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Oct 4, 2019

Old School Hard Shell Tacos

These old school hard shell tacos will bring back memories of the tacos from the days when you craved a taco after a late night out. They are ridiculously delicious too.

Old School Hard Shell Tacos

These amazing hard shell tacos are a cross between the Americanized hard shell tacos where meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese are stuffed into a pre-cooked taco shell, and tacos dorados (golden tacos), which are essentially like taquitos, or rolled and deep fried tacos.

I've always been on a quest to find the perfect cross between the Americanized taco and tacos dorados (these delicious Snack Shack tacos come pretty close!).

I wanted something fried with the filling already in it, but not rolled, so you could fill them with cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. Something Los Angeles-style Mexican American... the Mexican food we ate back in the day before we were introduced to all of the authentic regional food from Mexico.

Bill Esparza describes it in his amazing book about the traditions of Mexican American food in Los Angeles, L.A. Mexicano, as "pocho cuisine" (a formerly derogatory term used by Mexicans for Americanized Mexicans). This book is a true gem by a devoted chronicler of the Mexican American food of Los Angeles.

Old School Hard Shell Tacos with condiments

As a college student in Los Angeles (way) back in the day, tacos like these were often what we craved after football games or parties. These tacos were hangover insurance. Fortunately, they are just as delicious even if you haven't been drinking.

How to Assemble Crispy Hard Shell Tacos:

First, you brush 6 inch corn tortillas lightly with oil, and then warm them in the oven to make them pliable.

Next, you fill each tortilla with a couple of tablespoons of your prepared beef filling, which includes some cheese to hold it together, Fold the tortillas in half with the filling in the middle. 

Once you have filled all of the tortillas, you can cover fry them immediately, or you can cover and refrigerate them for up to 12 hours.

Finally, you pan fry the tacos in just a quarter cup of oil in two batches until they get super crispy and browned.

Old School Hard Shell Tacos cooking steps

How to serve these tacos:

Serve these tacos with all of your favorite toppings, such as cheese, pickled jalapeños, lettuce, tomatoes or pico de gallo, sour cream, and hot sauce. 

Have plenty of napkins available to sop up the taco "juice" that will run down your arms to your elbows. These tacos are beyond delicious. 

Old School Hard Shell Tacos servings

What to do with leftover crispy tacos:

If you have any leftovers, you can cover and refrigerate them. Reheat them in your oven or toaster oven at 350 degrees F for 5 to 8 minutes. 

These tacos are crazy good. You need to try them. We were kind if fighting over them actually.

More taco recipes you might enjoy:

Old School Hard Shell Tacos serving suggestions

Happy National Taco Day!

Thank you to Valentina from The Baking Fairy for hosting this one-day event! Check out all the delicious recipes we made for the occasion:

Old School Hard Shell Tacos with all of the serving suggestions

Old School Hard Shell Tacos

Yield: 4 servings
These old school hard shell tacos will bring back memories of the tacos from the days when you craved a taco after a late night out. They are ridiculously delicious too.


  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 12 ounces 85 to 90 percent lean ground beef
  • 7 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 ounces cheddar cheese, plus more for serving
  • 12 six-inch corn tortillas
  • Shredded lettuce or cabbage for serving
  • Chopped tomato or pico de gallo
  • Sour cream
  • Pickled jalapeños
  • Hot sauce


How to cook Old School Hard Shell Tacos

  1. Heat your oven to 400 degrees F. 
  2. Combine the water and baking soda in a bowl, and add the crumbled ground beef to thoroughly combine. 
  3. In a nonstick 12-inch skillet over medium heat, heat a tablespoon of oil. Add the onion and sauté for 4 to 6 minutes. 
  4. Add the chili powder, paprika, cumin, granulated garlic, and salt. Cook, stirring for one minute. 
  5. Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. 
  6. Add the ground beef and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. Be sure that the beef is totally broken up. Once the beef is no longer pink, transfer the mixture to a bowl. 
  7. Stir the cheddar into the beef mixture and set aside. 
  8. Wipe the skillet clean with paper towels. 
  9. Brush the tortillas on both sides with 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil.
  10. Arrange the tortillas on a rimmed baking sheet as shown in the photo above. Bake for 5 minutes. 
  11. Remove the pan from the oven and reduce the temperature to 200 degrees F. 
  12. Place 2 heaping tablespoons of the beef and cheese filling on one side of each of the warmed tortillas. Fold and press the tortillas closed. 
  13. In a rimmed baking sheet, place a wire rack and line it with paper towels. 
  14. In the skillet, heat 1/4 cup of oil over medium high heat until shimmering. 
  15. Arrange 6 of the filled tacos in the pan and cook until one side is deeply browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. 
  16. Using tongs, flip the tacos to the other side and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more. 
  17. Place the cooked tacos on the paper towel lined baking sheet and blot the tops with paper towels. Place the baking sheet in the oven to keep warm. 
  18. Fry the rest of the tacos in the skillet and blot with paper towels. 
  19. Serve immediately with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese, jalapeños, and hot sauce. 
tacos, beef tacos, hard shell tacos
Created using The Recipes Generator

This recipe was adapted from Cook's Illustrated July/August 2018

Would you like to comment?

  1. It definitely doesn't need to be a late night out for me to crave this kind of tacos!

  2. Oh my goodness, I have never heard of nor tried one of these but they sure look amazingly delicious!

  3. amazing, something new and unknown to me! I am totally intrigued... I wish I was your guest in this meal!

    1. I wish you were too!!! These are killer good!

  4. I am loving the look of these tacos!! I've never seen anything like them. I'll have to give these a try asap!!

    1. It must be a LA thing! You definitely need to try them.

  5. They used to make something like this at a taco bar in Florida and we always loved them. Never knew the history behind it.

  6. Love that you make these for a crowd on a sheet pan! Delicious!

  7. I love a crispy taco shell and these look so good. I love the step by step instructions and the photos as well to help me when i make them!

  8. We have always made our tacos like this.from My Mom and my moms mom,my dad's mom,we are from Mexico.different states of Mexico do them rolled up but other states we fry them like this and with the lettuce and tomato.Original Fried tacos are from Mexico.They are Bien Ricos!!


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