Grilled Steak Tacos: Just Plain Good

I have been looking for the right angle to write about these steak tacos for a few weeks now, which I’ve decided is just plain unfair. Why deny you guys a solid recipe just in the name of story-telling?  As I’m sure you know by now, my goal with this blog and my next book, is not just to chronicle what to eat for dinner, but to put that dinner into context — to give you the how of dinner, i.e. how we here in the DALS house organize, cook, and (most of the time) consume a meal together at the end of a long, chaotic day. (This is reason why you will see “Last Night’s Dinner” posts every so often, showing the exact timing of how and when everything happened, and why I talk about deconstructing dinners ad nauseum.) I hope this comes through, and, more important, I hope it helps. But anyway, sometimes, the day is neither long nor chaotic. Sometimes, I have before me a simple, regular old weeknight, i.e. a simple, regular old angle: These steak tacos with pickled onions and a cilantro-yogurt sauce were delicious and the kids loved it. So there you have it. I will let this recipe tell its own story. The End.

Steak Tacos with Pickled Onions and Cilantro Sauce
By this point in our relationship you probably know this already, but I’m going to say it anyway: Too many ingredients? Too many steps? Just skip what looks dealbreaker-y to you. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of breaking out the blender for the cilantro sauce, just skip the sauce altogether and top with chopped fresh cilantro and sour cream. Kids don’t like pickled onions? (You don’t like pickled onions?) Lose ’em. Don’t have time to marinate? Use whatever time you’ve got. Just get something on the table.

1 1/2-2 pounds flank or skirt steaks
1/3 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
squeeze of lime
salt and pepper

Pickled Onions
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 jalapeño, seeded and sliced crosswise (optional if you want to avoid heat)

Cilantro Sauce

1/2 cup plain yogurt
2/3 cup cilantro (stems and all)
juice from 1/2 lime
1/4 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste  

Everything Else
4-6 large whole wheat tortillas (or regular ones)
a few torn lettuce leaves (we like butter or Bibb)
queso fresco or avocado (optional)
lime wedges

Marinate steaks in olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper for about 30 minutes (and up to 4 hours) before you plan to grill.

While steaks marinate, do your quick-pickling and sauce making: Bring red wine vinegar, sugar, salt, water to a boil, add onions and jalapeños and reduce to a simmer. Cook 3 minutes then drain, add to a bowl and set on table. In a blender or a small food processor, whirl together all cilantro sauce ingredients. Pour into a bowl and place on table.

Heat your grill (or stovetop grill — as you can see we were still indoors a few weeks ago when we made ours) to medium high and cook about 4 minutes a side. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing on the bias and placing on the table. (For little kids, please cut steak into teeny tiny pieces.) While meat is resting, add tortillas to the hot grill, flipping frequently until they bubble a little, about 1 minute each. (I like a little char on there.)

Set tortillas and remaining toppings on the table and have everyone assemble his or her own tacos. Squeeze with a little lime and serve with rice.

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So funny I’m reading this because I made steak tacos with pickled onions last night for dinner. I saw it on America’s Test Kitchen a few months ago and it has been on my dinner menu rotation ever since. The pickled onions really makes the dish!


If i can ever get my family to stop requesting the back pocket chicken tacos, i’m totally making this!


Pickled onions, what?! I’ve never had them, but they sound awesome with a steak taco… I think this is a recipe even I could possibly handle. (My wife’s the main chef, but I’ll gladly clean up!)


In, White House Chef, he talks about feeding Hilary Clinton steak fajitas (despite her request for a red meat free diet) on a really hard day. She said they were, something along the lines of, “Just plain good!!!” I thought that was the story you were going to tell, so funny!!! Looks awesome, I LOVE the pickled onions with the kale salad.


Sarah Carey (everyday food – youtube) does a buttermilk-cilantro marinated skirt steak that sounds similar to this! 🙂 I bet both are delicious.


Your timing is impeccable, I was just looking up your Dealbreaker Burrito Bowls last night (a total hit FYI). Steak tacos are definitely coming up!


Pickled red onions – mmm. Nobody else in my family will touch them but I’ll be happy to devour them all myself. (Our favorite steak taco marinade is just a pureed can of chipotles in adobo + salt.) Thanks!


I’ll have to admit, I had my doubts about the cilantro sauce when I first made it. But the sauce plus the tender steak and the sweet onions was heavenly. I’m in my first non-college apartment and am attempting to learn how to cook. Thank you for being the only reliable cooking blog I’ve found. I’ve made your pretzel chicken, your grilled chicken, the asparagus and shrimp, and your Greek soup and all have been perfection. My boyfriend always raves whenever I make one of your meals. Thank you for making cooking seem approachable and fun, even for a poor 20-something with no strainer and only one cutting knife. You are awesome.


Made this last night – fantastic. And plenty of leftovers to make burrito bowls tonight! Thank you for the great idea.


What a great addition to our usual Taco Tuesday rotation.
I have to tell you–I was clearing out old recipe files this weekend while looking for something I (gasp) couldn’t find on the internet. There were a TON of recipes that I now know were from you, assiduously preserved and noted upon by me. I think every magazine in your history was represented, right down to the menus on the inside of the cabinet doors. Thank you for helping me feed my family for 10 years, and for being here on the web now!!!


Made this Saturday night as a thank you to my father-in-law for replacing & installing our sump pump! It was awesome & he confirmed he felt very well thanked! So, thanks to you!!


I made these last night, and I fully agree with your title: just plain good. I’ve never added yogurt to my cilantro sauce – it is way better with yogurt!

Once I felt inspired to make this recipe, I did the rest of my meal planning for the week from your site (the weekly rotation over here was becoming a little… familiar). It took about 15 minutes to find all the recipes and make my shopping list – Thank you!


We walked past a jar of pickled red onions on our way into the supermarket to buy an avocado for this. My husband was surprised by the confidence with which I stated, “Never mind those, I’m doing a quick pickle.” They were great!

Alana Barton (@alanasterling)

I agree about the pressure to have a good story or set of photos to create an adequate post. Glad you posted this! Its making me miss home. Used to have grilled flank steak tacos all the time. Currently in Valapriaso, Chile, I have been eating way too much of a dish which is basically just fries topped with steak and caramelized onions.


I made this for book club on Tuesday, and it was a hit. Pickled onions and jalapenos might be new favorite condiment. Thanks for showing me how easy they are!


Jenny, I love your context and stories so much that I never miss a post, even though I’m vegan so the recipes are just reading material for me, ha.


Can you advise which brand your stovetop grill is? As a NYC dweller without outdoor space for a real grill, I’d love a recommendation on how to enjoy grilled foods this summer. Thanks!

Shannon Brown

When you say, “kids don’t like pickled onions?…lose ’em!” you mean the onions, right??

Just checkin’


Made this tonight and LOVED it! So did my husband and the boys. I love that. It’s going into regular rotation. And that sauce is my new favorite thing!!! Thanks.