Funnily enough, this recipe was inspired by the breaded tilapia fillets served in the cafeteria of a Silicon Valley tech company. My husband and I jokingly called it “Christmas fish.” That’s because the breading contained mysterious red and green flecks of unknown origin. Here, tortilla chips are combined with cilantro and spices to make the crunchy coating. Serve the fish with rice and beans, and tartar sauce or salsa verde on the side.—Coco Morante

Air Fryer Tilapia FAQs

What can I substitute for tilapia?

Catfish, striped bass, red snapper, and branzino are all excellent substitutes for tilapia. When looking for a substitute, mild flavor and firm flesh are most important.

Call me crazy, but can I use Doritos instead of plain tortilla chips?

Ok, you’re crazy! And you’re in good company. Recipe tester Angela Reynolds loved this recipe so much, she made it again with Nacho Cheese Doritos, and she said it was even better. So go…um…crazy with the chips.

Air fryer tilapia with tortilla crust on a plate with rice and beans

Air Fryer Tilapia with Tortilla Crust

5 / 2 votes
Here, tortilla chips are combined with cilantro and spices to make the crunchy coating. Serve the fish with rice and beans, and tartar sauce or salsa verde on the side.
David Leite
Servings4 servings
Calories362 kcal
Prep Time13 minutes
Cook Time12 minutes
Total Time25 minutes


  • 4 ounces (about 4 dozen) corn tortilla chips
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Four (4-ounce) tilapia fillets
  • Tartar sauce or salsa, for serving


  • In a food processor, combine the tortilla chips, cilantro, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and salt. Pulse until the chips are finely crushed, about 10 pulses.
  • Create a breading station with three shallow bowls. Add the flour to the first bowl. In the second bowl, whisk the egg and water until no streaks remain. Add the crushed tortilla chip mixture to the third bowl.
  • Dredge a tilapia fillet in the flour, then shake any excess flour back into the bowl. Next, dip the fillet in the egg mixture, holding it over the bowl for a few seconds to let any excess egg drip back into the bowl. Finally, place the fillet in the bowl of tortilla chip crumbs, flipping it to coat both sides evenly and pressing down a bit so that the crumbs adhere well. Transfer the fillet to the air frying basket. Repeat with the remaining fillets.
  • Place the black enamel cooking pan in the bottom oven rack position. Place the wire metal oven rack in the second highest position.
  • Preheat the oven on AIR FRY at 375°F (190°C) and set the cooking time for 12 minutes.
  • Air fry the fish in the preheated oven. When the “turn food” message comes on, use a thin flexible spatula to flip the fillets, then return them to the oven.

    ☞ TESTER TIP: If the fillets are larger than 4 ounces, you may have to add a few minutes to the cooking time, and they may not all fit in the air frying basket at one time. If this is the case, air fry them in two batches. Alternately, if your fish pieces are on the small side, begin checking them for doneness before the cooking time has finished.

  • When the cooking program ends, use an instant-read thermometer to make sure the thickest part of each fillet has reached 145°F (63°C). Transfer the fillets to serving plates. Serve with tartar sauce or salsa on the side.
The Ultimate Air Fryer Oven Cookbook

Adapted From

The Ultimate Air Fryer Oven Cookbook

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Serving: 1 filletCalories: 362 kcalCarbohydrates: 27 gProtein: 39 gFat: 11 gSaturated Fat: 2 gMonounsaturated Fat: 3 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 132 mgSodium: 530 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 1 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2021 Coco Morante. Photo © 2021 Katie Newburn. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

The headnote for this air fryer tilapia with tortilla crust states inspiration came from a cafeteria breaded tilapia. My work cafeteria must’ve served the same fish, I recognize the description. And that fish, interestingly enough, was always something “safe” to eat in a sea of scary, mushy cafeteria food. I halved the recipe because only my husband and I would be eating. I air-fried the fish for the specified 12 minutes but checked it at 11 minutes and it was done. Mine was a bit darker than the photo, but I think it was because my chili powder was quite robust. And the fish definitely didn’t overcook. I served these with Cuban black beans, cilantro lime rice and salsa verde (Herdez). Hubby liked it a lot, so I’ll probably make it again.

This quick air fryer tilapia with tortilla crust recipe will stay in our weeknight rotation. I’m fairly new to the air fryer game and primarily tested the recipe to see if the fish would indeed be crispy and cooked in 12 min. My particular air fryer did not notify me to “turn food” on the setting I used, but both sides of my fish were crispy and the interior was moist and flaky. And I cooked the whole batch using the wire rack insert and all filets cooked evenly. I love the pop of fresh cilantro, but I dare say if you used a spicy tortilla chip you could eliminate the other seasonings in a pinch. A great way to use up broken or stale chips. I made it again with Nacho Cheese Doritos, and we loved it (Don’t judge, it was delicious!!) Love this method!

Air fryer tilapia with tortilla crust on a plate with rice and beans

A solid weeknight recipe, with family-friendly flavors, this air fryer tilapia with tortilla crust comes together quickly. My air fryer basket is on the smaller side and required a few batches of cooking. Therefore, I added to the total cooking time. I highly recommend checking the tilapia before the time is up on either side to prevent overcooking. Especially on the smaller sized pieces. Also, the thermometer was my best friend here. I prepared LC’s amazingly fast and easy smoky chipotle salsa with pan-roasted tomatillos to serve on top of the tilapia. A nice smoky salsa that really complements the dish.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I made this last night and we thought it was delicious. The flavor was really good and the fish was nice and crunchy on the outside but moist on the inside. I had a hard time getting the tortilla chips to the “finely crushed” stage. Maybe I’ll crush them more by hand first next time.

    1. Thanks, Amy! This is a fantastic dish and we’re so glad you enjoyed it. Please do let us know what you make next.

  2. I would love to try this recipe but have read so many disgusting articles as to how tilapia is raised I just couldn’t try it. Is there any other fish that would work in its place, please? Thank you!

    1. Patricia, thank you for the question. As a substitute you could try catfish, striped bass, red snapper, or branzino. If you try it, please do let us know how it turns out.