Main dish Tex-Mex

Taco burgers

What’s a taco burger, a friend asked me when I told her what I was cooking for dinner. I explained it was all the components of the traditional crispy taco, such as picadillo, iceberg, shredded yellow cheese, tomatoes, and guacamole. The difference, however, was that for the burger, you piled everything in between a bun instead of layering it into a fried corn tortilla.

That sounds like a sloppy Joe, my friend said. I agreed that the filling was similar in texture, though the meat was combined with different ingredients.

Indeed, for my Tex-Mex sloppy Joe, I use lots of tomatoes and ketchup, which gives the preparation a hint of sweetness. Its flavor profile is closer to barbecue than Tex-Mex, though I do add peppers and spices such as cumin, hence the name.

For my taco burgers, I instead cook up a batch of my classic crispy beef taco filling, and nothing sweet is added, with its flavoring coming from chili powder and cumin, along with peppers, aromatics, cilantro, and lime juice. Though I take it a step further for the burger and stir in refried beans to help it adhere together better once it’s on the bun.

Taco burger | Homesick Texan


Taco burgers are an American invention with murky origins, though the first press mention has them on the 1959 menu at the Big Rig Café in Farmington, New Mexico. That same year, they were also featured at Austin’s Burgerhaus.

Some point to the 1960’s Southern California fast-taco scene, centered in San Bernardino’s Taco Bell and Baker’s, as where the dish became most popular. While mainly a regional favorite, when Taco Bell went national, so did the taco burger. Though they dropped it from the menu in the 1970s, which also corresponded with the dish’s Southwestern decline, as well. These days, they can be tough to find.

That said, there are still places that sell them. In Texas, for instance, you can find them at Taco Casa and Taco Delite, for instance. While our experience with tacos in Texas has evolved to include countless permutations, the taco burger has always remained the same.

Taco burger | Homesick Texan

While for some this may sound boring, I find its familiarity comforting. I love a cheeseburger and I love an old-school crispy taco, so combining the two just works. They’re also quick to prepare and make a good weeknight dinner for the family. So, if it’s been a while since you’ve had a taco burger, or like my friends somehow missed the long-ago trend, give them a try. You’ll be glad that you did.

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5 from 2 votes
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Taco burgers

Course Main Course
Cuisine Tex-Mex
Cook Time 25 minutes
Servings 4
Author Lisa Fain

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon safflower oil
  • ½ medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup diced ripe tomatoes
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro
  • ½ cup refried beans
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 4 hamburger buns
  • 4 ounces Cheddar or Colby-Jack cheese, shredded (1 cup)
  • Shredded iceberg lettuce
  • Sliced ripe tomatoes
  • Guacamole
  • Pickled jalapeños, for serving

Instructions

  1. To make the filling, in a large skillet, heat the oil on medium-low heat and add the onion and jalapeño. While stirring occasionally, cook until the onions and jalapeño are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.
  2. Add to the skillet the ground beef, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, tomatoes, and cilantro. Stir until everything is well combined then turn the heat down to low and simmer while stirring occasionally until the meat is browned, about 15 minutes.

  3. Stir in the refried beans and the lime juice until well combined, then cook for a few more minutes until everything is warm. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove from the heat.

  4. To assemble the taco burgers, warm the buns. Top the bottom of each bun with ¼ of the filling, then top that with the shredded cheese. On each top bun, spread some guacamole, then add the lettuce and tomato. Serve warm, with pickled jalapeños on the side.

  1. My mom grew up in southern california in the 60s-70s, and she literally has never stopped talking about taco bell’s version of the taco burger, the “bell beefer.” I’ve heard about bell beefers (and her dismay at their demise) my entire childhood, and of course to troll her, I always told her I didn’t believe her that they existed. Can’t wait to share this with her and finally let her have her day in the sun.

    • Lisa Fain

      Amber–I love this story! And I didn’t know they were called the Bell Beefer so thanks for sharing that bit of intel.

  2. Julie Holman

    Taco Villa still has them on their menu.

  3. I lived in Oklahoma in the 70s and these were on the menu as Bell Burgers. My brothers loved them. We moved back to our home outside of Pittsburgh, PA. Sadly, no Taco Bells existed there at that time.

  4. Amy Stephenson

    Now if we only had some Taco Villa sauce to go with these!!!

  5. KATHERINE

    5 stars
    I made these burgers tonight and it was so, so good. I followed it exactly and will be making it again and again. Delicious!

  6. Growing up in Dallas, Taco Bueno used to make em on and off in the 80s into the 90s. One part nostalgia, one part seasoning, one part fatty ground beef…they were so good. The buns were sweet which helped balance it out since the quality of the beef & cheese was [insert adjective lower than cheap], but it was one of my favorite things growing up.

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