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Who invented the shrimp taco?

The origin of the shrimp taco is often debated, with several stories about who first came up with the idea to put shrimp in a taco shell. While the exact inventor may be lost to history, we can look at some of the stories and myths around the creation of this popular taco variety.

Myths and Legends About the Shrimp Taco’s Origin

There are a few common myths and legends about who first invented the shrimp taco:

  • Baja California fishermen – One story suggests that fishermen working off the coast of Baja California, Mexico were the first to put their fresh catch of shrimp into warm corn or flour tortillas. This story argues the shrimp taco was a natural evolution from the popular fish taco, which originated in Baja as well.
  • California surfers – Another theory proposes that surfers in Southern California came up with the idea after a day of surfing, looking for an easy meal to make with fresh shrimp. The laidback surfer lifestyle has been closely tied to fish tacos and Mexican street food, so this story has some plausibility.
  • Ruben Tacos in San Diego – Some give credit to a small taco shop in San Diego called Ruben’s Tacos, claiming they first served shrimp tacos back in the 1960s. This family-run business served a predominantly hispanic customer base and experimented with non-traditional taco fillings.
  • French-trained Mexican chef – One legend says a French-trained chef visiting Mexico put a new spin on tacos by using regional shrimp. This myth suggests French cooking techniques inspired the shrimp taco fusion.

While these creation myths can’t be definitively proven, they speak to the cross-cultural influences that likely inspired early innovators to put shrimp in a tortilla. But the widespread popularity of the shrimp taco across the United States is a more recent phenomenon.

The Modern Shrimp Taco Trend

In the 1980s and 1990s, chefs and restaurants in cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and Austin began putting their own stamp on shrimp tacos, fueling the dish’s popularity. Some key events that helped launch the shrimp taco craze:

  • Ruben’s Tacos menu expansion – While their origin claim is debated, Ruben’s Tacos is credited with bringing their shrimp tacos to the LA County Fair and a larger audience in the early 1980s.
  • Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois – The famous chef Wolfgang Puck put shrimp tacos on the menu at his fusion restaurant Chinois when it opened in 1983. His upscale interpretation brought wider attention to the dish.
  • Widespread fish taco trend – As the fish taco exploded in popularity across the U.S. in the 1990s and 2000s, variations like shrimp tacos road the wave and gained traction too.
  • Food Network and celebrity chefs – The shrimp taco became a darling of Food Network shows and celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay, bringing it major exposure.

By the 2000s, shrimp tacos were a full-blown sensation and menu staple at restaurants from food trucks to fine dining establishments. Their popularity has only continued to grow over the past two decades.

Why Did the Shrimp Taco Take Off?

Several factors helped boost public appetite for the shrimp taco:

  • Rising popularity of Mexican food – As Mexican flavors and ingredients became integrated into mainstream American cuisine, tacos gained popularity and acceptance.
  • Health trends – Shrimp was seen as a heart-healthy protein option, while tacos provided a convenient delivery mechanism. Interest in lighter California cuisine and Mexican cooking increased.
  • Fresh, seasonal ingredients – The farm-to-table and seasonal food movements made the most of fresh, locally-sourced shrimp.
  • Comfort food appeal – Tacos are an ultimate comfort food, and the flexibility of flour, corn, or tempura fried shells plus tasty fillings like shrimp gave endless options for creativity.

The shrimp taco brought together several rising food and health trends at the convergence of Mexican and American cultures. Its appeal continues today as shrimp tacos can be found in upscale restaurants, food trucks, and family taquerias across the country.

Major Styles of Shrimp Tacos

While recipes vary greatly, there are some broad categories for the major styles of shrimp tacos found today:

Style Description
Baja Flour tortilla, battered and fried shrimp, shredded cabbage, salsa, crema
California Corn tortilla, grilled shrimp, avocado, cabbage slaw
Tempura Flour tortilla, tempura fried shrimp, secret sauce, lettuce, pickles
Tex-Mex Flour tortilla, blackened shrimp, monterey jack cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo

Coastal regions like Baja California, Southern California, and Texas each put their own spin on shrimp taco preparations while using local ingredients. More modern fusion styles have branched out with temps as well.

Shrimp Taco Recipe Ingredients

While fully loaded shrimp tacos recipes vary widely, some common ingredients include:

  • Shrimp – Most often cooked via grilling, frying, or sautéing. Marinated or coated in spices.
  • Tortillas – Soft flour or corn tortillas. Street taco size or larger.
  • Cabbage – Thinly sliced green or purple cabbage. Provides crunch.
  • Salsa – Tomato-based red salsa or Mexican crema sauce.
  • Cheese – Oaxaca, cotija, or monterey jack. Can be shredded or crumbled.
  • Cilantro – Fresh cilantro adds signature Mexican flavor.
  • Lime – Fresh lime juicebrightens up the shrimp filling.

Other possible toppings include guacamole, pickled onions or jalapeños, pineapple salsa, beans, lettuce, avocado, and Mexican crema or aioli sauce. The combinations are endless!

How to Make Perfect Shrimp Tacos at Home

Here is a straightforward recipe to make delicious shrimp tacos at home:


  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8-12 small corn or flour tortillas
  • Toppings: shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, avocado, cotija cheese, cilantro


  1. In a bowl, combine olive oil, spices, garlic, lime juice, salt and pepper. Add shrimp and stir to coat. Marinate 15-30 minutes.
  2. Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp in single layer and cook 2-3 minutes per side until pink and cooked through. Remove from pan.
  3. Warm tortillas in microwave or oven until soft and pliable.
  4. Assemble tacos by placing 4-5 shrimp in each tortilla. Top with desired amounts of cabbage, pico de gallo, avocado, cotija, and cilantro.
  5. Squeeze lime juice over tacos before serving.

Feel free to swap in your favorite spices, switch up cooking methods, or get creative with toppings to customize your perfect shrimp taco. The possibilities are endless!

Where to Find the Best Shrimp Tacos

Craving shrimp tacos but don’t want to cook? Here are some top spots to find drool-worthy shrimp tacos around the country:

Location Restaurant Shrimp Taco Highlights
San Diego, CA Oscar’s Mexican Seafood Baja-style, huge portion sizes
Los Angeles, CA Mariscos Jalisco Secret family sauce, tempura shrimp
Austin, TX Veracruz All Natural House-made tortillas, traditional preparation
Chicago, IL Big Star Creative toppings like fried avocado
New York, NY Playa Betty’s Caribbean flavors, tropical vibe

Coastal cities unsurprisingly boast some of the best shrimp tacos, but chefs around the country put their own creative spin on shrimp tacos too. Taco trucks, street vendors, fine dining establishments, and celebrity chefs all offer mouthwatering takes on this beloved dish.

The Rise of Vegan Shrimp Tacos

With rising plant-based diets and concerns over sustainability, vegan shrimp tacos have emerged as an option for those looking to reduce seafood consumption but still crave the flavors of a shrimp taco. Some popular vegan shrimp meat replacements include:

  • Hearts of palm – The texture makes a satisfying shrimp substitute.
  • Tofu – Firm tofu can be crumbled or shredded to mimic shrimp texture.
  • Jackfruit – Unripe jackfruit has a stringy texture similar to shrimp.
  • King oyster mushrooms – When cooked, these meaty mushrooms flake apart like shrimp.
  • Konjac – This Asian root vegetable can be made into plant-based shrimp.

With the right seasonings and preparation, these plant-based ingredients come surprisingly close to the taste and texture of shrimp. While purists argue shrimp tacos need real shrimp, vegan versions appease dietary restrictions or concerns about overfishing shrimp populations and damaging marine ecosystems.

Shrimp vs. Fish Tacos

Shrimp and fish tacos are two of the most popular taco varieties found on menus today. Here’s how they compare:

Shrimp Tacos Fish Tacos
Main Filling Shrimp White fish like cod, mahi mahi, or halibut
Cooking Method Grilled, sautéed, or fried Grilled, fried, or blackened
Seasonings Chili powder, cumin, garlic Cajun seasoning, lemon pepper, garlic
Usual Shell Corn or flour Flour tortilla or hard taco shell
Toppings Cabbage, salsa, cilantro, lime Lettuce, pico de gallo, crema, cheddar

While preparation varies, shrimp tacos typically have a Mexican flavor profile, while fish tacos often use cajun seasonings. Both make for a tasty, lighter taco option.

Shrimp Taco FAQs

Are shrimp tacos healthy?

Yes, shrimp tacos can be a nutritious option if made with whole ingredients. Shrimp is a lean protein that is low in fat and calories compared to beef or chicken. Load up your shrimp taco with veggies like cabbage, salsa, avocado instead of heavy creams and cheese to make it even healthier.

How long do shrimp tacos take to make?

Homemade shrimp tacos can be made quickly in under 30 minutes. The shrimp cooks fast, then assembly with desired toppings is quick. If using frozen shrimp, thaw first to cut down overall prep time.

How do you keep shrimp tacos from getting soggy?

Avoid overloading wet ingredients like salsa and skip lettuce which tends to get soggy. Spread a thin layer of crema or aioli on each tortilla first to act as a moisture barrier. Keep components separate until ready to eat.

How can you make shrimp tacos crunchy?

Using corn tortillas and double frying the shrimp creates extra crunch. Shredded cabbage also adds texture. Try tempura fried shrimp or panko breadcrumb coating too. Fried avocado and tortilla chips on top add more crunch.


While the inventor of the first shrimp taco may be lost in the mists of time, we do know it likely originated somewhere along the coasts of Mexico or Southern California. Since then, chefs across cultures have put their own spin on shrimp tacos, popularizing the dish across the United States and beyond. Americans’ endless appetite for Mexican flavors helped boost the taco’s ubiquity. Whether you prefer authentic Baja-style or an inventive fusion preparation, shrimp tacos satisfy cravings for a hearty yet lighter taco option.