Quick History of Tacos in America

There’s no denying that tacos have become a ubiquitous dish in American culture.

In fact, it’s been said that Americans consume almost five billion tacos every year! 

Let’s dive into the history of tacos in America, so that you know where exactly your tasty Mexican dish came from!

Where Does the Word Taco Come From?

The word taco is not terribly old in the grand scheme of things and is dated back to the 18th century. Professor Jeffrey M. Pilcher, in conjunction with Katy Friesen at the Smithsonian Magazine, reveals that the word probably originated when used by silver miners. 

These individuals would wrap gunpowder in thin pieces of paper and insert it into holes to act as an explosive charge. This visual is very reminiscent of a taco, burrito, or taquito. In fact, people would go on to describe these and the first tacos as tacos de minero – miner’s tacos. 

How Did Tacos Get Popularized in the United States?

Tacos, and Mexican food in general, started to appear in the early 1900’s as Mexican migrants came to the States for different types of work. It was often seen as a low-quality street food as it was sold by carts and vendors outside. 

Over time, Americans would start incorporating different types of food into their diets as migrants came from all over. Even at this time, however, our idea of tacos was very much an Americanized idea of what Mexican immigrants actually brought here. They featured common foods already seen in our culture such as hamburger, cheese, and tomato. Immigrants from other areas would introduce their own take on tacos, including the still-popular tacos al pastor. 

It’s ultimately impossible to discuss the popularity of tacos in the United States without mentioning Taco Bell founder Glen Bell. Bell did not invent anything unique about tacos themselves but was arguably the first person to successfully market and franchise a restaurant chain focused on Mexican cuisine. He and others also claim that Bell invented the hard taco shell, which allowed his business to turn tacos into fast food. However, other research suggests that Mexican cooks were once again a step ahead of the game. 

Mexican Fusion Tacos

The history shows that food connoisseurs were experimenting with tacos since their inception. In fact, some researchers suggest that other cultures may have been wrapping fish in tortilla-like blankets even before they started appearing in Mexican culture. 

Considering that Americans introduced the now standard hamburger meat to tacos, there was never anything stopping chefs from fusing this Mexican dish with cuisine from other cultures. Lebanese immigrants would utilize pork and Middle Eastern spices in al pastor. 

Far more recently, American-Korean chef Roy Choi would popularize Korean-Mexican fusion while going back to taco roots in his gourmet food truck Kogi. He is often credited for popularizing food trucks in Los Angeles and other major cities.

Hawaiian-Mexican Fusion Tacos – Surf N Turf Tacos

Surf N Turf Tacos cherishes the history of Mexican cuisine and is proud to offer our version with a special Aloha twist. We offer dishes in a variety of forms which feature your favorite proteins including pork, steak, fish, and shrimp. All of our food is carefully made with our proud Hawaiian spirit in mind.

If you love tacos and are in Honolulu, why not stop by Surf N Turf Tacos? We’re located at 2310 Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki. We also do catering for all types of events and celebrations! Be sure to check out our menu!

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