Tacos – otherwise known as everyone’s favorite Latin import – are taking on a life of their own in the US fast-casual sector. This irresistible dish has made its indelible mark on our dining scene, along with other well-loved street foods of Mexico, South America, and Central America including burritos, empanadas, and tortas – so much so that tacos are now menu staples in restaurants of all types.
The taco is probably the one Latin American food that has made the biggest impact in the US. Most American consumers enjoy tacos, and they’re equally popular across demographics. While piling meats, cheeses, veggies, and sauces into flour or corn tortillas has become as standard as burgers and pizza, one of the great things about tacos is the endless possibilities this simple formula presents.
Unsurprisingly, tacos are extremely popular among today’s adventurous consumer. The possible combinations of ingredients are endless; many ingredients can work well together. That means that restaurants and other food companies are having a lot of fun experimenting with flavor profiles and creating new and unexpected ways to eat tacos.
Fast-casual restaurants are adopting Latin America’s tacos for their own unique menu innovation. Branching out from the traditional meat and cheese, restaurants are coming up with flavor combinations such as catfish, cotija cheese, poblano slaw, peppadew peppers, and avocado sauce. Or, how about fried chicken with green chilies, pico de gallo, and cheddar-jack cheese? Another tempting taco we’ve seen this year includes Jamaican jerk chicken, mango, sour cream, grilled jalapenos, and cilantro – with diablo sauce, of course.
Shrimp, bacon, feta, garlic sauce, sriracha lime sauce, creamy verde sauce, and poblano sauce are just a few of the ingredients you can find served in a taco shell these days. Speaking of taco shells, even they are getting an adventurous makeover – for instance, pancakes, seaweed, cauliflower crust, eggs, potato skins, and even chocolate are some of the substitutions you might find in place of the soft or crispy tortillas you would typically find on a taco.
Many restaurants are putting their own spin on traditional street tacos, usually served up with slow-roasted meats, house-made toppings and sauces, and authentic ingredients such as pickled red onion, cilantro-onion mix, and queso fresco. Fried chicken tacos are becoming a popular option, served with spicy sauces such as jalapeno ranch. Or, consider an achiote pork taco with charred pineapple relish. There’s also an up-and-coming trend involving breakfast tacos – warm tortillas filled with sausage or bacon, eggs, cheese, and potatoes.
California is also a hotbed of taco innovation, and many companies are taking their inspiration from the Golden State. These flavor profiles may include Baja coastal vibes and ingredients such as grilled spicy shrimp, avocado, tomato, cabbage, and chipotle sauce. Of course, the fish taco is as popular as ever and getting its own new tweaks, such as mahi-mahi, cilantro, cabbage, tomato, onions, and avocado.
Some restaurants are choosing rotating taco menus, with staples such as carne asada, carnitas, and chicken tacos featured alongside surprising options such as eggplant parmesan tacos and buffalo chicken tacos. Others have their approach to tacos rooted in Latin American authenticity with tacos that include barbacoa, birria, or pambazo.
Tacos allow consumers to enjoy multiple different experiences in one sitting. Whereas a hamburger can give you one experience, a taco can give you five, all on one plate. Tacos have a way of crossing boundaries and bringing people together. Endless personalization and irresistible flavors make this a trend that won’t die anytime soon. There’s never been a better time to experiment with taco innovation, and it’s easy to see how many possibilities there are. If you can dream it up, it can go in a taco, and our natural flavor ingredients can help you fine-tune the taste of your creations. It’s time to give Taco Tuesday a whole new meaning!