Are Hard Shell Tacos Truly an Authentic Mexican Dish or American Invention?

hard taco shells many colours

Do hard shell tacos truly have Mexican origins, or is this just a classic American-style invention? As Mexican food becomes more popular in the United States, it’s important to know where dishes like hard shell tacos came from so you can understand how they’ve changed over time. 

By learning about the history and culture of this dish, we can figure out if it’s really authentic or if it was made by Americans. 

In this blog post, we’ll dive into the history of the hard-shell taco and explore whether it holds true to traditional Mexican cuisine or if it’s a product of American adaptation.

Hard Shell Tacos and Why It is So Popular

Hard-shell tacos are a type of taco shell that is made with a fried corn tortilla. The tortilla is folded in half and filled with a variety of ingredients, such as ground beef, lettuce, cheese, and salsa. The taco is then sealed by pressing the edges together, creating a “shell” that is crispy and crunchy.

Hard shell tacos were popularized by Glen Bell, who opened a restaurant called Taco Tia in 1948 and began selling the hard taco shell. He eventually opened the first Taco Bell in 1962

The popularity of Bell’s restaurants helped the hard shell taco spread across North America, and it’s now a staple of American fast food culture.

The hard shell taco is known for its crispy and crunchy texture, which makes it a popular option for many people. It is also convenient to eat because the ingredients are sealed inside, making it easy to hold and eat on the go. Hard-shell tacos are cheaper than soft-shell tacos and sold in packs, making them a budget-friendly option.

These factors, along with advertising and nostalgia, make hard shell tacos a favorite food among many Americans, making them a staple of the fast-food industry.

Are Traditional Mexican Tacos Soft or Hard?

Authentic, traditional Mexican tacos are almost always served on soft tortillas. The tortillas are made from masa (corn dough) and are typically cooked on a comal (a flat griddle) before being filled with a variety of meats, vegetables, and toppings. These tacos are often small and can be easily eaten by hand, making them a popular street food.

Soft shell tacos are generally considered to be the more authentic option. These street-style tacos feature double layers of small corn tortillas that are filled with meats such as carne asada or pollo asado, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and salsa. 

However, it’s also common to find classic hard crispy taco shells in Mexican cuisine, which are called “taco dorado” or “taco frito,” in which the tortillas are deep-fried.

Are Hard-Shell Tacos Truly Authentic Mexican?

Hard-shell tacos, also called “taco dorado” or “taco frito” in Mexican cuisine, are not considered traditional or authentic Mexican tacos. Traditional Mexican tacos are usually made with soft, warm corn tortillas and are filled with a variety of meats, vegetables, and toppings. They are often small and can be easily eaten by hand, making them a popular street food.

In Mexican cuisine, a hard-shell taco is not typically part of the traditional meal, and it’s not as common as the soft-shell taco, but they are sometimes consumed as fast food. This format is deep-fried, and it’s typically used to hold more filling or as a way to improve the texture of the taco.

What Makes An Authentic Taco?

An authentic taco is a dish that is true to the traditional and cultural origins of Mexican cuisine. There are several key elements that define an authentic taco:

  1. Tortilla. The foundation of an authentic taco is a fresh, warm corn tortilla. These tortillas are made from masa (corn dough) and are typically cooked on a comal (a flat griddle) before being filled with a variety of meats, vegetables, and toppings.
  2. Filling. The filling of an authentic taco is usually made with a variety of meats such as beef, pork, chicken, and seafood. These meats are often cooked in traditional Mexican cooking methods such as grilled, stewed, or slow-cooked, and are seasoned with traditional Mexican spices. There are many choices for marinated meat, including carnitas, barbacoa, al pastor, and carne asada.
  3. Toppings. An authentic taco is typically topped with fresh ingredients such as cilantro, onions, lime, and salsa. These toppings add a burst of flavor and texture to the taco.
  4. Regional and Local Ingredients. Authentic tacos are usually made with locally grown ingredients, which reflect the diverse regions, cultures, and traditional recipes that make up Mexican cuisine.
  5. Simplicity. Authentic tacos are simple and humble, made with minimal ingredients and showcasing the natural flavors of each ingredient. They are often street food, which can be eaten by hand, making them a perfect and convenient meal on the go.


An authentic taco is not only a dish but also a cultural experience that reflects the rich and diverse culinary heritage of Mexico that has been passed down through generations.

What Is the Difference Between American Tacos and Authentic Mexican Tacos?

The main difference between American and Mexican tacos is the style of preparation and ingredients.

American tacos are typically larger and filled with ground beef, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and salsa. They are also often served in a hard-shell taco that is fried.

Mexican tacos, on the other hand, are generally smaller and made with a soft corn tortilla. They are often filled with a variety of meats, such as beef, pork, chicken, or seafood, and can include a range of toppings like cilantro, onions, lime, and salsa. These are traditional and authentic tacos, usually served streetside, that use locally grown ingredients and different regional recipes.

Also, Mexican tacos usually have a wider range of traditional ingredients than American tacos, such as cactus, chapulines (grasshoppers), and pickled onions. Mexican tacos also have a wider range of ways to cook them, from grilling to stewing, which makes them taste and feel more different.

So American tacos tend to be more focused on a basic recipe with standardized ingredients and are often associated with fast-food style. Mexican tacos, on the other hand, are more varied and rooted in tradition, with a focus on real flavors and ingredients that come from nearby.

American Tacos
Mexican Tacos
FillingGround beef, lettuce, cheeseVariety of meats (beef, pork, chicken, seafood)
ToppingsSour cream, salsaCilantro, onions, lime, salsa
Additional ingredientsN/ACactus, chapulines, pickled onion
Cooking stylesFriedGrilled, stewed
FocusBasic recipe, standard ingredients, fast-foodAuthentic flavors, locally sourced ingredients

Mexican Influence on American Cuisine

Mexican cuisine has had a significant influence on American cuisine. Mexican immigrants brought their traditional recipes and ways of cooking to the U.S., where they were changed and added to American food.

Tex-Mex, which started in Texas and combines parts of Texan and Mexican food, is one of the most popular Mexican-American foods. Tex-Mex dishes such as chili con carne, fajitas, and nachos have become popular across the country.

Another way that Mexican cuisine has influenced American food is through the incorporation of Mexican ingredients into American dishes. Mexican flavors and spices, such as cumin, chili powder, and cilantro, are now commonly used in American cooking, and Mexican ingredients such as avocado, jalapeno, and queso fresco have become staples in American grocery stores.

What Is Tex-Mex Style Taco?

tex mex tacos

Tex-Mex cuisine is a fusion of Mexican and Texan cuisine that developed in the late 19th century in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. It usually has things like beef, pork, and processed cheeses, which aren’t common in traditional Mexican food.

A Tex-Mex-style taco is a taco that incorporates elements of Tex-Mex cuisine. This may include ingredients such as ground beef, shredded cheddar cheese, lettuce, and tomato, which are typically not used in traditional Mexican tacos. 

They may also include Tex-Mex sauces such as sour cream, guacamole, and salsa. Hard-shell tacos are an example of a Tex-Mex style taco, which is rarely seen in Mexico but very popular in America, especially in Tex-Mex cuisine.


It’s worth noting that Mexican cuisine is incredibly diverse and regional, and there are many variations of traditional Mexican tacos. Hard-shell tacos are not the traditional version; they are more of a Tex-Mex or Americanized version of the dish. 

Hard-shell tacos, also called “taco dorado” or “taco frito” in Mexican cuisine, are an American invention and are not considered traditional or authentic Mexican tacos. 

They were popularized by Glen Bell in the 1940s when he opened a restaurant called Taco Tia and began selling the crispy hard taco shell, which were filled with ground beef, lettuce, and cheese. Bell’s success with this dish eventually led to the opening of the first Taco Bell restaurant in 1962. 

This taco was designed to appeal to the American palate and be easily consumed on the go. While it is not a traditional or authentic Mexican taco, it has become a staple of American fast-food culture.

But it’s also important to remember that foods and recipes adapt and change over time, and sometimes new dishes are created from different regions, cultures, and influences.

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