Tacos are all about the shell. You can create the most decadent fillings, but the meal won’t have that je ne sais quoi if you don’t get your taco shells right.
Here’s everything you need to know about making the best taco shells for street tacos.
The Right Type of Taco Shells
Street tacos need a specific type of taco shell.
You may prefer flour tortillas for your standard taco Tuesday fare, but street tacos should be made with corn. They are typically served in a soft-shell tortilla rather than a hard shell.
However, there’s nothing wrong with making your tacos to taste. If you are a flour tortilla person, stick with flour. Similar cooking tips apply, but since flour is a bit thicker, you may want to cook it for a few more seconds.
Best Taco Shells To Buy
None of us likely have the time to make our taco shells from scratch. There’s nothing wrong with using store-bought, but you need the right brand.
The most common and cheapest taco shells you can buy at the store contain vast swaths of preservatives. On the plus side, they are inexpensive and long-lasting, so they work well for folks on a budget. Any of these shells will do if you cannot find or afford the preservative-free brands.
But if you want the most delicious taco shells money can buy, opt for La Banderita La Casera. These soft-shell corn tortillas come wrapped in waxy white paper and don’t contain any preservatives. They’re the best taco shells money can buy, but the downside is that they go bad quickly if you don’t use them, and they can be challenging to find in certain regions.
Grocery stores in Los Angeles and Savannah lacked this particular brand, though they’re available in cities like Chicago and Austin. If you can’t find them, look online or for a different preservative-free brand.
How To Make the Best Taco Shells
Now that you’ve got your taco shells, it’s time to prep them for street tacos.
Making these taco shells is far easier than you’ve ever imagined. All you need is a little vegetable oil and a frying pan. Use a cast iron or non-stick skillet for best results, but any frying pan will do.
Warm the frying pan to medium heat, and pour some oil into a mixing bowl. You should pour about a half cup but don’t worry about the actual amount because it’s not really important. You can always add more as you go if you need it and dispose of any leftovers. The amount will depend significantly on how many tortillas you want to cook.
Next, dip the taco shell into the oil for a second, allowing about 1/3 of the surface to get a small layer of oil.
Cooking the Taco Shells
The biggest secret is in the cooking.
After dipping the shell in oil, transfer it to your heated frying pan. However, you can’t just set it and forget it. This step takes constant monitoring.
Move the tortilla in circles around the frying pan, ensuring the entire surface gets coated with the oil. Flip it and do the same on the backside. Moving the shell around the pan when it hits the surface is crucial to a perfectly cooked tortilla. This step gets the oil to spread evenly around the whole body.
After the initial circling and flipping, allow the shell to cook on each side for 10-20 seconds. For best results, store in a tortilla warmer with a layer of paper towels on the bottom to catch the access grease.
If you don’t have a tortilla warmer, line a plate with paper towels and stack the cooked tortillas on the plate, covering with another paper towel as you go.
Why These Shells Are So Good
The small layer of oil allows the shells to cook and retain a little moisture, giving them that authentic street taco feel.
If you use too much oil, you’ll fry the shells, resulting in crunchy taco shells. If you don’t use enough oil, your shells will be a little dryer.
Of course, personal preference comes into play. Some prefer a crunchier shell, while others would rather cook the healthier, oil-free option.
A bonus of cooking taco shells this way is they’re still good if you use too much oil or opt against it altogether. In my opinion, the ⅓ dip creates the best results for street taco tortillas, but there’s no wrong way to do it.
Taco Shells When You’re in a Hurry
Sometimes you don’t have time to hand-cook taco shells in the frying pan one by one. In these instances, a microwave is your best friend.
You can microwave taco shells to get a similar texture to street tacos. They aren’t exactly the same, but it works in a pinch.
The secret to microwaving the shells is paper towels.
Line your microwavable plate with a small layer of paper towels, then arrange three shells on the plate. Microwave for ten seconds, flip them, and microwave for another ten seconds.
You have warm tortilla shells perfect for your taco night.
Paper towels are essential because moisture accumulates when you microwave your taco shells. If you don’t use paper towels, water will line the bottom of the plate, making your tortillas mushy and causing them to tear. The paper towels absorb the access moisture, preventing this horrible waste of a shell.
Making Hard Shell Tacos
Some folks want a satisfying crunch with their tacos. Although traditional street tacos are soft-shelled, we can’t blame folks for enjoying crunchy tacos.
The best way to make crunchy tacos is via a deep fryer. Heat your oil to 350 degrees, and deep fry the corn tortilla for about ten seconds in the hot oil. Fold the shell immediately while it’s still hot, as it will be impossible to manipulate once it’s hardened and cooled.
You could also keep the shell flat and serve your tacos as tostadas if you don’t want to deal with the folding.
If you don’t have a fryer, you can also make crispy taco shells in the frying pan. Simply use more oil. If you dip the entire surface in oil before frying and allow it to cook a little longer on each side, your shell will harden, and you’ll have perfectly crunchy hard shell tacos.
Filling Your Tacos
Now that you’ve made the most delicious taco shells available, it’s time for the fixings!
Authentic Mexican street tacos typically come with carne asada (steak), chopped onion, and cilantro. Many also include cojita, the crumbly Mexican cheese.
However, you don’t have to stick with tradition. You can fill your tasty taco shells with whatever your heart desires. Add sour cream, guacamole, and hot sauce for flavor and texture profiles. Include shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes to get more vegetables in your diet. Switch it up by using ground beef, ground turkey, shredded chicken, or even potatos.
Enjoy your tacos your way, but remember, the best tacos always start with the best taco shells.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.