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These garlic shrimp tacos are inspired by our local Jersey shore restaurant chain Surf Taco. I’ve amped up the flavors to make them sheer savory perfection. They feel extra-special, but they’re ready in a flash.

three garlic shrimp tacos on a wood table with cilantro sauce
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Why we love this recipe

Garlic shrimp tacos have long been my go-to order at Surf Taco. They’re great, but I knew they could be even better with the flavors amped up a bit. Our homemade version has:

  • Succulent little wild shrimp quickly marinated in a garlicky, smoky bath of happiness
  • Crunchy shredded cabbage tossed with lime and salt
  • A quick and easy pico de gallo
  • The ultimate creamy cilantro sauce drizzled on top of it all

And the best part is, they don’t take very long to make — so they’re special enough to anchor a dinner party, but also totally at home on your average weeknight. The shrimp cook in a flash, and everything else can be assembled just prior to cooking while the shrimp marinate. All you need is a good, sharp knife and a dream.

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

ingredients in bowls
  • Small shrimp work perfectly here and are less expensive. I usually keep a couple of 2-pound bags of wild-caught gulf white shrimp in the freezer, from the frozen seafood section at Whole Foods. They’re already peeled and cleaned, and they defrost quickly. The ones we buy are 71-90 count per pound.
  • Plum tomatoes are consistent and well-behaved and work really well for pico de gallo. You can use any tomatoes you like, though.
  • A good old head of green cabbage make a crunchy, fabulous slaw. You can use the rest to make a simple coleslaw another night.
  • I use sweet smoked paprika (also called pimentón). You can use a hot variety for slightly spicier tacos if you prefer.

How to make them

Here’s what you’ll do to make some epic garlic shrimp tacos. There are a few components to put together, but it’s easy, I promise. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

step by step
  1. First you’ll marinate the shrimp in a quick, flavorful combo of garlic, smoked paprika, a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Let it sit while you make the other elements.
  2. Next you’ll make a quick cabbage slaw, cilantro sauce, and pico de gallo. You can toss each one together right in its own little serving bowl if you want to let people assemble their own tacos.
  3. Cook the shrimp in a frying pan. This only takes a couple of minutes.
  4. Assemble the tacos by layering the components onto flour tortillas. That’s it!

Expert tips and FAQs

What the heck kind of shrimp should I buy?

Buying shrimp can feel really complicated. Wild or farmed? MSC certified? Frozen or fresh? What size? And so much more. For tacos, I buy good-quality wild frozen shrimp that are very small. Learn more about buying shrimp here.

Got any variations?

Don’t I always? You could double up on the slaw and serve this as a fabulous taco salad. For a mayo-free version, swap in this super-popular cilantro sauce. For a vegetarian version, swap in chickpeas for the shrimp without changing anything else. For a gluten-free version, use corn tortillas. Or make your own soft corn tortillas for an extra-special touch.

Can I make them in advance?

Tacos are best assembled at the last minute, but there’s no reason you can’t do virtually all of the prep for this recipe in advance. Marinate the shrimp and make the slaw, pico, and cilantro sauce earlier in the day in you like and store separately in the fridge. Cook the shrimp and assemble the tacos right before serving.

Store any leftovers tightly sealed in the fridge for up to three or four days.

Make it a party

Garlic shrimp tacos make a great weeknight meal on their own. Or you can double the recipe and make it a party with:

More favorite taco recipes

three garlic shrimp tacos on a wood table with cilantro sauce

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three garlic shrimp tacos on a wood table with cilantro sauce
4.80 from 20 votes

Garlic Shrimp Tacos (Inspired by Surf Taco)

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
These flavorful tacos are inspired by the Jersey shore’s own Surf Taco restaurants, where I order the original version practically once a week. The homemade ones are even fresher and more flavorful. Hope you love them.
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 2 minutes
Total: 27 minutes
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Ingredients 

For the shrimp

  • 1 pound (454 grams) small wild shrimp (see note below)
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) safflower oil for sautéeing

For the slaw

  • ¼ small green cabbage
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Juice of 1/2 lime

For the cilantro sauce

  • 1 small garlic clove
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ cup (112 grams) mayonnaise
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the pico de gallo

  • 2 plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
  • ¼ cup minced red onion
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

To serve

  • 8 taco-sized soft flour tortillas

Instructions 

  • First, marinate the shrimp. Place peeled, cleaned, defrosted shrimp in a medium bowl and toss together with olive oil, garlic, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. Let sit while you prepare the other elements of the tacos.
  • Start the cabbage next so it has a chance to marry with the salt and lime juice before serving. Cut a small green cabbage in half from the top through the core, then cut one of the halves in half again. Remove the core from one quarter and very thinly slice the cabbage. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and lime juice. Toss with your hands, rubbing a bit to help the salt and lime juice tenderize the cabbage.
  • To make the cilantro sauce, mince the garlic and then use the side of a chef’s knife to smash the salt and garlic together into a paste. In a small bowl stir together the mayonnaise, lime juice, garlic-salt paste, and pepper. When well combined, gently stir in the chopped cilantro.
  • To make the pico de gallo, stir together the tomatoes, red onion, salt, and olive oil in a small bowl.
  • Heat the tablespoon of safflower oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp in a single layer and cook until opaque, about one minute per side.
  • Bring ingredients to the table and let everyone assemble their own tacos, or plate by filling each tortilla with some shrimp, cabbage, pico de gallo and a drizzle of cilantro sauce.

Notes

  1. Small shrimp work perfectly here and are less expensive. I usually keep a couple of 2-pound bags of wild-caught gulf white shrimp in the freezer, from the frozen seafood section at Whole Foods. They’re already peeled and cleaned, and they defrost quickly. The ones we buy are 71-90 count per pound.
  2. Plum tomatoes are consistent and well-behaved and work really well for pico de gallo. You can use any tomatoes you like, though.
  3. A good old head of green cabbage make a crunchy, fabulous slaw. You can use the rest to make a simple coleslaw another night.
  4. I use sweet smoked paprika (also called pimentón). You can use a hot variety for slightly spicier tacos if you prefer.
  5. Tacos are best assembled at the last minute, but there’s no reason you can’t do virtually all of the prep for this recipe in advance. Marinate the shrimp and make the slaw, pico, and cilantro sauce earlier in the day in you like and store separately in the fridge. Cook the shrimp and assemble the tacos right before serving.
  6. Store any leftovers tightly sealed in the fridge or three or four days.
  7. Variations: You could double up on the slaw and serve this as a fabulous taco salad. For a mayo-free version, swap in this super-popular cilantro sauce. For a vegetarian version, swap in chickpeas for the shrimp without changing anything else. For a gluten-free version, use corn tortillas. Or make your own soft corn tortillas for an extra-special touch.

Nutrition

Calories: 404kcal, Carbohydrates: 11.1g, Protein: 25.4g, Fat: 29.8g, Fiber: 2.3g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Mexican-Inspired
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

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3 Comments

  1. Super easy and super delicious. I made a few subs that don’t really need to be mentioned because the marinade and cilantro cream just make the entire recipe! So good sooooo very good. ( OK…I added tuna and used jarred picante sauce. )