Tacotopia, Episode #3: In Praise of Gringo Tacos

My family loves Taco Bell. “Can we stop at Taco Bell!?” the kids yell anytime we drive past one. And sometimes we relent, because we love Taco Bell too!

Taco shells and Taco Bell seasoning

Taco shells and Taco Bell seasoning

Not in the same way we love a good Baja fish tacos, or al pastor tacos on the street in Jalisco. But the comforting crunch of a gringo taco, as I like to call them — hard shell, spiced ground beef, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, a few tiny cubes of flavorless tomato and taco sauce — is its own piece of nostalgic heaven.

I remember in elementary school, my mother always packed me a tasty sandwich for lunch. And most days I was quite happy. But there was always a kid on “taco day” willing to swap his cafeteria taco for my homemade salami. I guess you could call that my introduction to the world of the gringo taco.

Immy digs in

Immy digs in

Variations on the gringo taco could be found not only at Taco Bell and other fast food Mexican joints, but also in the classic dark Mexican-American restaurants we all grew up on — filled perhaps with shredded chicken and served with rice and beans, but merely a riff on a theme. In fact, it was only relatively recently that the traditional Mexican street tacos — small, served on a couple soft corn tortillas, filled with a little meat and not much else — could finally be found north of the border. Well into my adulthood, I knew no other taco than the gringo.

Santa Claus, in his infinite wisdom, left a few packets of Taco Bell taco seasoning in my stocking this year. We would soon be enjoying that tell-tale crunch.

Flynn and the gringo tacos

Flynn and the gringo tacos

The standard gringo taco is, of course, made with ground beef. I’ve experimented with ground chicken for a lighter taco, with nearly identical results.

This time, however, I wanted to try something a little more toothsome. So I defrosted some chicken thighs, cut the meat into little cubes, and pan-grilled them in some oil with a generous sprinkle of the Taco Bell seasoning (which, by the way, can be approximated with equal parts paprika, garlic powder and chili powder). From there, it was the standard fixings — shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, little cubes of tomato — plus a bit of my secret salsa naranja that makes everything taste better. If you wanted to go a little more upscale, you could add some cubes of avocado, a chopped mixture of onion and cilantro, or some thinly sliced jalapeño for spice.

I include the recipe here not because you couldn’t figure out how to make your own gringo taco. But just in case you were lazy or wanted to try my tasty variation.


*    *    *

Grilled chicken gringo taco
serves 4

12 taco shells
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken thigh, cut into cubes
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. taco seasoning
1/2 lb. shredded colby jack cheese
2 cups shredded lettuce
2 large tomatoes, cubed
salsa naranja to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, and cook the chicken cubes, stirring frequently, until golden and firm. Toss in the taco seasoning, stirring to coat, and remove from heat.

Scoop a tablespoon or so of chicken cubes into a taco shell, and top with lettuce, cheese and tomatoes, and drizzle with salsa. (Include any of the above condiments or any others you wish.)

Serve with Mexican beer, a margarita or a nice sipping tequila or mezcal.

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl "Cheffie Cooks" Wiser
    Feb 26, 2016 @ 03:50:59

    Only problem with Taco Bell is there use of MSG (allergy) in meat products! So homemade are the way to go!!!


  2. Dshore
    Feb 26, 2016 @ 22:39:25

    If there is going to be a conversation on the Gringo Taco, Tito’s Tacos on Washington is as good as it gets. Standing in the ever present lineup to order is a living piece of history in and of itself. That’s our next lunch spot amigo!


  3. Joy Neubert
    Feb 27, 2016 @ 22:49:33

    Salsa naranja? Where do I find this?
    This question is coming from Florida.
    Dark meat chicken is the best! This should be a terrific thing if I can locate the salsa.


    • scolgin
      Feb 27, 2016 @ 22:55:13

      Hi Joy! You need to make it, all that’s needed is dried red chile de arbols, vinegar, garlic and oil. Click on the link where it says “salsa naranja,” and that will take you to another post where you’ll find the recipe.


  4. Trackback: Tacos, Foiled! | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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