onion salsa

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Shift Your Salsa
It's hard to imagine a taco without a chunky, tomato-based sauce, yet too often we don't give much thought to the red (or green) stuff. Making your own salsa can be as simple as chopping tomato, onion and some jalapeño—and making minor tweaks to the formula can yield massive results in the flavor department. Try adding tomatillos (this recipe uses them exclusively) or, as chef Alex Stupak, author of Tacos: Recipes and Provocations, suggests, use roasted onion, for a subtly sweet flavor.

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Go Beyond Iceberg
Many of us were brought up with chopped iceberg lettuce, says Stupak. Yet for that light, vegetal crunch, he prefers lettuces with flavor. Watercress, cabbage and arugula leaves all make incredible, interesting toppings for tacos.
fish tacos mayo

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Use a Burger Condiment
Stupak may run some of New York's hottest high-end Mexican restaurants, but he turns to a surprisingly basic dressing whenever he's eating seafood-based tacos: mayonnaise. Try it on a fish taco and tell us that sweet tang isn't a welcome contrast to fried seafood.
walnut tacos

Photo: © Ellen Silverman 2016

Take a Granola-Like Turn
Nuts and seeds may seem a little out there, but they're an unexpected way to bring a savory snap to any taco. In Pati Jinich's new book, Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens, she cooks sliced scallions and chopped jalapeño in a bit of oil, then incorporates chopped walnuts, hulled raw pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds and fries them for a few minutes, until they're lightly toasted. The mixture is terrific on vegetarian plantain tacos, as well as on chicken or pork tacos.

Get the recipe: Walnut, Pepita and Sunflower-Seed Crunch
bacon tacos

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Add Bacon (But Not Like You Think)
Yes, crumbled bacon bits taste great on tacos, but we love this tip from Jinich: Crisp bacon in a skillet, then stir in pieces of beef and cook them in the bacon fat. It'll make your taco filling taste unbelievably rich and smoky.

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Crisp Your Chicken
As you've probably figured out by now, a great taco has both soft and crisp elements. Here's one way we never thought to add crunch: chicken. Stupak recommends fried chicken wrapped in a supple, warm tortilla for the perfect textural combo. He also likes to roast a whole bird with oil, salt and pepper; once it's cooked and cooled, he pulls the meat from the bones. He then lays an assortment of white and dark meat, plus some of the crackled, roasted skin, into a tortilla.