounds.
Portland: "Portlanders are well-researched and foodie," says Bo Kwon from Koe Fusion in Portland, Oregon. "Everyone has an opinion, and it's a very diverse clientele. We started including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options."
Nashville: Southern ingredients like slow-roasted pork and mashed potatoes work their way into the tacos at Yayo's OMG in Nashville.
San Diego: Kiko's Place tacos feature the local catch of the day: smoked marlin, scallops, or shrimp. Take this tip and include whatever grows in your neighborhood in your tacos.