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A Guide To Mastering The Non-Traditional Taco

Tacos are flavor powerhouses. The best ones encompass everything: salt, spice, sweet, acid, fat, juice, crunch, chewiness, creaminess, tenderness—it’s all there. The trick is finding that balance of bold flavors and contrasting textures. It used to be tacos were strictly traditional—carnitas, al pastor, carne asada, pescado—but Roy Choi changed all that with his Kogi BBQ taco, a Korean barbeque/Mexican mash-up. Now, tacos can contain anything, so long as the ingredients play well together. They’ve become a street food canvas for fascinating fusions, and we’ve gathered a few combinations, inspirations for your taco Tuesdays at home, from this generation’s taco Picassos.

The Mediterranean Lamb Taco
The Mediterranean Lamb Taco The Chef: Elana Karp, Plated, New York
The Flavor Breakdown: Ground beef and lamb give some of their distinct fattiness to tender eggplant that’s spiced with za’atar and coded in tart, sticky pomegranate molasses. The warmly spiced, sweet/sour base contrasts with its toppings: crunchy, sharp pickled onions and a cool, crisp salad of tomatoes, cucumber, oregano, mint, and creamy feta.

The Kimchi Taco
The Kimchi Taco The Chef: Roy Choi, Kogi BBQ and Chego, Los Angeles
The Flavor Breakdown: Sweet, savory, and charred steak, Korean barbeque style, marinated with soy, sesame, shaoxing wine, ginger, garlic, and scallion, and topped with funky kimchi mixed with fresh cabbage for extra crunch and Asian pear for sweetness . Salsa? Sure. Choi makes a salsa roja with Korean and Mexican chilies. But you can also top it with chili sauce or sriracha. Craving some creaminess? Mix the sriracha with a little mayo to make a spicy red aioli.

The North African Cauliflower Taco
Revolutionario North African Tacos The Chef: Farid Zadi, Revolutionario Taco, Los Angeles
The Flavor Breakdown: Roasted cauliflower spiced with ras el hanout, a Moroccan–style curry, becomes almost creamy on the inside with a nutty exterior. Zadi offers it with crunchy fresh vegetables like cucumbers, radishes, and chopped onions, and condiments like harissa (for heat) and crema.

And the throwback… a classic combination that needs no updating or improvement.

The Baja Fish Taco
Ralph Rubio Baja Fish Taco The Chef: Ralph Rubio, Rubio’s, San Diego
*Rubio procured the recipe from a vendor in San Felipe, a fishing village on the Sea of Cortez in Baja, while on spring break in college. He wrote it down in a small phone book and carried it with him for almost 10 years before opening his restaurant. Today Baja fish tacos are a staple wherever you can get fresh fish
The Flavor Breakdown: Fried and beer-battered white fish makes for a simultaneously crisp and soft base. Decorated with spicy, acidic red salsa, smooth white sauce—mayo that has been thinned with a little water—and shredded green cabbage, it takes a squeeze of lime to finish with clean, tart, citrus. Simple, but exceptional.


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