Taco fiesta

Taco Bar for a Party
Recipes by Sara Schneider

Tacos are casual, potentially messy, and fun to assemble ― in short, they make great party food. We coaxed recipes for fillings and sauces from our favorite taco stands and restaurants, to mix and match for a colorful fiesta at home.

Ingredients for these traditional Mexican dishes are available throughout the West in many well-stocked supermarkets and in Latino food markets: fresh and dried chilies; achiote paste, packed in cellophane-wrapped blocks; Mexican crema and jocoque (heavy creams similar to sour cream), in tubs or jars; Mexican cheeses, such as cotija and queso fresco; and dried Mexican oregano, a variety more pungent than regular oregano.

Tender corn tortillas just off the comal make it worth scouring the neighborhood for a tortillería (tortilla factory). If you come up short, choose the freshest, most flexible corn tortillas in the market (cracking is a sign of age).

To fit the festivities, offer aguas frescas (fresh fruit beverages) and Mexican beers. The only thing our scouting team couldn't agree on was the best match ― Corona with achiote roast chicken? Negra Modelo with chile colorado? Pacifico with barbacoa? Better try 'em all.

Taco Bar for a Party

PREP AND COOK TIME: Varies according to fillings and condiments used

NOTES: Allow 3 tacos per serving. Arrange plates and warm tortillas at the head of the line, followed by fillings grouped with the salsas, sauces, condiments, and vegetables that suit each best (see suggestions in notes for each filling; however, all are interchangeable). End with the beans; set bowls and soup spoons alongside. And provide plenty of napkins to help keep drips under control.

MAKES: 18 tacos; 6 servings

36 corn tortillas (6 to 8 in.) Fillings (choose 3 of the following) Salsas and sauces (choices follow) Condiments and vegetables (choices follow) La Super-Rica pinto beans

1. Warm tortillas, without crowding, in a single layer on a medium-hot griddle or in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over medium-high heat, turning once, until hot and flexible, 30 to 60 seconds per tortilla. As they're heated, stack in a basket lined with a thick towel (or in an insulated tortilla warmer); add more tortillas to griddle. Or divide tortillas into 3 equal stacks, seal each stack in foil, and heat in a 350° oven until hot in the center, 12 to 15 minutes; unwrap and stack in a towel-lined basket.

2. Place fillings, salsas, sauces, condiments, vegetables, and beans in separate containers and arrange on buffet (see notes); keep those that need to be warm on an electric warming tray or over a candle (stir occasionally to prevent scorching).

3. To assemble each taco, stack 2 tortillas on a plate and spoon filling down the center; add salsas, sauces, condiments, and vegetables to taste, and fold tortillas over filling to enclose. If desired, wrap with a napkin, and hold to eat.

Per 2 corn tortillas: 111 cal., 9.9% (11 cal.) from fat; 2.8 g protein; 1.2 g fat (0.2 g sat.); 23 g carbo (2.6 g fiber); 81 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Fillings: 3 cups Café Pasqual's barbacoa, 3 cups chile colorado Fandango, 3 cups La Taqueria carnitas, Café Azul rajas con queso, Yuca's achiote roast chicken with red onions en escabeche, Chope's ground beef with potato, Lone Star fish.

Salsas and sauces: use those suggested in notes with fillings chosen): Café Pasqual's three-chili salsa, Café Azul tomatillo-avocado salsa, Lone Star cilantro-jalapeño mayonnaise, Lone Star pico de gallo.

Condiments and vegetables (use those suggested in notes accompanying fillings): 2 cups total (about 10 oz.) crumbled cotija cheese and/or shredded white or yellow cheddar cheese or jack cheese; 11/2 cups Mexican crema, jocoque, or sour cream; 6 cups total shredded iceberg lettuce, a mix of romaine lettuce and red cabbage, or green and red cabbage; 11/2 cups chopped onions (taquerias typically use those with white skins); 1 cup minced fresh cilantro; 2 cups diced firm-ripe tomatoes; 2 firm-ripe avocados (1 lb. total), peeled and coarsely mashed with 2 tablespoons lime juice; and 3 limes (3/4 lb. total), rinsed and each cut into 6 wedges.

Taco speak

Al pastor: usually spicy pork, barbecued country-style Barbacoa: shredded pit-roasted meat Birria: roasted marinated lamb or kid Cabeza: beef head, usually cheeks Cabrito: goat Carne adobada: meat marinated in red chilies and vinegar Carne asada: grilled meat, usually beef Carne seca: dried spiced beef Carnitas: shredded pork--braised, fried in lard, and/or roasted Chile colorado: red chili sauce with beef or pork Chile verde: green chili sauce, often with pork or chicken Chorizo: spicy sausage Lengua: tongue Pescado: fish Pollo: chicken Sesos: brains Tripa: tripe