The humble taco continues to inspire culinary creativity across the globe — just take the Korean barbecue-filled tacos of Los Angeles and the chicken tikka masala tacos of New York City. The tortilla is more or less a blank canvas, ready to be filled with whatever ingredients your heart desires — from roasted sweet potatoes and salty feta to oven-fried avocado and spicy beet salsa.
The taco's versatility makes it an easy go-to for a quick, low-calorie dinner. Start with a quality corn tortilla from the neighborhood Mexican market and stuff it with veggies, lean meat, flavorful garnishes and bright salsas.
In this list, we have a taco to please anyone's palate — a whopping 15 options, to be exact. Each provides a balance of colors, textures and flavors, and you can always add extra salsa if you're a chili addict. Eight of these taco recipes are vegetarian, and all contain less than 300 calories per taco. So what are you waiting for? Let's get this taco party started!
1. Oven-Crisped Avocado Tacos With Spicy Beet Pico de Gallo
Avocados are creamy, tasty and full of good fats. And when breaded and "oven fried" until crisp, the fruit is even more addictive. Now imagine stuffing crispy avocado wedges into tortillas along with tangy goat cheese and a zingy pico de gallo salsa featuring beets. A 2015 study found that beets have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities, thanks to the betalain pigments they contain. That means these innovative tacos are both good for your health and excellent for your taste buds.
2. Sweet Potato Hash Tacos With Feta
Hash browns aren't just for breakfast. When you begin with sweet potatoes and add three different peppers, hash browns make for a tasty and colorful taco filling too. And when you finish the dish with tangy salsa verde, salty feta cheese and crunchy pistachios, you've got yourself a memorable and meatless taco experience.
You'll get plenty of plant-based nutrients, including a natural burst of beta carotene from orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and bell peppers. Pro tip: Leave the peel on your sweet potato: A 2016 study found that it may help provide protection against various types of cancer.
3. Chipotle-Rubbed Cauliflower Tacos
Cauliflower is hearty and readily takes on flavor, which makes it an excellent taco filling. For this recipe, you'll be stuffing tortillas with chipotle-seasoned cauliflower florets that are roasted until caramelized, along with fresh shredded red cabbage and a crave-worthy cilantro-lime crema. If you can't find ground chipotle chili pepper, any chili powder will work fine here. The crema is light yet luscious and rich in gut-friendly probiotics, thanks to its Greek yogurt base.
4. Purple Potato and Chicken Chorizo Tacos
Here's "meat and potatoes" done in a way you've never had it before. For starters, the meat is actually chicken chorizo, and the potatoes are gorgeous baby purple creamer potatoes. Add corn, cilantro and salsa verde to the mix to give the dish traditional Mexican flair. If that's not enough to win you over, a 2012 study on purple potatoes sure will: They're packed with anthocyanins and other antioxidants, which have been found effective in lowering high blood pressure.
5. Chiles Toreados Tacos
These tacos are spicy, flavorful and vegan. The star ingredient is serrano peppers, which you'll pan-char and dress with lime juice and coconut liquid aminos. (Don't have liquid aminos? A pinch of sea salt will suffice!)
Serranos provide plenty of spice from their capsaicin, a phytonutrient that may play a beneficial role in metabolic and vascular health, according to a 2015 study. Finally, the tacos become meal-worthy by way of protein-rich vegetarian refried beans and are garnished with scallions, guacamole and pico de gallo.
6. Oaxacan BBQ Chicken and Poblano Soft Tacos
Are you a fan of mole sauce? Then you need to make this chicken-and-chile taco recipe as soon as possible! The chicken thighs are slathered with mole-inspired barbecue sauce and grilled to smoky perfection. And the sauce is so easy to make: Stir together your favorite barbecue sauce with chili pepper, cocoa powder and cinnamon.
A 2017 study suggests that cinnamon may help improve markers of metabolic syndrome, so go heavier on the cinnamon if you feel like it. Pair the flavorful, juicy chicken with grilled poblanos, queso Oaxaca, radishes, cilantro and lime juice, and you've got yourself a protein-rich meal to remember.
7. Grass-Fed Steak Tacos With Cowgirl Salsa
If you like beef, here's a healthy way to enjoy it. Start with grass-fed steak — it generally has more heart-friendly omega-3s than its conventional counterpart. Choose a lean cut, such as top sirloin, and keep the serving size to two ounces (like we do in this taco recipe).
If you don't eat beef, simply swap it out for chicken, fish or portobello mushroom strips. No matter which protein you choose, you'll love the cowgirl salsa; it's a tasty mixture of corn, black beans, tomatoes, red onion, cilantro and lime. And don't forget the avocado — it'll add creaminess along with eye-friendly lutein.
8. Breakfast Tacos With Eggs, Avocado and Cotija
Whoever said you should only eat tacos for dinner was straight-up wrong. They make a delicious and eye-catching breakfast or brunch entree. To fix 'em, you'll spread tortillas with vegetarian refried beans, sprinkle with fresh cilantro, and then top with fried eggs, sliced avocado, pico de gallo and cotija cheese (cotija is salty and crumbly, kind of like feta, and can be bought at your local Mexican grocery store). The tortillas provide good carbs, the eggs provide significant protein and the beans provide both. That's a win-win-win!
9. Grilled Farmers Market Veggie Tacos
So you've gone to the farmers market and brought home a bag full of fresh, seasonal produce. Now what? This taco recipe uses zucchini, yellow squash and portobello mushrooms, but you can create your own veggie combo based on what's locally available.
Once you've figured that out, the rest is easy. Grill the veggies and stuff them into tortillas along with guacamole, spicy salsa, queso fresco and fresh cilantro or microgreens. (Microgreens are confetti-like baby greens that are intensely flavorful and rich in nutrients.) This is one seriously delicious way to get your veggies.
10. “Americanized” Vegetarian Crispy Tacos
Yes, these may look like tacos from Taco Bell, but you can make these in your own kitchen. They're filled with a "meaty" mix of well-seasoned, sauteed, diced red potatoes combined with red kidney beans, lime juice and fresh cilantro. You'll stuff this delicious plant-based filling into crisp corn taco shells and top it all off with Greek yogurt, shredded lettuce, Mexican cheese and pico de gallo. These tacos are American-style, yet full of Mexican inspiration. As a bonus, there's no meat here — and you won't even miss it.
11. Pulled Pork Tacos With Pickled Onions
Mexican carnitas are often made by braising pork in fat — along with herbs and spices — until tender, shredding the meat and roasting until crisp. Southern pulled pork refers to pork that's cooked low and slow until it can be pulled apart; a vinegar-based sauce might be served with it.
The pork used for these tacos is a hybrid of carnitas and Southern pulled pork. Here, lean pork is prepared with onion, garlic, oregano, ground coriander and 100-percent pomegranate juice until incredibly tender. It's topped with avocado, pickled onions, cilantro and salsa verde to cut through the rich, flavorful meat. The best part: They're packed with protein.
12. Cajun Fish Sticks Tacos With Mango Salsa
Not all fish sticks are created equal. If you want a nutritionally sound product that isn't full of unhealthy oils, go with Dr. Praeger's, Ian's, Natural Sea or Henry & Lisa's. After you've sourced your sticks — or made your own — put together the salsa using mango, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and a pinch of salt. Next you'll bake the fish sticks until crunchy and sprinkle them with Cajun seasoning. Top your fish tacos with refried vegetarian black beans, shredded red cabbage and creamy avocado and you've got an easy, flavorful and protein-packed meal.
13. No-Cook Mexican Layer Dip Tacos
Chances are good that you've enjoyed Mexican seven-layer dip at a party, or perhaps you've made it for your own personal enjoyment. But instead of layering refried beans, guacamole, cheese and Greek yogurt into a dish, why not layer it into a taco shell? Be sure to add the dip to the shells just before serving so they stay crisp. To keep calories in check, enjoy just one and savor it slowly.
14. Sweet-n-Spicy Chicken Tacos With Avocado-Peach Pico de Gallo
If you're into anything that's both sweet and spicy, this recipe is for you. The pico de gallo is the highlight, featuring sweet peach and spicy jalapeno along with avocado, garlic, lime juice and coriander. Before grilling, the chicken breast is brushed with a sweet-and-spicy marinade made with hot sauce and coconut nectar (or honey). The pico de gallo and chicken are then stuffed into corn tortillas and sprinkled with pumpkin seeds for crunch. Besides being memorable, these tacos are a scrumptious way to meet your daily fruit quota.
15. Grilled Tilapia Tacos With Red Cabbage Slaw
For another take on a healthful fish taco, marinate tilapia filets with a simple chili-lime vinaigrette, and then grill and flake it. Since the fish is light, it's paired with flavorful ingredients that include red cabbage slaw. (Bonus: Cabbage contains sulforaphane, which is a cancer-protective plant nutrient.) The slaw is made by tossing together shredded red cabbage, red onion, cilantro, lime juice and sea salt. Finish these tilapia tacos with a luxurious avocado crema and you've got yourself a satisfying, colorful and protein-rich dish.