Why Tacos Taste Better At A Restaurant Than At Home

There's a reason Taco Tuesdays are a thing. Going out with your friends for a taco or 10 (and maybe a couple of classic margaritas) is a great way to spend Tuesday — or any night of the week. Sure, you can always make tacos at home, but it's somehow just not the same experience. Besides the lively atmosphere of an eatery and the decided pleasure of being waited on when you're beat after a long day, there's something very different between the tacos you get at a restaurant — or even your go-to taco truck — and the ones you cook up in your own kitchen.

You may perfectly prepare the protein destined for your tacos, lovingly marinating and carefully grilling the shrimp, or expertly smoking the pork loin. But no matter how much prep you put in, homemade tacos can sometimes lack oomph. So what exactly is different about a restaurant taco compared to the ones you make in your own kitchen? The answer, it turns out, is fairly simple. And while we know nothing will stop you from enjoying tacos at your favorite spot — nor should it — this tip will certainly help to elevate your homemade tacos to new flavor heights.

It's all about the tortilla

A restaurant-quality taco starts with a great tortilla — and that means one made from scratch. More than a vessel to hold the goodness inside, the tortilla is essential to the taste and texture of the taco. As chef Joe Martinez of Cha Cha's Latin Kitchen told Insider, "Most people think the filling [of a taco] is the most important part, and while it is crucial, the authenticity of a taco comes from the tortilla."

Think making your own corn tortillas is too difficult? Chef Brian Riggenbach says all you need to do is mix water with masa flour until it becomes a dough, roll it out flat, and cut it into circular shapes. Next, place the tortillas in a dry cast-iron pan over medium heat, give them a flip, and you're done (via Insider). "It is hard to compare store bought tortillas with homemade ones," recipe developer Miriam Hahn told Tasting Table, along with her recipe for corn tortillas. "They are just so much fresher, lighter and more doughy." If flour tortillas are more your thing, the same logic follows: Just mix all-purpose flour with salt, baking powder, water, and oil, knead the dough until it's smooth, let it rest, divide it up into little balls, roll them out, and griddle them in a skillet until warm and pliable.

Another way to elevate your homemade tacos is with tasty toppings. Taco fillings of long-stewed meats tend to be hearty and robustly-flavored, so fresh, bright accents like green onion, cilantro, and lime can provide a hit of acid and a textural contrast. Try this Braised Beef Short Rib Taco recipe to see that contrast in action. The perfect taco starts with a great tortilla, continues with high-quality meats or veggies, and ends with fresh garnishes.

Don't forget the homemade salsa

OK, we'll be the first ones to admit it: Making a taco fully from scratch is a labor of love. You've prepped and cooked the proteins; You've magically transformed a corn or flour dough into warm, enticingly-scented tortillas. But if you really want your tacos to come close to restaurant-quality, you can't put down your knife just yet.

When you head out for tacos — at least if you choose an authentic spot — the salsas you will adorn your tacos with will almost certainly be homemade, further contributing to each taco's tastiness and freshness. So when you're making tacos at home, it's crucial to go the extra mile by doing the same: According to BBC Good Food, homemade salsa — such as a pico de gallo or a charred tomato salsa — tastes fresher, bolder, and more nuanced than jarred varieties that have been heat-processed and lounging on a supermarket shelf. Like chef Jonathan Rohland told Insider, "I have yet to taste a great-quality salsa that you can buy. The main reason is that it takes fresh, bright ingredients like lime, tomatillos, tomatoes, garlic, jalapeño and serranos, and cilantro; You can't jar this stuff [and expect it to taste as good as the fresh versions]."

You'll need some warm tortillas, some fresh salsa, and some elbow grease, but when you serve these tacos to friends, their "oohs" and "aahs" will make all your labor worthwhile.