How to Throw a Casual Mexican Taco Party Like a Top Chef
Mexican Party Ideas
When well-known chef Hugh Acheson entertains at home, he likes to keep things simple and fun. The award-winning chef and cookbook author and Top Chef judge mixes a batch of tasty drinks and sets a casual buffet to make his guests feel welcome and relaxed.
The ingredients for a fun and simple Mexican fiesta include:
- A ready-to-pour pitcher of refreshing cocktails.
- A serve-yourself buffet piled with recipes you can mostly make ahead. At the buffet, guests assemble their tacos with whatever combination of toppings suits their moods. Colorful pottery dishes add to the party atmosphere.
- Vibrant decorations such as paper pom-poms (like these Tissue Paper Pom Poms, $9.99) bright linens, and richly hued flowers in colorful pottery vases (try an interesting pairing like spray roses with two-tone geranium leaves from the garden).
Serve-Yourself Mexican Party Buffet
At Acheson's restaurants, perfectly plated dishes are part of the experience. But at home, he prefers a casual, family-style buffet. "It's easy to pull together, and kids are more apt to try new things if there's no pressure," he says. "They can browse and pick what interests them." His unexpected decorating trick is to drape the island with vibrant tablecloths before setting out the buffet.
Muffin Tin Centerpiece
Napkin Pocket Project
These paper utensil pockets are super simple and make a casual gathering feel special. To make the pockets:
- Select a letter-size piece of decorative paper, or print our custom design inspired by the tile in Acheson's kitchen.
- Fold the paper in half to make an 8-1/2x5-1/2-inch rectangle. Press in the sides so they just overlap, and secure with regular tape or colorful Japanese washi tape.
- Repeat to make as many napkin pockets as you need.
Dyed Linen Napkins
Vintage linens take on a modern, festive look when overdyed in saturated colors. To achieve these rich, super-saturated colors, use fiber-reactive procion dye (from $3.44, Walmart) on plant-based fabrics such as cotton, linen, rayon, etc.
- Prewash the fabric.
- Create a paste with the powdered dye and a small amount of warm water, then add more warm water. When the dye is dissolved, add to a tub of water and stir in completely. The amount of water and dye you need depends on the amount of fabric, the chosen color family, and how deep you want the final color to be.
- Add the called-for amount of noniodized salt to the dye tub and mix. (Some instructions call for adding optional calsolene oil. We did not use calsolene oil for the linens shown.)
- Add the fabric (either wet or dry), and stir frequently for 20 minutes.
- Dissolve the called-for amount of soda ash in warm water and very slowly add to the dye bath while stirring, avoiding pouring it directly on the fabric. Stir frequently for the recommended time (about 30 minutes for lighter colors and one hour for darker colors).
- Rinse the fabric with cool water until the water runs almost clear. Finally, machine-wash on the high-heat setting with detergent to remove the rest of the dye. (You may have to repeat this last step with some darker colors.)
El Perro Salty Cocktail
Margaritas aren't the only option for a great Mexican party cocktail. This tasty salty dog-mojito hybrid can be mixed one at a time or in a large batch for a crowd. Made with Mexican grapefruit soda, Acheson wittily dubbed the drink "El Perro Salty."
Taco Buffet Spread
Serve tacos with a variety of condiments so guests can build their own flavors. Here, the roast pork, warmed tortillas, and bowls with the fixings (like sliced radish, lime wedges, and chopped tomato) are all arranged on a large wooden cutting board for easy access. Don't forget to set out seasonings like salt, pepper, and chili powder so guests can top their tacos.
Acheson's advice for beating the stress of entertaining? "Prep your meal well and you'll be much more relaxed," he says.
Vegan Chorizo Tacos
Set out a meatless option that all your guests will love. These spicy vegan tacos are made with mushrooms, walnuts, and chickpeas. Set out a bowl of the filling and let guests top their own tacos.
Test Kitchen Tip: Lightly grill corn tortillas before the party and keep them warm in a tortilla warmer (IMUSA Plastic Tortilla & Arepa Warmer, $4.99, Target).
Spicy Pickled Eggs & Beets
Refried Black-Eyed Peas
This fresh twist on refried beans calls for black-eyed peas, bacon, and queso blanco. Finish the dish with a generous sprinkle of fresh cilantro.
Gem Lettuce Salad with Chamoy Dressing
Round out your taco party menu with a fresh salad that's filled with the flavors of Mexican Chamoy hot sauce. The dressing is made with apricot preserves, chile de arbol powder, and fresh lime. Use it to generously dress gem lettuce, avocado slices, and mango.
Roasted Pumpkin Guacamole
Almond Tres Leches Cake with Strawberry-Mango Salsa
Rhubarb Agua Fresca
Stuffing a Pinata
Hosting a family-friendly fiesta isn't just about the food. Activities such as pinatas keep the kids happy between nibbles. Acheson and his daughters stuff their pinatas with little toys, Mexican candies, and a few special treats from a local chocolate maker.
Hand-Drawn Menu as Decoration
Acheson often does quick sketches of food ideas and recipes. Here, they're part of the decor -- he and his daughters sketched this party's offerings and taped them to the pantry door as a fun visual menu. Acheson's James Beard award-winning cookbook, A New Turn in the South, $31.50, Barnes and Noble, is sprinkled with his handwritten notes and sketches.