30 Cheap, Delicious Ways to Fill Your Tacos


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Mexican chef making tacos at a street cafe
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What makes a taco a taco is the soft corn tortilla, which should be either fresh off the comal (griddle pan), reheated over an open flame from a gas stove, or in a pan with a touch of oil. The fillings can really be anything, from traditional carnitas and tongue, to Tex-Mex ground beef and cheese, to vegan potato and kale. Make cooking already cheap tacos even cheaper by repurposing leftovers such as cooked meats and roasted veggies into fillings by adding canned chipotles or jalapeños and flavorful salsas. Here are 30 taco filling ideas to get the creative juices flowing.

Chicken Tinga
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This crowd-pleasing smoky chicken filling uses ultra-cheap bone-in chicken thighs for an extra-juicy and tender final product. Buy a larger can of chipotles in adobo sauce and refrigerate the leftovers in a glass jar for extra savings. Recipe: Serious Eats

Ground Beef
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Ground beef is a Tex-Mex filling often served with cheese on top. While not traditional, it is tasty and loved by even hardcore taco purists. This recipe uses a few simple spices rather than a spice packet, which can add considerable cost to larger batches. Recipe: Food.com

Roasted Mushrooms
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Mushrooms are a meaty but vegan alternative to meat-based tacos that provide a ton of flavor and protein-rich nutrition. This super-easy, quick recipe uses inexpensive cremini mushrooms. Sliced mushrooms? Just cut the cooking time in half. Recipe: Food Network

Kale and Potato
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This all-veggie taco is surprisingly satisfying, especially when topped with a favorite salsa. Potatoes add a ton of bulk for a small price, as well as a textural contrast that brings it all together. Recipe: The Latin Kitchen

Pork Carnitas
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Arguably one of the best taco fillings of all time -- if not the best -- carnitas is made from inexpensive pork shoulder. The key is getting the texture right and striking the balance between juicy tender meat and some crisp crunchy bits. This recipe's method works every time. Recipe: Serious Eats

Slow Cooker Pork
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Shredded pork is an easy taco filling that takes very little hands-on prep and is made from a cheap cut of meat. Leave the pork plain or throw inexpensive dried chilies and herbs into the slow cooker to give it a signature flavor. Recipe: Food Network

Skirt Steak
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Keep steak tacos affordable by using cheaper cuts of meat cooked properly. Skirt steak can be marinated for extra flavor and cooked quickly to remain juicy and tender for tacos. Recipe: The Art of Manliness

Cilantro Lime Chicken
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Pungent cilantro- and lime-infused chicken makes a quick and easy taco filling that is a step up from using basic roasted chicken. This recipe is especially good for saving money on toppings, since the flavor is built in. Recipe: Delish

Korean Beef
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The original fusion taco -- or at least the one that stole the hearts of foodies everywhere -- the bulgogi taco is easy to make for way less than even taco truck prices. Short rib and tri-tip, the recommended cuts for this recipe, are relatively inexpensive to begin with. Recipe: Food Network

Soy Al Pastor
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Al pastor tacos are typically made with pork marinated in a mild chili sauce and served with pineapple chunks. The bold flavor that makes these tacos so distinct can be recreated with soy protein to be vegan-friendly and even cheaper than the original. Recipe: Allrecipes

Chorizo Con Papa
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Mexican chorizo gets its punchy flavor from lots of paprika, oregano, and vinegar. This traditional filling makes a little go a long way by pairing with low-cost potatoes. The result is a filling with many textures and layers of flavor. Recipe: Leite's Culinaria

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Roasting broccoli on high heat allows it to get tender with crispy caramelized bits that are full of big flavor. These veggie tacos are cheap to make, delicious, and light to eat, and are one of the most satisfying ways to work green vegetables into an indulgent meal. Recipe: Vegicano

Fish Tacos
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Fish tacos are super simple to make; using inexpensive fish such as tilapia makes them affordable. Oven baking or broiling the fish delivers a texture similar to grilling without having to worry about losing some of the fish to the grill. Recipe: Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Spicy Shrimp Tacos
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Shrimp tacos can be made inexpensive by starting with frozen shrimp -- which generally come deveined, lightening prep work as well as overall cost. Paired with a tangy slaw, piquant shrimp offer the flavor of coastal Mexico in each bite. Recipe: Pinch of Yum

Rajas Con Queso
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Poblano peppers are between mild and hot, and when paired with creamy cheese and sweet corn make layers of flavor that hit all the right flavor notes. If poblanos can't be found, substitute a mix of green bell and jalapeño peppers. Recipe: Mexican Food Journal

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Cheap, tasty, and healthy cactus paddles should be used more often in everyday cooking. Tacos are a good place to start. Find paddles at Mexican grocery stores. The spike-on paddles aren't much cheaper the ones with spikes already removed, so go for the ready-to-use variety. Recipe: Frontera

Lengua Tacos
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Tongue is an underappreciated meat, and one of the most traditional taco fillings. It also happens to be cheap. The key is to cook the tongue long enough in a flavorful liquid so it becomes tender and infused with other flavors. Recipe: Simply Recipes

Spicy Pork Tacos
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Carne Enchilada, a spicy marinated pork dish, is a traditional taco filling all over Mexico. Adjust the level of heat by adding or subtracting chili powders in the recipe. You could also try this with chicken, though it has a tendency to be drier. Recipe: Food Network

Chipotle Tofu
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Tofu, much like chicken, can take on almost any flavor for use as a scrumptious taco filling. This easy chipotle version stays soft in the middle with some crispy outer bits that resembles traditional meat mixes. Recipe: Serious Eats

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Real barbacoa is a whole animal cooked in an underground pit for many many hours; a dialed-down version can be made at home for way less than the cost of a trip to Mexico. The gamey flavor of lamb works best, though many people substitute beef. Recipe: Frontera

Sweet Potato
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Sweet potatoes are cheap and healthy, and can be prepared to work perfectly in tacos. Their natural earthy sweetness works especially well with fiery hot salsas, offering a balance of flavors. This recipe roasts chunks of sweet potato for a combination of soft and crunchy textures. Recipe: Cookie + Kate

Fried Avocado
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This veggie approach is gaining popularity in taco shops across the country for its rich flavor and mix of crunchy and creamy. Avocados can cost a few dollars each, but this method allows cooks to get multiple tacos out of each. Recipe: Epicurious

Raw Taco 'Meat' Tacos
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When flavored like meat, the combination of nuts or seeds with sundried tomatoes resembles it a surprising degree. Even when using organic base ingredients, the cost of this macrobiotic dish is no pricier than using the more common meats. Recipe: Dianne's Vegan Kitchen

Cumin Pork
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Tacos Árabes are a specialty of Puebla, with origins from the influx of immigrants from the Middle East. Traditionally served in wheat-based pita or flatbreads, the cumin-spiced pork offers a flavor that blends two rich culinary traditions. Recipe: Serious Eats

Spiced Lentils
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Lentils work a lot like textured vegetable protein or ground beef, taking on customized seasoning well and creating a meaty character. Using spices rather than a seasoning packet to create a flavor profile yields a more focused flavor with less sodium and lower cost. Recipe: It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken

Ground Chicken
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Using ground chicken (turkey could also be used) rather than ground beef lowers costs, saturated fat, and cholesterol. The flavorings and cooking method work similarly to ground beef. Recipe: Once Upon a Chef

Chicharron En Salsa Verde
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This dish has its roots in peasant food, and like many foods of humble origins, is delicious. Chicharrones, or pork cracklings, are cheap, as is a homemade salsa verde. The result is more than the sum of its parts, and one of the most traditional ways to enjoy tacos. Recipe: Food Network

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Eggs can be enjoyed any time of day, which remains true when they are the star of tacos as well. Simple scrambled eggs become a quick taco filling that can be topped with any condiment to suit the context. Recipe: The Kitchn

Chicken Fingers
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Fried chicken and tacos combine into a dangerously indulgent and addictive treat. Pan-fried chicken strips make an easy filling that can be dressed with just about any toppings for a guaranteed hit every time. Recipe: Taste of Home

Nutella and Strawberries
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Tacos can even be dessert (with a shell recipe adapted from homemade ice cream cones). Pair inexpensive seasonal or frozen fruit with simple condiments such as Nutella or whipped cream for a fun, if a bit messy, dessert that's a little out of the ordinary. Recipe: Gemma's Bigger Bolder Baking

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