For Traditional Tasting Tacos, Always Garnish With White Onion

Tacos are one of the most iconic examples of Mexican gastronomy and have been embraced by and adapted into cultures around the world. While there's nothing wrong with the extravagant, multi-ingredient tacos characteristic of today's culinary fusion trends, they often bear little resemblance to their humble, simple origins. If you want a more traditional-tasting taco, white onion should always be the finishing touch.

In Mexico, whether you're at a street stall, a taqueria, or a fine-dining restaurant, tacos follow the same simple yet perfect formula of two small corn tortillas with a hearty serving of a singular filling, topped with a garnish of white onions and minced cilantro. This formula is so successful because the fillings themselves are bursting with the complex flavors of the chilies, spices, and aromatics used to marinate or stew them. The onions add much-needed crunch and a sharp, piquant zing to complement the intense umami and savory richness of the two main ingredients. Salsas, lime wedges, pickled vegetables, and slaws are common fixtures at any Mexican taqueria or stall, but they're all served separately in a sort of buffet-like format for diners to use at their discretion. Diced white onions, however, are a non-negotiable mark of authenticity.

More tips for authentic Mexican tacos

Diced white onions are a mainstay to sprinkle over any meat or vegetable guisado (stewed dish), but they aren't the only marker of authenticity. Another indispensable ingredient is cilantro. In fact, onion and cilantro are often combined in a bowl and stored next to the tortillas so that chefs can quickly finish each piping hot taco with a spoonful before handing them to customers.

Mexican tacos tend to use corn tortillas. Flour tortillas are more commonly used for burritos or breakfast tacos, both of which are more of a fusion between culinary traditions of Northern Mexico and the Southwestern U.S. The corn tortillas used are much smaller than tortillas used for quesadillas or as accompaniments to soups or plate meals. Grocery stores and national tortilla brands offer these small tortillas, marketing them as "street taco" tortillas. In traditional Mexican tortillerias, these small tortillas are known as tortillas taqueras.

Tacos usually come with two tortillas stacked on top of each other, over which they place a heaping serving of meat or vegetable filling. You can elongate the taco by spreading the filling across both tortillas for a more manageable bite or use the second tortilla to catch any of the fillings that will inevitably overflow out of the confines of the first tortilla. Plus, with all the salsas, pickled veggies, and other accompanying ingredients that are always part of a taco spread, you can easily stretch the fillings to make each taco a two-for-one experience.