Beef Tacos

published Apr 28, 2024
Beef Taco Recipe
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angled shot of 4 beef tacos in hard shells on a white platter
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

When I was growing up, “crunchy taco night” was a frequently requested dinner in my family — and with good reason. Between the satisfying crunch of the taco shell and the spiced browned ground beef, it’s a guaranteed crowd-pleasing combination. And if you serve the toppings on the side, everyone can build the tacos exactly how they want (something I’m sure my mom appreciated).

This meal comes together fairly quickly — you can prep all of your toppings in the time it takes the filling to simmer. Then all that’s left to do is layer everything inside the crispy shells and get to crunching.

Why You’ll Love It

  • The satisfying crunch of a hard-shell taco with deeply savory beef filling is a classic combo for a reason. What’s more is that a build-your-own approach to toppings makes this a fun and customizable dinner with limitless possibilities.
  • I level up the deeply savory beef filling with tomato paste, which adds a boost of umami flavor. 
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Key Ingredients in Beef Tacos

  • Ground beef. Use lean ground beef for the filling of the tacos.
  • Tomato paste. Add an extra boost of umami flavor without overpowering the beef with tomato flavor.
  • Taco seasoning. Use a store-bought spice blend, or make your own.
  • Taco shells. Warm the crispy taco shells for five minutes to improve the flavor and texture.
  • Toppings. Chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sour cream, avocado, and shredded cheese can be added by each individual to customize the perfect tacos. 

How to Make Beef Tacos

  1. Make the filling. Cook onions and ground beef in a skillet until browned. Add tomato paste and taco seasoning and cook until fragrant and darkened. Then, add water and simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the water is almost entirely evaporated.
  2. Prep the toppings. While the taco meat is cooking, dice tomatoes, shred lettuce, and dice an avocado.
  3. Toast the shells. Arrange the taco shells on a baking sheet and bake for five minutes until lightly toasted and fragrant.
  4. Assemble and eat. Divide the beef filling between the taco shells and top with the prepped vegetables, sour cream, and shredded cheese to your liking.

Helpful Swaps

Storage and Make-Ahead Tips 

  • If you’re not going to finish all of the tacos in one sitting, don’t fill the shells before serving. Instead, assemble as you go. Chill and store all filling components separately in airtight containers. The shells can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
  • The beef filling can be made up to two days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. All of the toppings except for the avocado can be prepared up to one day in advance and chilled separately in airtight containers.

What to Serve with Beef Tacos

Beef Taco Recipe

It will be love at first crunch.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes to 25 minutes

Makes 12 tacos

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the beef filling:

  • 1

    small yellow onion

  • 1 tablespoon

    neutral oil, such as canola, grapeseed, or vegetable

  • 1 pound

    lean ground beef

  • 2 tablespoons

    tomato paste

  • 1 (1-ounce) packet or 3 tablespoons

    taco seasoning

  • 1 cup

    water

For the tacos:

  • 1

    beefsteak tomato

  • 1

    small ripe avocado (optional)

  • 1/4

    medium head iceberg lettuce

  • 12

    crunchy taco shells

  • Shredded cheddar, Monterey, Colby, or Mexican blend cheese

  • Sour cream

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Peel and dice 1 small yellow onion (about 1/2 cup).

  2. Heat 1 tablespoon neutral oil in a large skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add 1 pound lean ground beef and cook, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until cooked through and browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons tomato paste and 1 (1-ounce) packet taco seasoning. Cook until fragrant and the tomato paste is slightly darkened, about 2 minutes.

  3. Add 1 cup water and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook until the liquid has almost completely evaporated, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the toppings.

  4. Core and dice 1 beefsteak tomato (about 1 cup). Halve, pit, and dice 1 small ripe avocado if using. Core and cut 1/4 medium iceberg lettuce head into fine shreds. Arrange 12 crunchy taco shells in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes.

  5. Divide the taco meat between the shells (about 2 heaping tablespoons each). Serve with the tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, shredded cheese, and sour cream for topping.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The beef filling can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. All of the toppings except for the avocado can be prepared up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated in separate in airtight containers. Reheat the beef in the microwave or over medium heat on the stovetop.

Storage: If not eating all of the tacos in one sitting, don’t fill the shells before serving. Instead, assemble as you go. Refrigerate leftover taco meat and toppings in separate airtight containers. The taco shells can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature.