These grilled fish tacos are easy and healthy and made with cilantro, cabbage, lime, and a splash of tequila for good measure. Almost exactly like what you’d find in Baja Mexico.
Maybe you’ve had grilled fish tacos. But have you had grilled fish tacos subtly infused with tequila? That’s what we thought. And although we adore tacos, we also quite like this grilled fish just as much atop white rice with a little lime juice and cilantro as we do tucked inside corn tortillas with cabbage slaw.–Renee Schettler
WHAT’S THE BEST FISH TO USE IN TACOS?
Fish tacos are typically made with any sort of firm white fish fillets (skinless, please and thank you) such as mahi-mahi, grouper, halibut, snapper, tilapia, haddock. Cod is flakier and will fall apart more readily but still works and is an easy and economical solution.
Grilled Fish Tacos
- Fish grilling basket (optional)
For the tequila marinade
- Grated zest of 1 lime preferably organic
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 to 2 limes)
- 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- 2 tablespoons tequila preferably silver (blanco)
- 1 teaspoon honey or agave nectar
- 2 pounds skinless mahi-mahi, grouper, halibut, snapper, tilapia, haddock or other firm white fish fillets
For the grilled fish tacos
- Mild vegetable oil for the grill grate
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 12 to 24 corn tortillas about 6 inches (15 centimeter) in diameter
- 2 cups finely shredded green cabbage
- Store-bought or homemade salsa preferably tomatillo salsa or pico de gallo
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves coarsely chopped
Make the tequila marinade
- In a small bowl, whisk together the lime zest and juice, orange juice, tequila, and honey or agave nectar. Pour the marinade into a shallow baking dish large enough to accommodate the fish fillets in a single layer.
- Pat the fish fillets dry and season on both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Add the fish fillets to the marinade, turn to coat, and marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes. Flip the fish and marinate for 15 minutes more.
☞TESTER TIP: For a more pronounced flavor, marinate the fish for 25 minutes on each side—but no longer than that or the acid in the citrus will start to "cook" the fish.
Make the grilled fish tacos
- Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling over high heat. Brush the grill grate clean. Lightly oil a wadded up paper towel and, using tongs, carefully wipe the oil on the grate.
- Remove the fish from the marinade, discarding the marinade. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Brush the fish on both sides with the mayonnaise, coating the fillets evenly. If desired, place the fish in a fish grilling basket.
- Place the fish on the grill directly over the fire and cook, turning once, until it’s opaque throughout and flakes when prodded gently with a fork. For the timing, follow the rule of about 8 minutes total per 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) of thickness, but be aware that it can take up to twice that long if your fire isn’t hot or your fish is especially thick. Transfer the fish to a platter.
- Toss the tortillas onto the grill, flipping them often with tongs, until warmed through, a total of about 1 minute on each side. Stack the tortillas and wrap them in a kitchen towel to keep them warm and pliable.
- Using a fork, break the grilled fish into bite-size chunks. To assemble each taco, top a tortilla with some fish, a little cabbage, a generous spoonful salsa (if using store-bought salsa, first drain off any excess liquid), and a sprinkle of cilantro. If desired, you can double up and use 2 tortillas per taco, as sometimes a single tortilla will begin to fall apart due to the liquid from the lime and salsa soaking through. Serve at once.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
It’s getting to that time of year when I want to grill everything and eat fish tacos every day. This grilled fish tacos recipe was easy enough for a weeknight and so, so delicious.
I opted for halibut and bought about 3/4 pound for the 2 of us (these were so good, I honestly could’ve gone for a full pound). Because the fillets were thicker, I marinated them on all 4 sides to let the flavor penetrate. I think it could have marinated for a bit longer, maybe 30 minutes a side—not too long so it doesn’t “cook” in the lime juice.
I liked the idea of spreading mayonnaise on the fish before grilling. It provided moisture, a nonstick component, and aided in getting some nice color from the grill. It took a good 8 minutes to get a solid char on one side and a few more on the other to cook through; I’d say 15 minutes.
I made a simple salsa verde with 2 tomatillos, 2 poblanos, 1 jalapeño, 2 cloves garlic, and one Vidalia onion, all charred well under the broiler, peeled and seeded. I blended all of that with a touch of salt, pepper, and fresh oregano. A tomatillo-based salsa adds the acid needed for a mild white fish dish. I only used 1 tortilla per taco, but if I were really filling them to the brim, a double thickness of tortillas would definitely make sense. The cabbage provided a nice crunch.
Really oiling the grill prior to cooking the fish is crucial to success. Grilling fish takes a delicate hand and a good spatula and tong combo. It took just 30 minutes to prep, including making quick pickled red onions, other toppings, salsa, and marinade. I marinated the fish for about 45 minutes total, flipping it on all sides. Grilling took another 15 to 20 minutes.
The tequila marinade in this grilled fish tacos recipe was the perfect combination of flavors—it was zesty and had a great tequila flavor. (In fact, after whisking, I sampled it and then made a second little batch and poured it over ice, which I enjoyed as I continued my prep).
I chose 1-inch-thick mahi-mahi. I marinated it for 15 minutes per side and continued with the mayonnaise coating. I made the recommended tomatillo avocado salsa (and found it so delicious that I’ve since made it a second time). I grilled the fish for 8 minutes, which produced a nicely browned and flaky fish. The dish was easy to assemble. While the grilled fish tacos were delicious, I felt that the mayonnaise coating diluted the taste of the marinade. I also thought the fish could use a longer marinade time.
I made the tacos a second time, which I marinated for 1/2 hour on each side in the refrigerator, and I also omitted the mayonnaise step. I found this batch to be crisper and more flavorful. In addition, I also marinated some shrimp and grilled them. The shrimp tacos were delicious as well.
The marinade for these grilled fish tacos adds a subtle citrus freshness to the fish, the cabbage adds a nice crunch, and I love the aromatic flavor of the cilantro. The only off-note was the corn tortillas. Doubled up, they seemed too heavy for the delicate fish inside, and a single tortilla was awkward to use, as it frequently broke apart. My family would’ve preferred flour tortillas. The timing for the marinade was perfect—long enough to flavor the fish but not long enough for the citrus juice to start cooking it.
I’m not sure what purpose the mayonnaise accomplished other than perhaps keeping the fish moist, but my husband wasn’t happy about cleaning it off the grill after. We used three 1-pound tilapia fillets and one 1-pound haddock fillet to compare. When I spoke to my fishmonger, he said that catfish might be too delicate a fish to use in this case, and I should consider firmer types of white fish.
Other than the obvious taste difference between the fishes, the tilapia performed as well as the haddock and was more economical—always a plus in my budget these days. Marinating and grilling times were perfect: 15 minutes per side marinating and 8 to 10 minutes grilling per side depending on how hot the grill was where the fish was placed. I would’ve preferred a more pronounced citrus taste, so I may add more zest next time. Still, a nice way to have a light fish dinner.
These grilled fish tacos were a cinch to make and were very tasty! I am always on the lookout for a new spin on fish tacos. I was intrigued by the marinade ingredients, especially since I love all things tequila. The marinade came together in less than 3 minutes.
I did have to skin my fish, which took me a few minutes (I used mahi-mahi). While the fish was marinating, I made the tomatillo salsa. I really enjoyed this salsa. Once the fish was marinated, and the grill was heated, I took the fish out of the marinade and let the excess drip off. I coated the fish fillets with the mayonnaise, oiled the grill, and put the fish on. My fillets were thin, so the fish only took about 4 minutes on each side.
I grilled the corn tortillas until they were warm and soft while the fish was finishing cooking on the grill. On my first taco, I stacked 2 tortillas together, added a nice layer of fish, some cabbage, cilantro, and salsa. Unfortunately, while the taco was very good, I didn’t get a lot of the marinade flavor in the fish. There was some, but not a distinct flavor, more of an overall citrus flavor. The taco lacked something to round out the flavor and tone down the spicy salsa. I topped my second taco with some fresh tomato and onion. The tomatoes were in season and nicely ripe, adding just a bit of sweetness, which helped break up the spice a bit.
Overall, I enjoyed the tacos very much. The fish was good but could probably use a longer time in the marinade to enhance the flavor. It may also be that mahi-mahi is a stronger flavored white fish; maybe a tilapia or cod would’ve absorbed the marinade differently. To me, the tomatillo salsa was the star in this dish—it was a delicious accompaniment. I also served the salsa with some cheese quesadillas and it was a huge hit! I’ll make this grilled fish tacos recipe again, but I will try it with a different type of fish.