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Photo: Delish.com

If you’re a taco fan (and honestly, who isn’t?), you’ve likely noticed a distinct difference between homemade tacos and the restaurant versions with fresh salsas, grilled meats, and tortillas shaped and pressed in-house. Both incarnations of the taco have their own special kind of charm, but if you find yourself craving professional-level eats on Taco Tuesday, it’s helpful to learn how to recreate them in your own kitchen. We decided to ask a group of chefs specializing in Mexican cuisine for their tips on how to make restaurant-grade tacos at home, and we’re bringing you 9 key pieces of advice.

1. Start with the right foundation

Use 100% corn tortillas as your base when possible. They’re more traditional and authentic. If you’re making very large tacos, however, you might want tortillas with a little wheat flour-the gluten holds them together better. Heat the tortillas in a skillet with a drop of oil, 15-20 seconds on each side. They taste better warm and not so mealy.

2. Improve your salsa selection

Choose good ingredients. The difference between a mango or an avocado that’s ripe and one that’s not ripe is like night and day. At the market or store, you can tell by feeling if they’re soft enough. Everything should not taste the same in your taco. If you have a tomato-basted meat, don’t add more tomato in the salsa. My wildest taco involved smoked peach salsa with chili-lime pickled jicama.

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Photo: TheKitchn.com

3. Keep it to two bites.

When it comes to tortillas, Sánchez always opts for 4-inch corn tortillas, double-stacked to maintain the taco’s integrity. Typical corn tortillas are 6 inches, but that’s too big in Sanchez’s opinion. “If you have a 6-inch tortilla, then when you take a bite things start falling out,” he says. “The 4-inch tortillas keep everything compact and down to two bites.”

4. Soften up the tortilla.

Sánchez is strongly opposed to hard-shelled tacos. “Never do a hard shell,” he says. “That’s a tostada, not a taco.” To make sure his tortillas are the perfect consistency and temperature, he warms them on a griddle with a squirt of equal parts oil and water.

5. Should you choose to use store-bought tortillas, opt for refrigerated or frozen versions rather than shelf-stable ones.

While freshly-made tortillas give you the best possible product, time constraints can remove this possibility. Luckily, high-quality, pre-made tortillas can be found in Latin markets and even at well-appointed supermarkets, but you need to know what to avoid. Specifically, shelf-stable tortillas aren’t doing your tacos any favors. Whenever possible, choose refrigerated tortillas over the shelf-stable ones – they simply taste better and have better texture. There’s a huge difference between brands, so experiment until you find one that you like (the tortillas should be flavorful and chewy and not dissolve easily on contact with sauce).

6. Add chorizo to your ground beef to amp up the flavor.

For the most classic Tex-Mex style tacos, your filling needs a base of ground beef. However, even well-seasoned versions of this popular taco ingredient can lack dimension. To give your ground taco beef an extra layer of nuance and bold flavor, consider mixing in some spicy Mexican chorizo.

A food and media company based in Boston, Massachusetts, “we recently developed a ground beef taco recipe and [mixed] in some fresh Mexican chorizo with the ground beef. It added smokiness, porky richness, and extra layer of spice with only one ingredient. It can be a little hard to find, but is often available at high-end grocery stores or Latin [markets].”

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Photo: TheArtisanSmokehouse.com

7. Fabulous fillings

These taco filling recipes do not use a lot of ingredients, therefore cooking is quick. Use the highest quality meats, poultry, and vegetables. Select the best spices and be sure to measure accurately. Taste your fillings as you go and season your fillings toward the end of the cooking process.

8. Cheese to please

There are so many varieties of cheese on the market. Be adventurous. Cheese adds yet another layer of flavor to the taco experience. You do not need to pile it on. Just a hint of a high-quality cheese adds intense creamy flavor. The Mexican cheeses are worth a taste (see page 26). They are fresh cheeses that need no aging and are available in most Latin American markets or online. Not all tacos need cheese; many can stand with only garnish and salsa. However, additions of Cheddar, Monterey Jack, and hints of blue cheese and feta add unmatched flavor to the perfect taco.

9. Above all else, keep it simple.

Tacos make a fantastic canvas for unusual fillings and inventive preparations, but there’s no need to overcomplicate them. A street food that’s conveniently handheld and delicious even in its most stripped-down form, the taco benefits from simple, flavorful, and well-made ingredients. Keep it simple. The more basic you make it, the less expensive it'll be to make, and often, the more flavor you can [develop]. Cook your protein first with onions and cilantro to create a bold flavor. Make a simple fresh pico [de gallo] with tomatoes, onion and cilantro or a fresh avocado salsa with jalapenos, green tomatoes, onion and garlic.”

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