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Here’s how to set up a crowd-pleasing taco bar. Plus, the recipe for a great tangy cabbage slaw for tacos of all kinds.

many ingredients for a taco bar laid out in bowls and on plates on a wooden surface
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A taco bar is casual entertaining at its best

My favorite gatherings are relaxed, easy, and fun. Assembling a taco bar from a combination of make-ahead-friendly recipes and purchased elements gives you limitless flexibility. Whatever the size of your crowd, dietary preferences, time constraints, and budget, there’s a version of this party that will work for you.

A good taco bar includes:

  • A couple of flexible protein choices to meet various needs — think shredded chicken and sofritas, or garlic shrimp and savory black beans
  • A few bases that make it easy for people to turn the ingredients into tacos, salads, or burrito bowls
  • Easy topping and side dish options galore
  • At least one fun nonalcoholic and one alcoholic beverage (if you’re into that sort of thing)
Ground beef taco meat in a skillet

Proteins

When possible, I like to offer two proteins for people to choose from. This is an easy way to ensure that your offerings will suit a wide variety of dietary preferences, while keeping things interesting for everyone. Here are our most popular choices.

a stack of soft corn tortillas on a black plate on a blue textile background

Bases

Here’s where you can give people all the format options they could ever want. While it’s called a taco bar, some guests may prefer to make salads or burrito bowls. I like to offer:

guacamole in a molcajete

Sauces

As far as I’m concerned, you can never have too many sauce options. Some of these phenomenal homemade choices are among our most popular recipes, and I recommend making at least one from scratch when possible. That said, there are so many great ready-made options too, so never let a lack of extra time stop you from throwing a taco party.

tangy cabbage slaw for tacos in a bowl

Slaws

A crunchy element helps make good tacos great. Here are our favorites — I rarely make tacos without including one.

Cheeses

One true fact when all else fails is that the shredded cheese at your taco bar will disappear faster than you think. Our favorite cheeses for tacos are:

  • Shredded extra-sharp cheddar or pepper jack
  • Crumbled cotija, queso fresco, or queso blanco

Finishing touches

Here are a few more easy elements to add a pops of flavor and color to a taco bar.

  • Lime wedges
  • Sliced olives (either black or green with pimento)
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
  • Sliced fresh or pickled jalapeños
four ears of mexican street corn on a plate with lime wedges

Sides

Beans and veggies help round out your plate of tacos or bulk up your burrito bowl. Here are a few of our biggest crowd-pleasers.

carafe and two glasses of strawberry agua fresca

Beverages

Don’t forget the drinks! I like to offer one nonalcoholic and one alcoholic beverage.

spicy pepitas in a serving bowl

Bonus: starters and snacks

It’s not really necessary to include one of these at a taco bar, but people sure do love them. You can set them out ahead of the main meal or simply add them to the mix, whichever makes more sense for your party.

Expert tips and FAQs

How do you keep tortillas warm?

Warm tortillas make all the difference. Depending on the size and length of your party, you’ve got a few options. You can wrap a stack of tortillas in foil and heat in a 250°F oven (or in a damp, lint-free dish towel to warm in the microwave), then bring straight to the table. Doing this a couple of times during a shorter party may be all you need.

Another great option is to place a wrapped stack of tortillas in your slow-cooker and set it to low. Or, if you’re keeping something else warm in your slow-cooker and can find a baking dish that works size-wise, you can create a double-decker warmer. Place the tortillas in a baking dish that catches the rim of the slow cooker but allows the rest of the dish to sit inside the cooker, then place the lid on top of that.

If you serve tortillas frequently, it may be worth making a small investment in a tortilla warmer. They come in lots of materials and sizes to suit your needs and are available online.

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tangy cabbage slaw for tacos in a bowl
4.60 from 25 votes

Tangy Cabbage Slaw for Tacos

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
A crunchy element makes good tacos great. This tangy cabbage slaw is bright, bold, and beautiful, and it works well with tacos of all kinds, from fish to pork and beyond.
Prep: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 10 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
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Ingredients 

For the dressing

  • ½ cup (112 grams) mayo
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the slaw

  • 3 cups (185 grams) shredded green cabbage
  • 1 cup (70 grams) red cabbage
  • 1 cup (100 grams) shredded carrot
  • ½ cup (30 grams) chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 scallions, quartered lengthwise and sliced

Instructions 

  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the mayo, lime juice, minced garlic, salt, and pepper.
  • Shred the cabbage with a chef's knife or the shredding disc of a food processor.
  • Shred the carrot on the large holes of a box grater or with the shredding disc of a food processor.
  • Add shredded cabbage and carrot and the chopped cilantro and scallions to the mixing bowl.
  • Toss slaw to coat it all with dressing.
  • Before serving, let it rest at room temperature for at least 10 minutes or in the fridge for at least an hour to allow the flavors to combine.

Step-by-step video

Notes

  1. If you don't like mayo, you can substitute two tablespoons olive oil. The slaw will have a different vibe that's also really great.
  2. You can substitute 5 cups of pre-shredded coleslaw mix for the cabbages and carrot. You'll still add the cilantro and scallions on your own, as well as the dressing.
  3. If possible, I prefer to let coleslaw rest in the fridge for at least an hour or two before serving, since it really helps the flavors blend. You can make this recipe up to a week in advance and store it (or any leftovers that haven't been out at room temperature for too long) in an airtight container.

How to shred the cabbage

You've got two excellent options for shredding the green and red cabbage. Either way, you'll start by removing any gnarly outer leaves, quartering the cabbage, and coring it.
You can see this process in action in one of my very early videos. It's awkward AND instructional! For coleslaw I like to cut each cabbage quarter lengthwise into three or four pieces before shredding so that the strands won't be super-long — but the video will give you a good basic idea of the process.If you have a standard food processor, you can use the shredding disc to get nice, short, even shreds of cabbage for coleslaw. If not, simply use your chef's knife as shown in the video to cut each section crosswise. It takes longer but is perfectly manageable, promise.

How to shred the carrots

If you're using a food processor to shred the cabbage, run the carrot through that as well. Otherwise you can use the largest holes of a box grater. Some carrots release quite a bit of moisture when shredded, so if you like, you can blot them dry between layers of paper towel before incorporating into the recipe.

How to cut the scallions

You'll use both the white and green parts of your scallions in this recipe. While it's okay to simply slice them into thin discs, I prefer to quarter them lengthwise first. This quick step means you'll end up with fine pieces that incorporate well into the slaw, rather than little rings and wheels that don't quite meld into the whole.

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 25kcal, Carbohydrates: 6g, Protein: 1g, Sodium: 143mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 3g

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

Additional Info

Course: Sauces and Condiments
Cuisine: Mexican
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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