Tacos are a beloved Mexican dish that have become popular all over the world. A taco consists of a tortilla that is filled with various ingredients, typically including meat, cheese, lettuce, salsa, and other toppings. While the tortilla and toppings play an important role, the taco filling is the star of the show. The filling is what gives each taco its distinctive flavor and identity. When it comes to taco fillings, there are many options to choose from, but some are more popular than others. In this article, we will explore the most popular taco fillings and analyze what makes them so well-liked.
Meat is one of the most common taco fillings. Within the broad meat category, there are a few front runners for most popular:
Ground beef is hands-down the most popular taco meat. It’s easy to cook, easy to season, and readily available. Plus, the tender crumbles pair perfectly with the other taco toppings. According to taco experts, roughly 60% of all tacos sold in the US are filled with ground beef. This filling stars in classics like hard shell tacos, nachos, and burritos. Ground beef can be seasoned with traditional taco spices, salsa, or salsa verde for a flavorful taco filling.
After ground beef, chicken is the second most popular taco meat. Shredded or grilled chicken breast offers a leaner alternative to beef. It also absorbs flavors well and pairs nicely with zesty salsas and sauces. Chicken is a particularly common filling for soft tacos and street-style tacos. It can be seasoned in endless ways, from citrusy adobo to smoky chipotle.
Spicy Mexican chorizo sausage is another beloved taco filling. Made from coarsely ground pork and plenty of chili seasoning, it offers a bold, rich flavor. The crispy browned bits of chorizo add great texture to tacos too. This sausage filling features heavily in authentic tacos from Mexico, as well as American fusion-style breakfast tacos.
For a heartier meat option, steak fills the taco nicely. Grilled, sliced steak, typically flank or skirt steak, has a wonderfully smoky char and beefy flavor. It pairs well with robust toppings like grilled peppers and onions. Steak tacos often have Mexican, Southwestern and Tex-Mex influences. You’ll frequently find them at taco trucks and taquerias.
Carnitas are essentially Mexican pulled pork. Pork shoulder or butt is braised until ultra tender, then shredded into bite-sized bits. The juicy, flavorful meat makes a satisfying filler with some crispy, caramelized bits mixed in. Carnitas tacos are a standard at taco bars and taquerias. They’re often served with cilantro, onions and salsa on corn tortillas.
While less common than meat fillings, seafood tacos have a devout following. Here are some of the most popular options:
Plump, juicy shrimp make for excellent tacos. They can be cooked in countless ways – grilled, blackened, fried or sautéed. Shrimp tacos often reflect coastal cuisine, with additions like cabbage, lime, mango salsa and chipotle aioli. They are a standard menu item at beachside taco shops.
Tender white fish like tilapia, cod and mahi mahi also taste delicious in taco form. Grilled or fried fish tacos are an easy meal. They allow the mild flavor of the fish to shine with just a bit of seasoning and taco toppings. Fried fish tacos are particularly popular in Southern California.
For an indulgent take on seafood tacos, there’s lobster. Lobster meat brings a sweet, succulent flavor and luxe texture. Lobster tacos often incorporate lime, avocado and chili mayo for a tropical twist. They’re frequently found at upscale restaurants and taco shops.
If you enjoy fried calamari, try it as a taco filler. Fried calamari rings or tentacles, coupled with toppings like cabbage, chipotle ranch and pickled red onions make a tasty taco. Calamari tacos are a common feature at Mexican restaurants and food trucks.
Veggie lovers have lots of excellent taco fillings to choose from too. These are some of the most popular:
It doesn’t get much more traditional than refried beans. These mashed pinto beans, spiced with onions and peppers, make a quick, protein-rich taco filling. Bean tacos are a breakfast staple in Mexico and the American Southwest. They’re typically served with cheese, salsa, avocado and other simple toppings.
Hearty potatoes make a satisfying plant-based taco filling. They can be roasted for a crispy texture or mashed for creaminess. Season them boldly with spices like cumin, chili powder and garlic. Potato tacos are a fixture on vegetarian taco menus.
For a vegetable medley filling, grilled veggies can’t be beat. Onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini are all tasty grilled. Add some salsa verde or chipotle crema for extra oomph. Grilled veggie tacos are great for summer barbecues and parties.
Sliced, seasoned tempeh makes a fantastic meatless taco filling. With its nutty flavor and sturdy texture, it mimics ground meat. Tempeh tacos are popular at vegan restaurants and food trucks, especially with global flavor profiles.
Shredded young jackfruit is another popular vegan substitute for meat. With the right seasonings and cooking method, it pulls apart into tender, tangy strands akin to pulled pork. Jackfruit carnitas or barbacoa make flavorful fillings for plant-based tacos.
Regional and Gourmet Tacos
Beyond the basics, there are endless ways to fill your taco according to personal tastes. Some interesting regional and gourmet taco trends include:
These are a breakfast staple in Texas and the Southwest. Fillings often include eggs, potatoes, bacon, chorizo and cheese. Breakfast tacos can also feature unique regional ingredients like barbacoa beef cheek.
These fusion-style tacos combine Mexican tortillas with Korean or Japanese toppings like bulgogi beef, kimchi and wasabi aioli. They can be found at specialty taco shops and food trucks.
Mixing Mexican and Thai flavors, these tacos contain fillings like chicken satay, Thai chili shrimp and mango salsa. Thai tacos have gained popularity on the West Coast and in fine dining establishments.
Greek-style tacos feature Mediterranean ingredients like falafel, grilled lamb, tzatziki sauce, feta cheese and olive tapenade. They bring a fresh twist to tacos.
Why not fill a taco with something sweet? Dessert taco shells can be made from waffle cones or churros, then filled with everything from ice cream to churros to fried bananas. These creative tacos make fun street food.
Most Popular Overall
After considering all the various fillings, which one comes out on top as most popular? It’s a close race, but ground beef ekes out the win for most beloved taco filler. The classic seasoned ground beef filling can be found in all types of tacos – hard shell, soft shell, street-style and beyond. It’s mild flavor pairs perfectly with all the cheese, lettuce, salsa and other taco extras that make them so crave-worthy. Ground beef’s versatility, accessibility and nostalgia factor push it to the #1 spot. However, the other fillings all have devoted fans as well. Tacos’ beauty lies in how customizable they are to individual tastes and regional influences. There are endless combinations to explore!
Key Factors in Popularity
Now that we’ve determined ground beef as the consensus most popular taco filling, what attributes contribute to its favored status? Here are the key factors:
As one of the earliest taco fillings, ground beef is entrenched as the “classic” choice. Its legacy status keeps in demand.
Ground beef has a mild beefy flavor that absorbs spices well. It partners with the other taco components instead of overpowering.
Nice and tender, but not mushy. The crumbles provide a satisfying meaty bite.
Its neutral flavor works in any style of taco – Mexican, American, gourmet fusions, etc.
Ground beef is affordable, especially compared to steak or seafood. This keeps it accessible.
Diners can season their beef with different spices for unique flavor profiles.
Ground beef is easy to brown, chop and season. Making it is simpler than grilling meat or frying seafood.
Its perfect balance of familiarity, cost, versatility and ease makes ground beef the ideal taco filling for the masses. However, tacos are all about customizing to your tastes. Whether you prefer chorizo, carnitas or grilled shrimp, there’s a amazing taco filling out there for you!
The most popular taco filling is ground beef, appealing to taco purists and fusion aficionados alike with its nostalgic flavor and versatility. However, tacos come in endless varieties thanks to their incredible adaptability. From meaty classics like chicken, steak and chorizo to seafood sensations like fish and lobster to vegetarian delights like beans and grilled veggies, the possibilities for fillings are nearly endless. No matter your preference, you can build an amazing taco by starting with an artisan tortilla, piling it high with your favorite fillings, and loading on fresh, flavorful toppings. So get creative and try something new next Taco Tuesday! The beauty of tacos lies in the limitless options for creating a customized, crave-worthy experience.