Food & Drink

Five Tips for Making Taco Magic from Eddie Hernandez

For the Taqueria del Sol chef, you’re only limited by your own imagination

A man stands in a restaurant with stacked chairs on tables


Eddie Hernandez at his Atlanta restaurant, Taqueria del Sol.

In the hands of the Mexico-born, Georgia-based chef Eddie Hernandez, pretty much anything can become a taco. He deconstructs a cheeseburger into ground beef, lime-jalapeño mayonnaise, cheese dip, lettuce, and tomato. He loads his version of a creamy chicken salad onto a crisped flour tortilla. Grilled fish and spicy radish salad ride atop corn tortillas made from scratch. “The taco is a one-bite wonder,” he says. “You can discuss it and disguise it and do anything with it. And it will still be a taco.”   

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Hernandez, along with owner Mike Klank, opened Taqueria del Sol in his adopted city of Atlanta in 2000. Since then, he’s become known for his seamless and often surprising blends of Southern and Mexican cooking. Taqueria del Sol, meanwhile, has earned five James Beard “Outstanding Restaurant” nods and sprouted locations all over Georgia, plus one in Nashville. Customers can count on the core menu—mix-and-match enchiladas, turnip greens stewed in spicy potlikker, and of course, tacos. There are classic carnitas tacos topped with cilantro and onion; fried chicken tacos with lime-jalapeño mayonnaise; shredded brisket tacos with pico de gallo. 

Hernandez’s Memphis, fried chicken, and fish tacos, with a side of turnip greens.

But a weekly roster of specials rotates too, drawing from whomever gets a kick of inspiration. This week, sous chef David Waller is churning out Sloppy Joe tacos studded with Fritos for crunch. Hernandez himself is currently working out the kinks in the texture of a cheesesteak taco. In the restaurant’s database, he says, something like four hundred taco recipes float around, waiting for resurrection on the menu. 

Hernandez firmly believes that home cooks, too, can deploy a combination of whatever is on hand plus some imagination to make their own great tacos. Below, find five of his tips, in his own words, for doing just that. 

Hernandez in the kitchen.

Begin with a protein. 

“In Mexico, it didn’t start off being a taco. It was the way we ate whatever we were eating…you get a plate of food and tortillas. You kind of just put whatever you got on the plate inside the tortilla, and you eat it that way. Then everybody started taking it and transforming it into what it is known today as tacos. But it still starts with the protein as the base. You build it around that, and how you’re going to treat that protein, and then add a salsa. A taco can be as simple as just the salsa and the protein. 

“Let’s say you’re doing grilled meats as your protein. You’re not going to put a pineapple salsa on that grill meat because it’s going to take away the flavor of the meat. But let’s say you do a meat like a barbacoa or a cochinita pibil. Then you want the fruit to provide the acidity and the sweetness. So what you’re going to do with your protein will determine what kind of salsa or relish you want to put in it.”

Flour or corn? You decide.  

“Most of the time I will recommend corn tortillas if you’re doing grilled meat. For Cinco de Mayo, say you threw some chicken thighs on the grill, I would choose corn, which blends well with cilantro and onion. For our tacos like the cheeseburger or fried chicken, I serve on flour because they are from those sandwiches. I replace the bread with the flour tortilla. For fatty meats like sausage I would also recommend those go on flour. But you can use both. Choosing a corn or flour tortilla depends on personal taste.”

Texture matters.

“The basic thing is that you have a sandwich inside of a tortilla, and you want the components of that sandwich to provide texture, whether the tortilla is crispy or soft. You have to think about a salsa or a sauce or a relish that is going to go into this thing. Sometimes we’ll do a relish because the taco needs some crunch. Or we’ll do a creamy mayonnaise base and let the vegetables do the crunch.”

Think about balance.

“With a taco, you need to be able to taste everything in one bite: the tortilla, the protein, the sauce and the vegetables, the heat, whatever is in it. Sometimes people put too much meat on it or not enough meat on it. You might not get the crunchiness from the onions. Or sometimes they’ll put more onions and cilantro than meat. It’s just not balanced, you know what I mean? So we’re very careful when we do tacos that we spread everything across it. A little bit of everything in every bite, that makes a good taco.”


“A mistake is not a mistake. Its a lesson. And that’s the way I see things every time nothing comes out the way I expected. I wanted to do a fish sauce one time, and it was really probably the worst sauce I have ever made in my life. It was so bad I went to [my business partner] Mike, ‘Try this fish sauce.’ He spit it out and said, ‘It’s awful.’ And I said, ‘I know, I just wanted a second opinion to make sure it was as bad as I thought it was.’ But I learned from it. 

“When you make a taco, never be afraid. Just go for it. You know, the worst thing that can happen is that you’re going to throw them away. You waste a couple of things, but at least now you know what you can do next time to make it better. You just use your imagination. I can teach anybody how to cook. I cannot teach anybody how to be creative.”

Read our profile of Hernandez here, and order his cookbook, Turnip Greens & Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen, here.

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