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Panuchos: The Mexican street food that turns the taco outside in

Panuchos are my new favorite Monday or Tuesday night meal. They let me use up a lot of the leftovers from my cooking marathons over the weekend, and just like a pizza, they’re so customizable there are no complaints at the dinner table about tomatoes being slimy or that avocados are too mushy (etc., etc., etc.). And just like with pizza, no side dishes are required.

Panuchos are essentially tostadas on steroids. And by steroids, I mean the corn tortilla is fried and stuffed with refried black beans as if by magic. And by magic, I mean the science of corn tortillas submerged in oil. Then they’re fried again. And it is glorious!

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Then you just top them with whatever you want. IMTO (that is, in my Texan opinion, which isn’t always so humble), though, the pickled onions served by many panucharias are the thing that really elevate a panucho and keep it from being just a tostada with the beans on the inside. Also IMTO, if it’s good fried once, it’s surely better fried twice.

How to top a panucho

panuchos being topped
Image: Heather Barnett/SheKnows

As I noted, panuchos are completely customizable. You can make your own from-scratch corn tortillas or just buy them. You can make your own refried black beans or buy canned. You’ll probably have to make your own pickled onion, but the Mason jar and fridge do most of that work. You want chicken? Buy a rotisserie chicken from the store. Have leftover brisket? That’s fine too. Make it vegan. Make it spicy. Make it kid friendly. Are you starting to see why I love this meal? Here are some ideas for inspiration, though.

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  • Sliced or shredded chicken, pork or beef
  • Fried fish chunks
  • Lettuce or cabbage
  • Pretty much any kind of cheese
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocados
  • Sliced olives
  • Jalapeños (pickled or fresh)
  • Sour cream
  • Guacamole
  • Pico de gallo
  • And I guess if you want, salsa or taco sauce

Mexican panuchos recipe

finished panuchos
Image: Heather Barnett/SheKnows

If you forgot to make your pickled onions the day before but want them to have the deep tanginess and sweetness of a longer pickling time, pour the onions and pickling solution into a nonreactive, heavy-bottomed saucepan, and cook over low to medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until the onions are al dente.

Yields 8 – 10

Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 45 minutes | Inactive time: 1-plus hour | Total time: 2-plus hours (depending on method chosen)


For the pickled onion

  • 1 red onion, julienned
  • 1 habanero, stems and seeds removed, finely chopped (optional) 
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (2 – 3 small limes)
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 star anise (optional)

For the panuchos

  • Corn oil (for frying)
  • 10 – 12 white corn tortillas
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can refried black beans
  • Toppings as desired (see the list above for ideas)


For the pickled onion

  1. In a nonreactive bowl, place the julienned onions, and pour boiling water over them. Gently mix the onions in the water for about 10 seconds, and strain.
  2. In a nonreactive, airtight container (a Mason jar is perfect), combine the blanched onions with the chopped habanero, lime juice, orange juice, sugar, salt and star anise. Seal the container, and shake vigorously. Let the onions pickle for at least an hour for a milder, fresher flavor, or refrigerate overnight for a sharper, more complex flavor.

For the panuchos

  1. In a large, cast-iron skillet over medium to high heat, heat enough corn oil for very shallow frying (about 3 – 4 tablespoons). Adding the tortillas 1 or 2 at a time to the pan, and cook them until they start to puff up, about 30 seconds on each side. Transfer the tortillas to a paper towel-lined plate to let cool for about 1 minute.
  2. When the tortillas are comfortable to touch but still very warm, use a sharp knife to make a slit large enough for a spoon to enter between the flat sides in the air pocket created by the air bubble. Gently insert a heaping spoonful of black beans into the pocket, being careful to not tear the tortilla.
  3. Once the black beans are inside the tortilla, press your finger against the outside of the tortilla to hold the beans in place as you slide your spoon out. Gently pat down the beans, pressing the entry slit closed. The air pockets can be unpredictable, so don’t hesitate to make another slit in another location if you need to do so to get in more beans. Move the completed panucho to a paper towel-lined plate, and repeat for the remaining tortillas.
  4. Add each panucho back into the oil, and fry for 1 – 2 minutes per side until they are crispy and golden brown. Move them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess grease. Use a tortilla warmer or an oven set to 200 degrees F to keep the panuchos warm. Top the panuchos as desired, and serve immediately.

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Image: Therese Condella/SheKnows

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