4 new twists on tacos

ethnic breakfast tacos

From Catallia.

If there’s any dish more open to innovation than the taco, it’d be hard to find.

Seemingly anything can be nestled in a tortilla for a quick, portable meal. And creative chefs are fully experimenting with tacos, offering up on-trend vegan options, global-fusion riffs and taco variations at home across every daypart.

Taco menu mentions are up 17.4% at colleges and universities year over year, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor data. And fish is by far the fastest-growing taco protein, up 61.5% over the last year, Technomic found.

Tacos’ versatility meshes perfectly with the eagerness of millennials to try new flavors. Some 52% of these young consumers say they’re more likely to visit restaurants featuring new and innovative flavors, compared with just 35% of older consumers. Plus, 46% of them say they’re willing to spend more on dishes that have inventive flavors, according to Technomic’s recent Flavor Consumer Trend Report.

Beef, chicken, pork and turkey still hold as popular taco proteins. But here’s a look at how savvy operators are catering to changing consumer tastes while capitalizing on the near-universal appeal of tacos:

Tacos across all dayparts

Tacos aren’t just for lunch and dinner; they make a perfect handheld day-starter. The University of Florida, for example, offers up Tofu Breakfast Tacos, while the University of Cincinnati features Sunrise Tex-Mex Tacos. Fill warm tortillas with eggs (or scrambled tofu), beans and vegetables for a popular breakfast variation that would also work for late-night menus.

Go plant-based

More and more students are looking for vegetarian and vegan options, and tacos are an ideal way to provide plant-based choices. Load up tortillas with marinated jackfruit, beans, tofu or roasted vegetables. Or, go the fusion route like they do at Cal State University at Long Beach with Falafel Tacos or Penn State’s Thai Tofu Tacos.

Play up customization

Millennials love build-your-own options. Tacos are a natural fit for this trend and the options are endless. Set out piles of warmed tortillas, several protein choices and a wide array of toppings and let diners help themselves. Consider expanding topping options with creative add-ons such as fried jalapenos, roasted seasonal vegetables and housemade, flavored-infused sour creams, salsas and guacamole.

Go wild with global flavors

This generation already enjoys experimenting with non-traditional flavors and world cuisines. Creative operators are taking full advantage of this with their taco riffs. Some recent examples: Cajun Shrimp Wonton Tacos from the University of Houston, Korean Meatball Tacos from Clemson University, Chicken Caesar Pasta Tacos from the University of Georgia and Asian Fusion Tacos from Cal State Long Beach.

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