Hard Shell Tacos

I love tacos. I really do. (Sure, everyone loves them now, but that’s a fairly recent thing.) When I first moved to California, I was not an instant fan, but over time, I was converted. By the end of my time in LA, I spent the better part of several Saturday days trying tacos all over the city, from taco trucks in the parking lots of South Gate car washes and downtown Thai grocery stores, to Highland Park markets and Mar Vista taquerias. Carnitas, Baja-style fish tacos, potato, chorizo… I love them in many incarnations. When my husband and I eloped in Santa Barbara, our first meal as a married couple was at a simple taqueria just a stone’s throw from the 101 with eyeball and tongue tacos on the menu (we had carne asada). After moving away from LA to a place not well known for Mexican food, I learned how to make my own corn tortillas; I make carnitas; I’ve got epazote, masa harina, and several types of dried chiles in my pantry.

Have I established my taco-love? While I’d never claim to make a truly authentic taco, I know I’ve eaten them…at least ones authentically filtered through a southern California lens. So, to reiterate, I love tacos.

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And I love hard shell tacos. I’ve loved them since I ate them as a suburban CT kid, filling them with ground beef cooked with a convenient spice pack, accompanied by shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese, and so on. It may not be cool in food circles to admit loving hard-shell tacos, but so what? The truth is the truth. And last week, New York Times food editor Sam Sifton confirmed that he loved them, too. He wrote this comprehensive story about them in the Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/11/magazine/the-case-for-hard-shell-tacos.html. The recipe for “Middle School Tacos,” as he calls them, is here: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018758-middle-school-tacos.

I still love hard shell tacos filled with the expected spiced ground beef, but also shredded chicken, or black beans even. And I always include a spread of toppings—some combination of tomatoes, onions (raw or pickled or, even better, both), sour cream, salsa, avocado (or guacamole), toasted pumpkin seeds, cheese (monterey jack, cotija, or feta)…you get the gist.

I have made hard shell tacos for dinner guests several times. In each case, my guests hadn’t had these tacos in ages. They enjoyed the nostalgia, and also the fun. I mean, come on—the crunch, the toppings, the mess…what’s not to love? Are they authentic Mexican? No, of course not. The matter has been written about by many others, Sam Sifton included. Does it matter that they’re not authentic Mexican tacos? Not in my opinion, not in this case.


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