October 4th is National Taco Day, and this year it coincides with Taco Tuesday. What does that mean?
Tacos for breakfast (recipe below), tacos for lunch, tacos for dinner, tacos for dessert. But first:
A BRIEF TACO HISTORY
SUrprisingly, the Aztecs did not invent the taco; nor did anyone else, until the 18th century.
According to Professor Jeffrey M. Pilcher, author of Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, tacos are not an ancient food.
Rather, as he discusses in an article in Smithsonian Magazine, Mexican silver miners in the 18th century likely invented the taco as a hand-held convenience food, followed by taco carts and taquerías in the working-class neighborhoods.
As the taco spread throughout Mexico, each region added its own touches: meats, spices, salsas, garnishes.
Mexican Americans in the Southwest reinvented it. As late as the 1960s, tacos were virtually unknown outside Mexico and the American Southwest.
In 1962, businessman Glen Bell founded Taco Bell as a drive-up with a few outdoor tables. It grew into a mass-marketing powerhouse, serving an Anglo version with a hard shell at quick-service restaurants nationwide.
This hard pre-fried corn tortilla shell (photo #2) is not authentic. Like the burrito, a larger wheat flour tortilla, it was born in the U.S.A.
Yet within 50 years the United States had shipped its hard taco shells worldwide, from Australia to Mongolia—redefining the taco in the eyes of millions, if not billions.
And Taco Tuesday?
This American event was begun in in 1982 as a successful promotion by Taco John’s. It encouraged people to go out for tacos on Tuesday nights, and offered specials like $1 fish tacos.
 An upscale taco in the classic mold. This one includes braised beef and mole sauce, with cottage cheese Here’s the recipe (photo courtesy McCormick.  Hard fried taco shells are an American invention. They stand up on their own (photo courtesy Old El Paso)!
Since tacos are easy to make at home and popular with the whole family, Taco Tuesdays is also a frequent event in home kitchens.
While Taco John’s trademarked the name, the trademark is no longer enforced. Now, it’s Taco Tuesdays for everyone!
TACOS BEYOND THE TRIED-AND-TRUE
You may think that National Taco Day is a day to celebrate the classics; but as you do, put on your thinking cap and invasion the next great taco combination you can make.
Sophisticated tacos. Chefs at better restaurants are pushing their creativity to transfer icon dishes to tacos. Try these braised beef tacos in mole sauce (photo #1).
Put your own spin on it. Ground beef tacos became cheeseburger tacos, for example. Grilled, sliced steak is popular in northern Mexico, and our tony friend Ordway wanted to try the concept with filet mignon. We made them for his birthday, with a sauce of melted gruyère, crème fraîche and salsa verde, a Mexican-French fusion. (May we say, it was a silly excess but very appreciated by the birthday boy. We’ve since gone with braised short ribs or lamb shank—DEE-licious.)
Trio of tacos. Our favorite dish at our neighborhood Tex-Mex restaurant is a trio of tacos, each with a different filling. Why choose just one?
Specialty tacos for every occasion, like these corned beef and cabbage tacos for St. Patrick’s Day.
Sashimi tacos. Fish tacos are great, but sushi lovers will adore these sashimi tacos as well. The shell is made from wonton wrappers. Fillings can be anything you like. Haru restaurant in New York City serves three full-size tacos: tuna with cherry tomato salsa, salmon with avocado and striped bass with apple yuzu ceviche sauce.
Dessert tacos. Whether they’re in a sideways waffle cone resembling a hard taco shell, or in a waffle from your waffle maker, this is fun food. How can you resist? Here’s the recipe. Warning: It’s not the neatest ice cream sandwich to eat. It’s best served on a plate at the table.