We bet that every American household has had tacos for dinner at least once. If you enjoy Mexican food, it would be impossible not to indulge in the delicacies found in just about every Mexican restaurant across the nation. Tacos even get their celebration, with Oct. 4 commemorating National Taco Day in the U.S. What led these tasty tortilla-wrapped treats to become so popular in America? Let’s explore that question.
There’s no exact date when tacos first originated in North America, and anthropologists debate this today. Some believe tacos were a combination of 16th-century Spanish cuisine and traditional Mayan cooking created by the conquistador Hernando Cortez when he landed in Mexico. Other theories say Mexican silver mine workers developed tacos in the 18th century as a more convenient type of taquito. Some anthropologists say they were enjoyed in the lake region of the Valley of Mexico, with fish being the tortilla filler before beef, chicken, and pork became common. So while this may shed some light on where our favorite Tuesday night treat might come from, how did they get so popular in the U.S. and earn a national day of recognition?
Tacos became popular in the American Southwest in the 1880s by people sampling the food, filled with traditional Mexican tastes and spices, sold in carts by Mexican immigrants.
By the 1920s, what we know as modern tacos appeared, with chicken, cheddar cheese, and ground beef becoming the common ingredients.
Since then, tacos have been everywhere in the U.S., with varying degrees of culinary variation but continually utilizing the tortilla wrapped around meat, cheese, and vegetables. By the 1960s, tacos had become so popular that some urban leaders were willing to dedicate a day to tacos San Antonio councilman Roberto L. Gomez invented National Taco Day to commemorate Latin heritage in Texas. He even sent a 48-pound tamale to the White House during John F. Kennedy’s presidency as a token of respect from all Latin American citizens. Since then, tacos have only gotten more popular.
A Harris poll found that tacos are the fourth most-popular food Americans would pick to eat for the rest of their lives. Last year alone, Americans ate 4.5 billion tacos.
More research polls found that 71% of Americans prefer tacos over burritos. These numbers alone reflect wide popularity of tacos. In 1989, Wyoming-based taco joint Taco John’s trademarked the phrase “Taco Tuesday ” across the country — the exception being New Jersey, where Gregory’s Restaurant & Bar claimed the trademark in 1982. In 2022, Taco Tuesday is a colloquial phrase for American households and eateries to run dinner specials. It helps that National Taco Day falls on a Tuesday this year.
There are several restaurants running promotions for National Taco Day. Taco Bell will offer a $5 gift box set if you need a quick taco fix. However, the best place to get an authentic taco will be at a Mexican restaurant.
Conversely, you can save money and make your tacos from scratch. You can try plenty of recipes online, even ones for dessert versions. National Taco Day is a fun celebration to get the family and friends together, make some margaritas, and chow down on your favorite Mexican tortilla dish.