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That's a taco? Gourmet chefs put new spin on old favorite

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The crispy salt and pepper shrimp tacos at La Chinita Poblana in Indianapolis are served with spicy chipotle and sweet and sour sauces, cilantro, mint and Thai basil. The tacos are one of the many unique types served at the Asian-Mexican fusion restaurant.
The crispy salt and pepper shrimp tacos at La Chinita Poblana in Indianapolis are served with spicy chipotle and sweet and sour sauces, cilantro, mint and Thai basil. The tacos are one of the many unique types served at the Asian-Mexican fusion restaurant.

The tamarind-cumin marinated chicken tacos at La Chinita Poblana in Indianapolis are topped with sweet peanut-chile de arbol salsa and topped with diced onion, cilantro, mint and Thai basil. The tacos are one of the many unique types served at the Asian-Mexican fusion restaurant.
The tamarind-cumin marinated chicken tacos at La Chinita Poblana in Indianapolis are topped with sweet peanut-chile de arbol salsa and topped with diced onion, cilantro, mint and Thai basil. The tacos are one of the many unique types served at the Asian-Mexican fusion restaurant.

Move past the shredded lettuce, stringy cheese and sour cream. A bold new class of chefs are taking the simple taco and giving it a radical redo.

They’re using pineapple-mango salsa with fresh grilled tilapia. Marinated chicken comes together with lime juice and panang curry for a Thai-themed taste.

Korean chili paste, Asian pears and apples garnish a spicy-sweet pork taco.

A longtime staple of grade-school cafeterias and late-night fast food has evolved to please more refined palates. Barbecue shrimp, spicy buffalo chicken and grilled portabello mushrooms with red peppers have all popped up from vendors throughout Indianapolis.

The easy-to-hold tortilla and seemingly infinite number of ingredients make for an increase in the popularity of the taco.

“People find tacos so easy. It’s portable, you can carry it around. They aren’t simple, in terms of ingredients, but they’re easy to eat,” said Ryan Krcmarich, owner of Tacos Without Borders. “I like the idea that you can get flavors, vegetables and sauces from three different continents all at the same time.”

Inside the stainless steel kitchen of Tacos Without Borders’ food truck, Krcmarich plays mad scientist.

He fuses worldwide flavors such as curry and Vietnamese sweet chili, then covers it in a vinegary slaw and tomatillo sauce, with grated cotija on top.

His Jamaican jerk taco features chicken marinated for two days in a signature sauce. The Mexican shredded beef is slow-cooked in a broth of tomato, tomatillo and chili sauce.

A Nigerian-inspired taco uses meat such as chicken, then flavors it with North African hot chili paste harisa and berbere sauce, another 17-ingredient spicy sauce.

“You can make a taco pretty much from anywhere over the world. Every country has their own kind of tortilla bread, and you can fill it with whatever you want,” he said.

Krcmarich opened his mobile taco stand in 2010, taking advantage of the rising popularity of food trucks throughout the country. Taking his cue from the original trucks selling street tacos on the West Coast, he chose tacos because they’re easy to eat on the go.

The goal was to use the familiar form of the taco to get people to try dishes they’d otherwise never eat, Krcmarich said.

“I’d always been a person who had tweaked stuff a little bit. I like simplicity, see what other people are offering and add my own twist,” he said.

But even simple tacos can have an exotic taste.

Longtime lunch hotspot Roscoe’s Tacos has been serving handheld pockets of meat, beans, tomatoes and cheese in Greenwood for almost 20 years.

The business was opened by Rita and Roscoe Townsend in 1996, playing off of Roscoe Townsend’s favorite style of food.

A recently opened Franklin branch has carried on the original vision of simple, hearty tacos and expanded it to a new crowd.

“Subs and pizza are so available to you, people are getting burned out. There are not enough taco places around,” co-owner Colt Key said. “If you want a sub, there’s 10 of them. If you want tacos, there’s basically us.”

Key, who opened the location with his brother, Grant, had never worked in Mexican food before. Colt Key is a finance manager for Ray Skillman Auto Center, while Grant Key owns a landscaping company.

But they saw an opportunity to fill a void in Franklin. They wanted to provide a quick, hardy meal for workers who only had limited time to eat lunch or dinner. Tacos proved to be an ideal item.

Shredded chicken and beef are simmered in wide pans, taking in the flavor of the chili powder, garlic and other spices that Roscoe’s Tacos has used since the beginning.

Vegetarians can go with a mix of black beans and rice.

Since opening Feb. 3, the restaurant has served 200 or more people a taco every day.

“It’s been great sitting by the door and hearing people say, ‘That was a great taco. I really enjoyed it,’” Colt Key said.

Simple exteriors

In a bright yellow shack off of Broad Ripple’s main drag, La Chinita Poblana serves up a tacos containing skirt steak marinated in red curry and one with Japanese eggplant with a carrot-ginger-habanero dressing. Pan-seared tofu topped with miso habanero salsa gives a sharp kick with each bite.

Owner George Muñoz, a veteran Indianapolis chef, was inspired to open an Asian-Mexican fusion restaurant by an old legend of a kidnapped Indian princess taken to live in Mexico. The girl was eventually admired and revered.

The tastes he creates echo the Indian influence. Tamerind, cumin and curry — all popular in Indian food — are used as seasonings and in marinades.

Nearby, Monon Food Company has a slate of out-of-the-ordinary tacos that include pork marinated in Moroccan spices, steak with bleu cheese and chicken with feta cheese and carrots.

That’s the beauty of the taco — it’s so versatile.

“This whole trend started with Korean tacos out West. If you can do Korean tacos, you could do it from all over the world — Chinese, Malaysian, Japan. It’s endless,” Krcmarich said.

Make some yourself

Four unique taco recipes you can make at home:

Cheesy Egg Breakfast Tacos


4 eggs

1 (9-ounce) pouch creamy three cheese cooking sauce

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeno peppers

8 hard taco shells

Garnishes, if desired:

Avocado, cubed


Sour cream


1. In medium bowl, beat eggs and cooking sauce with whisk until well mixed.

2. In 10-inch nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium heat just until butter begins to sizzle. Pour egg mixture into skillet. As mixture begins to set at bottom and side, gently lift cooked portions with spatula so that thin, uncooked portion can flow to bottom. Avoid constant stirring. Cook 3 to 4 minutes or until eggs are thickened throughout but still moist.

3. Meanwhile, heat taco shells as directed on box. Spoon about ¼ cup of the egg mixture and 2 tablespoons cheese into each taco shell. Top with avocado, salsa and sour cream.

Creamy Grilled Shrimp Tacos


1 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined

4 teaspoons oil, divided

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 tub Philadelphia savory garlic cooking creme

8 (5 inch) corn tortillas, warmed

¾ cup Tex-Mex shredded cheese

¾ cup coleslaw blend (cabbage slaw mix)

½ cup salsa


1. Heat barbecue to medium-high heat.

2. Toss shrimp with 1 Tbsp. (3 tsp.) oil; thread onto skewers. Grill 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until shrimp turn pink. Remove from skewers; set aside.

3. Heat remaining oil in large skillet on medium heat. Add onions; cook and stir 5 minutes. Add shrimp and cooking creme; cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until heated through.

4. Spoon onto tortillas; top with remaining ingredients.

Homestyle Tacos al Pastor


For the pork:

5 guajillo chiles

5 pasilla or ancho chiles

1 chipotle pepper

1 medium white onion, halved

1 (20 ounce) can pineapple chunks

¼ cup white vinegar

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon cumin

Adobo with pepper, to taste

1 (2½ pound) boneless, skinless pork butt, cut into ½-inch cubes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the garnish:

1 (10-ounce) package corn tortillas, warmed

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

1 lime, cut into wedges


1. Bring 2 cups water to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add guajillo and pasilla chiles. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until chiles soften, about 10 minutes; transfer to plate. Remove and discard stem and seeds. Meanwhile, coarsely chop one onion half; reserve remaining half. Strain pineapples; reserve juice and fruit separately.

2. Transfer guajillo, pasilla and chipotle chiles, chopped onion half, reserved pineapple juice, vinegar, garlic and cumin to bowl of food processor. Puree until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer chile mixture to saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring chile mixture to a boil; cook until paste loses raw onion taste, about 2 minutes. Season with adobo; cool. In large container with lid, or in large zip-top bag, combine pork cubes, cooled chile marinade and reserved pineapple chunks; transfer to refrigerator. Marinate at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours.

3. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Strain pork and pineapples, discarding marinade. Add pork and pineapples to skillet. Cook in batches until dark golden brown on all sides and cooked through, about 15 minutes; transfer to large serving plate.

Turkey and Yam Spicy Tacos


1 yam, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

¾ pound ground turkey

½ cup chopped sweet onion

1 clove garlic, minced

4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon Cajun seasoning

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup tomatillo salsa

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

16 warm flour tortillas


1. Put the diced yam in a microwave-safe bowl; cook in the microwave until cooked through and fork-tender, stirring once, 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Coat the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil and place over medium heat; cook and stir the turkey until crumbled and evenly brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir the onion, garlic, and jalapeno pepper into the turkey and continue cooking until the onions begin to caramelize, 7 to 10 minutes. Season with the chili powder, cumin, Cajun seasoning and salt.

3. Pour the salsa over everything; fold the sweet potatoes into the mixture. Allow the mixture to cook until the excess moisture evaporates. Garnish with the cilantro. Serve with the warm tortillas.

— Recipe from AllRecipes.com

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