Twenty-Minute Taco Bar

Ready. Set. GO! Call me thrilled that an entire Taco Bar can be rushed to the table in twenty minutes flat. Really. (Yes, I really do time my recipes.) We'll brown the tortillas, so important! We'll cook the meat. We'll make a Quick Guacamole. We'll set out all our favorite taco fixin's. And then we'll dig in. The trick to this quick weeknight meal? Store-bought fresh salsa that keeps the taco meat nice 'n' juicy, makes a mean guacamole and then takes its place among all our favorite taco fillings. C'mon. Everybody's hungry and we've got dinner to cook.

Twenty-Minute Taco Bar, another Quick Supper ♥ Just four steps, then feast.

Home-style Tacos, Ready in a Flash, Cooked in One Skillet. Whole Food, Fast & Flexible. Mere Minutes to the Table. Another Quick Supper, a Kitchen Parade Specialty. Hearty & Filling. Easy DIY.

  • "Wow. Great tacos." ~ One Happy Husband

Twenty-Minute Taco Bar, another Quick Supper ♥ Just four steps, then feast.

About This Recipe: Twenty-Minute Taco Bar

  • This isn't just a "recipe". Instead it's a whole Taco Bar, cooked from scratch on the spot in just 20 minutes. There are four important components: the tortillas; the Taco Meat; the Quick Guacamole; all the Taco Toppings.
  • Distinctive Ingredients = tortillas + uncooked ground meat + spices + fresh tomato salsa + avocado
  • Short Ingredient List = all the above + wait, that's it!
  • This is a time-friendly recipe. Brown the tortillas, cook the meat, make the guacamole, set out the toppings all in 20 minutes.
  • This is pantry-friendly recipe, it uses ingredients many of us keep on hand all the time.
  • This is a budget-friendly recipe, no fancy ingredients to shop for, no hard-to-find ingredients to search for.
  • As written, the Twenty-Minute Taco Bar makes nine tacos. How many does that serve? Well, that's up to you and your eaters!
  • If you like this recipe, you'll fall for a similar salad version, see Southwestern Chicken Taco Salad Plates.
  • Not quite what you're looking for? Check out my other taco recipes, just click here for my Mexican recipes and scroll down just a bit.

How Does an Entire Taco Bar Happen in 20 Minutes?

Fresh Tomato Salsa, used 3 ways in a Twenty-Minute Taco Bar, another Quick Supper ♥ Just four steps, then feast.

First, you're gonna keep moving, the entire time. Start to feast, you'll be on your feet and busy.

Second, the whole concept leans on a fresh tomato salsa from the grocery store which is used in three different ways for the same meal. Too much? I don't think so. I don't even think anybody but anybody will notice.

Could you make your own salsa from scratch? Sure. Just allow more time.

Could you use a jar of salsa? Sure. It'll be great, truly, just not quite as fresh.

Me, I'm happy to lean on a "store bought" food product that fits my definition of whole food.

Where to Buy Fresh Tomato Salsa

Look for fresh salsas in the refrigerator/produce section of good grocery stores and warehouse clubs, often next to the prepared and packaged guacamole.

It'll probably be packaged in a plastic container, not glass. It won't have preservatives, so it'll have a short shelf life. (The fresh salsa I buy from Sam's Club is labeled for about three weeks. Another Sam's Club salsa is labeled for a couple of months.)

Twenty-Minute Taco Bar, another Quick Supper ♥ Just four steps, then feast.

How to Pull Together a Taco Bar in Twenty Minutes

The detailed recipe is written in traditional recipe form below but here are the highlights in four easy steps. You can definitely do this!

  • BROWN THE TORTILLAS This is so important, cooking off that raw floury taste in flour tortillas. Just give them a quick brown in a hot skillet, then wrap in foil to keep the tortillas warm in the oven until it's time to eat.
  • BROWN THE MEAT Once the tortillas are in the oven, use the same skillet to cook the meat with a bunch of spices, at the end stir in some of that fresh tomato salsa, it makes all the difference.
  • MAKE THE QUICK GUACAMOLE Just dice an avocado, stir in some of that fresh tomato salsa, then be generous with the salt. This makes a decent guacamole!
  • SET UP THE TACO BAR Put everything out in a buffet line, including your favorite taco toppings.
  • Easy, right?!
Taco toppings for a Twenty-Minute Taco Bar, another Quick Supper ♥ Just four steps, then feast.

If There's Extra Time, How About Some Fun Side Dishes?

~ Mexican Rice ~
~ Pinto Bean Salad ~
~ Creamy Slow Cooker Beans ~

Twenty-Minute Taco Bar, another Quick Supper ♥ Just four steps, then feast.

For Best Results

For my weekly column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I interviewed chefs and translated their restaurant recipes for home kitchens. The most illuminating question? "How can a home cook ensure the same results?" So now I ask that question of myself, too, for my own recipes. Have another question? Ask away, I'll do my best to answer!

Brown Those Tortillas! It takes a few minutes but oh, this step is so important for good tacos. This is for two reasons. First, uncooked flour taste floury and raw and kinda tasteless. If they're cooked, quick-quick in a skillet, they turn all soft and nutty tasting. Plus, warm tortillas wrapped around a mix of hot and cool taco ingredients is The.Best. Oh. And keep the tortillas warm too, just wrap them in foil and put into a warmm oven. PS No. It's not enough to just warm them up. The browning itself is key.

A Quick Personal Note

This Twenty-Minute Taco Bar is Kitchen Parade's 600th recipe and call me thrilled that it's for something that's so real, so do-able, so everyday, so useful, so, well, me.

But wait. There's more!

Long-time readers and followers may remember that my mom started Kitchen Parade for our hometown newspaper when I was a baby. But next week, it will be 21 years since my own first column was published, see Cheese Gnocchi Pie. Who would've guessed, all these years later, I'd still be sharing recipes?!

From the beginning, Kitchen Parade's mission was to share "Fresh Seasonal Recipes for Everyday Healthy Living and Occasional Indulgences" and, yeah, it still works today.

I owe so much to the many followers who've invited my recipes into their InBoxes and onto their tables.

I so thank you.

Bookmark! PIN! Share!

How do you save and share favorite recipes? recipes that fit your personal cooking style? a particular recipe your mom or daughter or best friend would just love? If a fast taco bar inspires you, please do save and share! I'd be honored ...

Twenty-Minute Taco Bar, another Quick Supper ♥ Just four steps, then feast.


Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Time-to-table: 20 minutes
Makes enough for 9 tacos

Keep moving! While the tortillas brown and the meat cooks, mind the stove but use the downtime to gather/measure the spices for the Taco Meat; make the Quick Guacamole; set out the Taco Toppings.
  • 9 flour tortillas
  • Olive oil, for brushing
  • Foil, for wrapping & heating
    (Makes about 2-1/4 cups cooked meat)
  • 1 pound (450g) ground beef, turkey, chicken, etc.
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (assumes table salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano or regular oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh tomato salsa
    (makes about 2 cups)
  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled and diced small
  • 1/4 cup fresh tomato salsa (might need to be drained a bit) or a jarred tomato salsa
  • Salt (be generous)
  • Chopped iceberg lettuce
  • Chopped tomato or more fresh tomato salsa/jarred tomato salsa
  • Chopped cilantro
  • Grated cheese (cotija, queso fresco, Mexican blend, etc.)
  • Sour cream or crema
  • Hot sauce

TORTILLAS Set the oven to 180F/80C.

Heat a large non-stick skillet on medium-high heat until it's hot. Brush a tortilla with just a touch of oil on one side, drop it oiled-side down in the skillet. With one hand, carefully move the tortilla around in the skillet, further spreading the oil across the tortilla's bottom and the pan's surface. When the tortilla begins to brown in spots and puff up (it'll just take a minute or two), brush the second side with a touch of oil and flip. Let the second side brown (it'll take less time than the first side).

Set the browned tortilla on a large piece of foil, it should be big enough to wrap the tortillas.

Repeat with the remaining tortillas, stacking them atop the foil. Once the tortillas are all browned, seal the foil in a packet around the tortillas and place in the oven to keep hot until it's time to eat.

TACO MEAT In the same skillet, add the meat to the already-hot skillet, as it cooks, breaking it apart into smaller pieces with the tip of a spatula. Stir in the spices and continue to cook the meat, stirring often, breaking up the meat even further, until it's fully cooked.

Stir in the fresh salsa and and let heat through; if the meat's a little wet, let the liquid cook off for a minute or two. Turn off the heat. If needed, leave in the skillet in case another blast of heat is needed before serving.

QUICK GUACAMOLE Stir together all the ingredients.

SET UP THE TACO BAR For build-your-own tacos, create the "taco bar" with a buffet line. We use our kitchen island but a kitchen counter and even the kitchen table would work too. Line up the ingredients in their likely order: plates first; then the tortillas; then the Black Bean Spread (if using); then the meat; then the Quick Guacamole; then the Taco Toppings. Keep all the bowls/dishes pushed back far enough so that while people are building their tacos, there's room to set their plates down.

MAKE-AHEAD TIPS Everything except the tortillas can be made ahead of time, either the day before or the morning of, say.

ALANNA's TIPS Don't need nine tortillas? Just brown and heat up what you'll use on the spot, they really don't keep unless you're planning ahead for breakfast Chilaquiles. A silicone brush (affiliate link) is really handy for brushing a bare minimum of oil onto tortillas. Don't feel tempted to use more oil, the tortillas get wet and soggy, not nice! In a non-stick skillet, there's usually no need for oil for the skillet when cooking ground meat really quickly like this.

WHAT IS A FRESH TOMATO SALSA? Look for plastic containers of fresh salsas in a refrigerated section of the product department. Fresh salsas usually have no preservatives, that's why they have a shorter shelf life, maybe a few weeks, maybe a couple of months. We really like both the fresh salsas from Sam's Club but since the container is quite big and the shelf life so short, that's why over the years I've leaned into so many recipes that use the salsa as an ingredient, see this list of recipes that use tomato salsa.

WHAT ABOUT A DIFFERENT SALSA? Yes! I think a regular glass jar of salsa would work too, especially if it has some texture. I'm also curious about fruit salsas, Sam's Club has a mango salsa that I think would work really well here and Trader Joe's has a corn salsa that would also be great.

FOR MORE INFO If you "skipped straight to the recipe," please scroll back to the top of this page for ingredient information, ingredient substitutions, tips and more. If you print this recipe, you'll want to check the recipe online for even more tips and extra information about ingredient substitutions, best results and more. See .
NUTRITION INFORMATION Sorry, due to technical issues during a laptop conversion, nutrition info and Weight Watchers points will be added later.

Taco Tuesday Inspiration

~ Mexican recipes ~
Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos ♥, just cook beef in slow cooker (no browning!) with pantry ingredients, then add quick sauté of veggies, black beans.

Oaxaca Tlayuda (Mexican Flat Tacos) ♥, easy, healthy build-your-own crispy baked tortillas.

Zucchini Mushroom Tacos, another Meatless Monday or Taco Tuesday idea ♥ A Veggie Venture, easy to adapt with what's on hand or just what sounds good. Weight Watchers Friendly.

Shop Your Pantry First

(helping home cooks save money on groceries)

~ tortillas ~
~ beef recipes ~
~ tomato salsa ~
~ avocado recipes ~

~ All Recipes, By Ingredient ~
~ How to Save Money on Groceries ~

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail, you'll find my current address in the FAQs. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, for more scratch cooking recipes using whole, healthful ingredients, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

© Copyright Kitchen Parade

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Vicki Solomon9/28/2023

    Slight typo in the guacamole recipe. You need an avocado, not a guacamole to make guacamole.
    This is the same recipe I use to make guacamole! Independently invented and it's the same.

    1. Alanna9/28/2023

      Vicki ~ Fixed! PS Thanks for letting me know! PPS Love your guacamole invention! :-)


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna