If you’re looking for an easy and delicious way to feed a crowd, or just your hungry family, a Taco Bar is the way to go! Today, I’m sharing 5 taco bar ideas that are easy and tasty so you can throw your own taco bar party!
There aren’t many foods that satisfy a crowd full of adults and kids alike. Tacos are one of the very few foods that seem to make everyone happy when they belly up to the table. And, if you want to take a taco and make it one step better, you have an actual taco bar. A taco bar is so flavorful, but fuss free. The hardest part is deciding which sides to make and which ones to leave for next time.
At least once a week, I whip up a delicious batch of taco meat and we enjoy this simple Mexican food. When my kids smell the taco meat cooking, they instantly say, “yes,” and run and tell their siblings.
Every once in awhile, I up the ante and throw a full on taco party. This is also a go-to meal when we are hosting friends and family because no one walks away from the table disappointed.
Taco Bar Preparation
One of the best parts about taco bars is that both the meat and most of the sides can be made ahead of time and popped in the fridge to chill. Those items that need to be hot can be warmed up in a jiff in a slow cooker or on the stove and the cold items can stay tucked away in the refrigerator until it is time to serve.
Being able to prepare food ahead of time makes hosting so much more enjoyable and relieves any last-minute stress. There won’t be a sink full of dishes to wash as people are filing in your front door and you can truly enjoy your company.
First Step of a Taco Bar Party
Enough talk, let’s start talking about sides that you can make for your tacos. The first step is to make sure you have a solid taco meat recipe to set as the base for the tacos. The toppings are only as good as the meat that it lays on, so make sure your taco meat is on point.
The recipe we use is a taco meat variation from a sweet blogger, Cori, from https://dresscorilynn.com. She shared it on her instagram stories and I decided to make it. Needless to say, we’ve been hooked ever since. The meat is a mix of lean ground beef, taco seasoning, salsa verde, and tomato sauce. The full recipe is below and produces a creamy, rich taco meat that is more filling than the traditional meat that simply has seasoning and water.
What to serve with a taco bar
Now that we have the taco meat made, let’s move onto the side dishes. While these are only side dishes, when it comes to tacos, the side dishes can sometimes be the star of the show.
There are two kids of side dishes- simple, traditional taco sides and then there are fancier sides.
Simple, Traditional Taco Side Dishes
These taco fillings are things that everyone expects to find accompanying tacos. They might not be elaborate, but the are necessary to a taco bar and cannot be forgotten
- Shredded Cheese- When you’re in a pinch, grab a bag of pre-shredded cheese. When you want to elevate the meal, shred some cheese yourself. The texture and taste is simply better and it melts in such a creamy way on top of the warm taco.
- Shredded Lettuce- There’s just something about the coolness of the lettuce and the crisp crunch that makes this a taco staple.
- Chopped Red Onion- This is a taco must have with the zing and bite it adds to the dish.
- Diced Tomatoes– Not everyone loves these, but they are always present at a taco bar.
As they say in showbiz- on with the show… err, taco bar sides.
Fancy Taco Bar Sides
There are sides… and then there are sides. These taco bar dishes are what make the entire feast feel special. They elevate the meal and make it feel more like a treat than a, “Mom forgot to plan for supper and this is what we had in pantry,” kind of meal.
1. Mexican Charred Corn
This side is so simple, yet it adds a charred sweetness that is unparalleled. It only takes a few ingredients and is quick to throw together. It isn’t unusual to see this on street tacos, which are small, but delicious little things. Often times, the corn will be mixed with mayo and sour cream, but I keep mine simple and let the corn do all of the talking. This recipe has a few spices to pair with the char on the corn- cumin, salt, pepper, and chili powder.
2. Red Cabbage Slaw
Oh, to see the beautiful purple cabbage adorning a taco bar! This cabbage slaw is so simple, but adds an incredible amount of flavor and color to both the dish and the table. It is a healthy contrast to the warm meat and charred corn. To be honest, I make this slaw to top other main dishes, such as sloppy joes and summertime sandwich wraps. This recipe is one to keep so it’s easy to grab. Plus, it’s ready in minutes and requires no chopping.
3. Blender Salsa
There’s nothing wrong with a jar of good salsa and if that’s all you have time for- go for it. But if you have a few more minutes to spare, this is a great option that is fast and tasty and, dare I say, might even rival the restaurant’s down the street! There’s nothing like fresh salsa on top of a taco or taco salad to bring out the flavors in all of the other taco side dishes and chips.
This isn’t a recipe, obviously, but fresh squeezed lime on tacos is out of this world and not usually something that is placed on the dinner table for regular taco meals. This small ingredient is so simple and adds a ton of flavor.
Whether it’s plain avocados or guacamole, this is an expected side dish for taco night. There are plenty of great store brands, but guacamole is also a very simple dish to prepare. You can even prepare it ahead of time and let it chill in the fridge for an hour, or two, prior to serving. Just cover it tightly with plastic wrap.
Let’s Have a Taco Bar
- 3 lbs lean ground beed 1/2 lb per person
- 1 packet Taco Seasoning
- 1 can tomato sauce
- 8 oz green salsa verde
Mexican Charred Corn Salad
- 2 cans corn drain and pat dry
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- cumin, salt, pepper, chili powder to taste
Red Cabbage Slaw
- 1 bag shredded red cabbage
- 2 tbsp mayo
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 28 oz can whole, peeled tomatoes with the juice
- 1 small yellow onion
- 1 jalapeno pepper de-stemmed and roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves peeled and finely chopped
- 1 tsp cumin, or to taste
- 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
- 1/2 c roughly chopped cilantro
- 3 tbsp lime juice, or to taste
- 2 ripe avocados
- 1 small onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 2-3 roma tomatoes
- 1 lime, juiced
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Brown the ground beef in a pan. Cook until no longer pink. Drain. Return to pan.
- Pour in Taco Seasoning and stir to coat the meat.
- Add the tomato sauce and green salsa. Stir and cook on low to thicken.
Mexican Charred Corn Salad
- Drain the corn and pat it dry with paper towels.
- Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan and toss the corn into the pan.
- Give it a quick stir to coat the corn in the oil and then let it cook, without stirring, for 3-5 minutes. The goal is to char the side of the corn and then to stir it to char the other side.
- Once one side is charred, stir and leave for another 3 minutes to repeat on the remaining corn.
- Season to taste.
Red Cabbage Slaw
- Mix all the ingredients together in a serving bowl.
- Mix really well and then cover and chill for an hour.
- Add all ingredients into a blender and blend until well combined.
- Chill in the refrigerator for a hour before serving.
- Place peeled avocados in a bowl and coarsely mash them.
- Stir in the rest of the ingredients and test with a chip to make sure it doesn’t need more salt.
- Chill in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, for 30 minutes prior to serving.
Other Favorite Side Dishes
There are plenty of other side dishes to add to your tacos. Some are as simple as “dump and go” and others are only a few ingredients mixed together. As with the other taco side dishes, these can be prepped ahead for less stress when the doorbell rings.
- Pico de Gallo- a mix of fresh tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime juice.
- Pickled Onions- onions, vinegar, water, and sugar
- Cilantro Lime Dressing
- Sweet Potatoes- as a vessel for eating the taco fillings
- Black Beans
- Refried Beans
- Sour Cream
- Cilantro Lime Rice
- Mango Salsa- as an opposite to the traditional salsa
- Fresh Cilantro
- Queso Fresco Cheese- mix velveeta, milk, and a can of rotel
Vessels for Eating the Tacos
While the fillings are amazing, don’t forget what we are going to use to eat them. It’s always a good idea to have, at least, two types of shells when throwing the ultimate taco bar night. Some people like crunchy shells, like the traditional taco shells while others prefer soft tortillas. And, of course, don’t forget tortilla chips.
Elevate this meal a notch: One of my favorite ways to eat tacos is by warming my tortillas in a skillet until the are the perfect crispy tortilla texture. This can also be done ahead and the tortillas kept warm in a low oven. Turn your cast iron skillet on and let it heat up on medium heat. Place the tortilla in the skillet and allow it to char on one side just a bit. Remove and repeat with the others. You don’t even need oil in your pan for this. Simply dry char them!
When to Serve a Taco Bar
Taco bars are always a good idea, but if you’re looking for the perfect time to fill your kitchen with the fixings, these are some good ones:
- Taco Tuesday party with Neighbors
- Graduation Party
- Cinco de Mayo
- Birthday parties
- Super Bowl Parties
- Family Gatherings
How to serve a Taco Bar
Not only is this a crowd pleaser. Not only can most of the dishes be made ahead, but this is also a meal that you can set out on the table and let everyone serve themselves. Yes, please!
People can build their own plate and there’s always plenty of goodies to keep the masses satisfied. If you need to keep things warm for several hours, put the meat in a slow cooker and the cold items on ice. To keep things on ice, throw some ice in a 9×13 and set the bowls of chilled food in the 9×13 so the bottom of the bowls is nestled in the ice. This will keep things cool for an hour, or so, depending on whether you’re inside a cool home or outside on a warm day.
How much meat to serve at a Taco Bar
Depending on how many you are feeding and what the adult to child ratio is, you will need around 1/2 pound of ground beef per person. With all of the add ins people will fill up, but there’s nothing worse than running out of food and 1/2 pound per person will usually do the trick.
Another way to measure how much taco meat you need per person is to assume each person will eat 2-3 tacos. If there are chips and salsa to snack on, 2 full tacos will be what most people eat. If there are no snacks, then most people will go back for a third.
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