The best end-of-summer party starts with tacos

By Genevieve Ko, The New York Times

Five years ago, when her son was still in high school, Alejandra Graf invited his soccer team over for a taquiza, a type of party she grew up with in Mexico City. She picked up packs of the biggest, deepest chafing dishes from Costco and filled them with cochinita pibil, the juicy shredded pork reaching the rims of the pans, just as the other taco fillings, the steaming rice and the beans did. Lined up in Graf’s home in Katy, Texas, the trays were surrounded by bowls of homemade salsas and warm tortillas.

More than 20 players demolished all of the food. They were familiar with tacos, especially the Tex-Mex ones in their hometown, but none had experienced a taquiza, where everyone serves themselves, stuffing tortillas from a buffet of guisados, different stews like chicken with salsa verde or mole. Graf, who writes the blog Piloncillo y Vainilla, said: “Those kids still remember that day. It was just super fun.”

Making sure a party is super fun should be the point, not just for the guests, but also the host — especially at the end of summer and another long season of life. A spread of tacos offers big flavors — savory, spicy, fresh — for a big crowd, while giving the host time to spend with everyone. And it’s an ideal setup for guests to build their own meals while welcoming them to share in the joy of hospitality.

Esteban Castillo, author of “Chicano Eats” and the coming “Chicano Bakes,” spent his childhood Sundays with family at carne asadas in Southern California. (“Carne asada” translates to roasted meat and refers to a dish of grilled steak, but is also a style of potluck with grilling at the center.) They’d throw carne asada on the grill, along with Cornish game hens, chicken, chorizo and cebollitas, spring onions with white bulbs. On the tables sat salsa molcajete, pico de gallo, guacamole, arroz rojo, frijoles charros and, of course, tortillas, which his aunts made by hand.

But, in addition to taquizas and carne asadas, there are as many ways to serve everything that goes in or with tacos as there are formulas for tacos. Here are a few universal keys to success, according to Graf and Castillo.

Get everyone involved. The sense of community that comes with tacos starts long before you’re standing alongside friends, talking and eating while salsa drips down your hands. Ask them to pitch in even before they arrive. Castillo recommends that hosts provide 75% of the food and ask others to bring chips, salsas, salads, fruit, beer, mixers for drinks and desserts, such as chocoflan.

For Graf, the shared experience comes in the form of “extra hands in the kitchen.” She often enlists her mother and husband, and encourages hosts to pick a few family members or friends to share in replenishing food.

Prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Part of what makes a taco-centered gathering so enjoyable is that there’s hardly anything left to do when it’s time to eat. For a taquiza, guisados like chicken tinga, lamb birria and chile rojo with beef or nopales can be fully cooked days ahead. When reheated, they become even more flavorful. The same is true of beans, both whole ones in frijoles de la olla or puréed ones in a refried blend of frijoles de fiesta. For a carne asada, Castillo notes that whatever you want to grill can be marinated long before guests arrive.

Tortillas matter. Warming tortillas is the one thing that has to be done just before serving. “They have to be ‘del comal a la mesa,’” Graf said, adding that they don’t literally need to go straight from a hot skillet to the table. Instead, she heats them one by one on a comal, then stacks and wraps them in a kitchen towel to keep them tender. (Castillo does the same, using the grill to lightly char tortillas before swaddling them.) For a really big party, a tortillero, a covered basket designed to keep tortillas warm, works well.

Even before you warm tortillas, you want to find the freshest ones. If you live near a tortilleria or supermarket that makes them daily, pick up packs in the morning (or ask someone else to on their way over). You also can make your own corn tortillas or Sonoran-style flour ones. (If you can’t find or make fresh tortillas, be sure to warm whatever you have to refresh them.)

Make sure there are drinks. Obviously. Huge pitchers of cold agua fresca are a must because they’re alcohol-free and refreshing, especially in summer when they’re blended from cucumber or watermelon.

Relax and have fun. Tacos are like the perfect party playlist, lifting the mood and making everyone feel good. “It’s just a very laid-back potluck,” Castillo said. “I just want to feed everyone, and I want everyone to have a good time.” Tacos make achieving both so easy.

Recipe: Carne Asada

Recipe from Esteban Castillo

Adapted by Genevieve Ko

Nothing beats the smoky richness of charred sliced steak stuffed into tortillas. Carne asada translates to “grilled meat” and refers to the many variations on this dish, as well as parties that center around grilling the marinated meat. Esteban Castillo, author of the cookbook and blog “Chicano Eats,” combines the intensity of a dry spice rub with a citrus juice marinade in his recipe. Sometimes, he pours some beer into the mix too, but this version, fresh with cilantro, garlic and scallions, already gives the steak big, aromatic flavors. — Genevieve Ko

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 35 minutes, plus 2 hours’ marinating


For the Steak Seasoning (see Tip):

  • 1 guajillo chile, stemmed, seeded, lightly toasted and cooled
  • 3/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons dehydrated minced onion
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)

For the Steak:

  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (from 4 large limes)
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice (from 1 large orange)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 1/2 pounds flank, flap or skirt steak

For Assembly:

  • 12 to 16 corn tortillas
  • Salsas, for serving


1. Make the steak seasoning: Tear the cooled chile into small pieces and place in a spice grinder, along with the peppercorns, coriander and cumin. Pulse until everything is roughly ground. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the garlic, onion and salt.

2. Marinate the steak: In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, orange juice, Worcestershire sauce, oil, cilantro, scallions, garlic and 1 tablespoon steak seasoning. Place the steak in a resealable freezer bag or shallow dish, and pour in the marinade. Make sure the steak is evenly coated. Seal the bag, or cover the dish and refrigerate for 2 hours.

3. Heat an outdoor charcoal or gas grill to medium, or set an indoor grill pan over medium.

4. Transfer the steak to a baking sheet lined with foil (discard the marinade). Sprinkle the remaining steak seasoning all over the steak. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes on each side for medium-rare, 4 to 5 minutes for medium and 6 to 7 minutes for well done. Remove the steak from the grill (but leave the grill on) and let rest on a cutting board for about 10 minutes before cutting into thin, small slices.

5. While the steak rests, warm the tortillas: Reduce the grill heat to medium-low. Place the tortillas on the grill and cook until they start to blister but are not blackened, 1 to 3 minutes. Stack in a clean kitchen towel and wrap well. Serve warm, with the sliced steak and salsas.

Tip: If you have pre-ground spices, you can make the seasoning with 2 teaspoons ground guajillo chile, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons garlic powder and 2 teaspoons onion powder.

Recipe: Arroz Rojo (Red Rice)

Recipe from Esteban Castillo

Adapted by Genevieve Ko

Also known as arroz Mexicano, these tomato-slicked grains of rice taste amazing alongside beans, tacos, enchiladas and just about any spread of meat, seafood and vegetables. Esteban Castillo, author of the “Chicano Eats” cookbook and blog, toasts the rice in garlicky oil first to give the final dish an even richer flavor. A simple spice blend does, too. — Genevieve Ko

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 40 minutes


  • 1 2/3 cups chicken stock, warmed
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1/2 cup frozen mixed vegetables (or fresh or frozen corn)
  • Salt


1. In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together the chicken stock, tomato paste, onion powder, coriander, cumin and pepper.

2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add the garlic and rice, and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is fragrant and lightly toasted, 3 to 4 minutes. Pour the stock mixture into the skillet and bring to a full boil. Stir in the mixed vegetables, then reduce the heat to low, cover with a tightfitting lid and cook until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid, 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Turn off the heat and let the rice sit, covered, to steam for another 15 minutes. Uncover and let the steam release for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. Season with salt to taste. Serve alongside your favorite dishes.

And to Drink …

Beer will go beautifully with these tacos, particularly the meaty carne asada. Not surprisingly, Mexican favorites like Dos Equis and Negra Modela would be excellent selections. Both are variations of central European lagers, reddish amber brews with malty notes, so if you want to try those, look for styles like Vienna lager, Dunkel and the paler Dortmunder Export. That said, a lot of beers would be delicious, regardless of style. So would a lot of red wines, especially those with soft fruit and lively acidity. I’ve had great experiences with carignans and carne asada. Beaujolais would be a great choice, as would easygoing cabernet francs from the Loire Valley. You could also try mencías from Ribera Sacra or blaufränkisches from Austria. — Eric Asimov

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, In The Know, to get entertainment news sent straight to your inbox.

Source: Read Full Article