Taco Tuesdays forever, amiright? Especially crispy air fryer tacos! Stuffed corn tortillas with juicy chicken and cheese, crisped up in the air fryer for the ultimate in crunch.
Last summer, Mike and I were lucky enough to go on a road trip through New Mexico. We went camping at White Sands National Park, we spent a thankfully air conditioned afternoon inside Meow Wolf (highly recommend!), and we ate ALL the green chile cheeseburgers and tacos. It was truly the land of enchantment. I never knew that New Mexico would touch me so deeply, but it did. I’m forever changed by its stark beauty, its quiet sunsets, and its food, of course. I have a vast appreciation for New Mexican and Southwestern food.
While the green chile cheeseburgers were the highlight of our trip we also had a lot of tacos, specifically crispy chicken tacos. If you guys are ever in New Mexico, get the crispy chicken tacos at El Parasol. They are legit the best crispy chicken tacos I’ve ever had. The chicken is juicy, the tortillas are crisp, and the guacamole is the perfect creamy counterpoint to all of it. These crispy air fryer tacos are inspired by those very tacos!
Why air fryer tacos?
Did you know you can make your own crispy hard shell tacos at home? Just like homemade tortilla chips, homemade hard shell tacos are super easy, barely an inconvenience. All you need are corn tortillas. You could deep-fry or bake the tortillas for that crispy crunch you’re looking for, but really, the air-fryer is the answer. Less oil, less mess, more crunch. Everything you could want in a homemade hard shell taco.
Do I need an air fryer?
Technically you don’t need an air fryer because an air fryer is really just a very tiny convection oven that heats up super quickly. So if you have convection mode on your oven or don’t mind waiting for your oven to heat up, you can bake these tacos for that same crispy crunch. We love the current air fryer we have though because it has such a giant fry basket and cleanup is a lot easier than washing baking trays.
What about soft tacos?
Sometimes you just want the hug of a soft taco – especially if you have some plush flour tortillas on hand. For soft chicken tacos, add 2 minutes of cook time to the chicken in the air fryer so the chicken is cooked through. Warm your tortillas up then top with the shredded chicken and hello super juicy soft chicken tacos!
Why homemade taco seasoning?
You might notice that there are a lot of spices in the ingredients list when I could have just specified taco seasoning instead. The reason is that taco seasoning is not only deeply unhealthy (it’s like 3 kinds of salt) but it’s also not that tasty compared to homemade. The taco seasoning you end up making here is good not just for chicken but beef or pork too, once you try it, you’ll never go back to store bought!
Chicken taco ingredients
- Corn tortillas. If you want crispy crunchy tortillas, you’re going to want corn tortillas. Flour tortillas are great too, but they don’t fry up the same way in the air fryer. Usually we like street taco size small corn tortillas (about 4 inches) but we also use the slightly bigger corn tortillas too, the ones that are about 6 inches. We have a local tortilleria where we get tortillas, but you know, Mission street taco corn (or flour) tortillas work well too!
- Chicken. Air fryer chicken thighs are extra juicy. Plus I love the fact that everything was made in the air fryer. You can also go for pork chops or steak if you’re not feeling chicken.
- Spices. For extra flavor the chicken is marinated in orange juice, vinegar, garlic, chile powder, and a bunch of spices for an extra kick. The orange juice and vinegar tenderize the chicken making it super juicy.
- Cheese. Cheese is optional but who doesn’t love cheese, especially when it’s melty?
- Toppings. You can go wild here. Classic is onions and cilantro of course, but maybe do like El Parasol and add some guacamole on? We went with some lettuce, avocado slices, hot sauce, and some limes to squeeze on for some tart-freshness.
How to make chicken tacos
- Marinate. Boneless skinless chicken thighs in a marinade made up of orange juice, vinegar, and spices for 2 hours.
- Cook. Lightly oil the air fryer basket and cook the chicken, flipping once. We like to slightly undercook our chicken because it’s going to get cooked again when the taco is assembled, so extra juicy is extra good. After the chicken is cooked, shred or chop it into small pieces.
- Assemble. Warm up your tortillas – this is key so they don’t crack and break – wrap them up in a damp paper towel and microwave briefly. Oil the tortillas on both sides, then top with chicken and cheese and fold over carefully.
- Crisp. Place the folded over tacos in the air fryer basket and crisp them up, flipping once. They tend to get a bit crispier as they cool, so you can take them out once they feel crunchy. Finish the tacos off with toppings of your choice and enjoy!
Green chile chicken tacos
It’s Hatch green chile season and I just added some green chile to these chicken tacos and they are amazing. I just had to share.
All you need to do is remove the chile powder and instead add in 1/2 cup of chopped green chile.
Marinate 2 lbs of boneless skinless chicken thighs in: 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/2 cup green chile (I used fresh fire roasted Hatch chile), 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 tbsp neutral oil, 1 tbsp white vinegar, 2 tsp each of ground coriander, smoked paprika, dried oregano, and dried cumin, 1 tsp black pepper, and 1 tsp kosher salt. Let marinate for no more than 2 hours. Air fry the chicken as per the recipe below and follow the rest of the instructions to make the crispy air fryer tacos. Serve them up with some salsa verde on the side and you’ll be in heaven!
Chicken for Tacos
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1 tbsp chile powder chimayo chile powder preferred, optional
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt or to taste
- 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs see notes for other meats
- 12 4″ corn tortillas
- 2 cups shredded cheese Mexican cheese preferred, optional
- 1/4 bunch fresh cilantro chopped
- 1/4 medium onion diced
- guacamole optional
- avocados diced, optional
- salsa optional
- hot sauce optional
- limes cut into wedges
- In a large dish, bowl, or a ziplock bag, whisk together the orange juice, garlic, oil, vinegar, chile powder, coriander, paprika, oregano, cumin, pepper, and salt. Add the chicken thighs and marinate covered in the fridge for 2 hours. Do not marinate for more than 4 hours otherwise the chicken will start to break down.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade, lightly brush the basket with oil, and place the chicken in a single layer in the air fryer basket and cook at 360°F for 12 minutes, flipping halfway through.
- Remove the chicken thighs from the air fryer and chop or shred. If the chicken is slightly underdone, don’t worry, it’s getting cooked again (see notes).
- If needed, warm your tortilla shells in the microwave to make them pliable. Rub both sides with oil (or spray with cooking spray), lay flat and top half of the tortilla evenly with chicken and a layer of cheese (if desired). Gently fold the tortilla in half, and place in the air fryer basket, flat.
- Air fry on 400°F for 6-7 minutes, flipping once, or until the tortilla is crispy and the cheese is melted. Repeat as needed. The tortillas will continue to crisp up as they cool. Let rest on a rack while you are prepping your remaining tacos.
To substitute beef: Slice 1 lb steak of choice into strips, marinate for up to 2 hours, air fry for 5-6 minutes at 400°F.
To substitute pork: Slice 1 lb thick cut pork chops into strips, marinate for up to 2 hours, air fry for 8-10 minutes at 375°F.
We like to undercook the chicken during step 2 because it will get cooked more when you’re cooking the crispy taco part. If you want your chicken perfectly done inside the crispy taco, I recommend cooking it for 10 minutes at 360°F and then chopping the chicken. It will still be slightly pink.
Storage: Chicken will store in an air tight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. No need to reheat the chicken before making the tacos in the air fryer.
Air Fryer Chicken Tacos
Amount Per Serving (3 tacos)
Calories from Fat 205
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 5.3g33%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.