Five years ago, when her son was still in high school, Alejandra Graf invited his soccer team over for a taquiza, a type of party she grew up with in Mexico City. She picked up packs of the biggest, deepest chafing dishes from Costco and filled them with cochinita pibil, the juicy shredded pork reaching the rims of the pans, just as the other taco fillings, the steaming rice and the beans did. Lined up in Ms. Graf’s home in Katy, Texas, the trays were surrounded by bowls of homemade salsas and warm tortillas.
More than 20 players demolished all of the food. They were familiar with tacos, especially the Tex-Mex ones in their hometown, but none had experienced a taquiza, where everyone serves themselves, stuffing tortillas from a buffet of guisados, different stews like chicken with salsa verde or mole. Ms. Graf, who writes the blog Piloncillo y Vainilla, said: “Those kids still remember that day. It was just super fun.”
Making sure a party is super fun should be the point, not just for the guests, but also the host — especially at the end of summer and another long season of life. A spread of tacos offers big flavors — savory, spicy, fresh — for a big crowd, while giving the host time to spend with everyone. And it’s an ideal setup for guests to build their own meals while welcoming them to share in the joy of hospitality.
Esteban Castillo, the author of “Chicano Eats” and the coming “Chicano Bakes,” spent his childhood Sundays with family at carne asadas in Southern California. (“Carne asada” translates to roasted meat and refers to a dish of grilled steak, but is also a style of potluck with grilling at the center.) They’d throw carne asada on the grill, along with Cornish game hens, chicken, chorizo and cebollitas, spring onions with white bulbs. On the tables sat salsa molcajete, pico de gallo, guacamole, arroz rojo, frijoles charros and, of course, tortillas, which his aunts made by hand.
But, in addition to taquizas and carne asadas, there are as many ways to serve everything that goes in or with tacos as there are formulas for tacos. Here are a few universal keys to success, according to Ms. Graf and Mr. castillo.
Get everyone involved. The sense of community that comes with tacos starts long before you’re standing alongside friends, talking and eating while salsa drips down your hands. Ask them to pitch in even before they arrive. mr. Castillo recommends that hosts provide 75 percent of the food and ask others to bring chips, salsas, salads, fruit, beer, mixers for drinks and desserts, such as chocoflan.
For Ms. Graf, the shared experience comes in the form of “extra hands in the kitchen.” She often enlists her mother and husband, and encourages hosts to pick a few family members or friends to share in replenishing food.
Prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Part of what makes a taco-centered gathering so enjoyable is that there’s hardly anything left to do when it’s time to eat. For a taquiza, guisados like chicken tinga, lamb birria and chile rojo with beef or nopales can be fully cooked days ahead. When reheated, they become even more flavorful. The same is true of beans, both whole ones in frijoles de la olla or puréed ones in a refried blend of frijoles de fiesta. For a carne asada, mr. Castillo notes that whatever you want to grill can be marinated long before guests arrive.
Tortilla matter. Warming tortillas is the one thing that has to be done just before serving. “They have to be ‘del comal a la mesa,’ ” Ms. Graf said, adding that they don’t literally need to go straight from a hot skillet to the table. Instead, she heats them one by one on a comal, then stacks and wraps them in a kitchen towel to keep them tender. (Mr. Castillo does the same, using the grill to lightly char tortillas before swaddling them.) For a really big party, a tortillero, a covered basket designed to keep tortillas warm, works well.
Even before you warm tortillas, you want to find the freshest ones. If you live near a tortilleria or supermarket that makes them daily, pick up packs in the morning (or ask someone else to on their way over). You also can make your own corn tortillas or Sonoran-style flour ones. (If you can’t find or make fresh tortillas, be sure to warm whatever you have to refresh them.)
Make sure there are drinks. Obviously. Huge pitchers of cold agua fresca are a must because they’re alcohol-free and refreshing, especially in summer when they’re blended from cucumber or watermelon.
Relax and have fun. Tacos are like the perfect party playlist, lifting the mood and making everyone feel good. “It’s just a very laid-back potluck,” Mr. Castillo said. “I just want to feed everyone, and I want everyone to have a good time.” Tacos make achieving both so easy.
Recipes: Carne Asada | Arroz Rojo (Red Rice)