Grilled Tilapia Tacos Recipe

A grilled tilapia taco with sliced cabbage, mango salsa, and cilantro.

Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

I can't get over the guilt I have for ignoring an entire realm of grilling greatness in this column: seafood. Despite my ability to overcome most food aversions, seafood is one I just can't seem to shake, which leaves me feeling like I'm doing a huge disservice to all of you. My wife, on the other hand, enjoys the occasional sea creature, and she recently took the reigns of the grill to fill it with shrimp and these tilapia fish tacos, a start in rectifying my wrong.

Fish has to be one of the easiest and most difficult items to grill at the same time. On one hand, the need to overly season or marinate is minimal—a good piece of fish just needs the right temperature and time over the coals to be a masterpiece. On the other hand, getting that mixture takes some patience and practice. My wife's first batch crumbled over too high a heat, causing excess sticking and difficulties in turning. By the time the second batch went down, we had it pretty much perfect.

The tilapia—brushed with oil and seasoned with salt and ancho chile powder—was fresh and light on its own, having none of the fishy proprieties that I find off-putting. Seeing as I couldn't find anything to keep me from eating this particular fish, I moved forward in putting together a taco with chipotle crema, cabbage, onion, and salsa fresca. The flaky, soft fish took on all the great flavors of the toppings, transforming a much hated food into something I could see myself cooking over again.

Now, my seafood aversion runs pretty deep, so I won't be going out and grilling fish up a storm anytime soon, but I can see a faint light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully I'll be able to bring you more fishy tales as I make a slow approach towards the end.

Recipe Facts

Prep: 35 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Total: 50 mins
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

Rate & Comment


  • For the chipotle crema:
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons pureed canned chipotle chiles in adobo
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 pounds tilapia
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 8 6-inch corn tortillas
  • 1/4 head of red cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1 medium white onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
  • Salsa Fresca
  • Lime wedges
  • Type of fire: direct
  • Grill heat: medium-high


  1. To make the chipotle cream, whisk together the sour cream, chipotle puree, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or up to 1 day before serving.

  2. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Brush the fish on both sides with the oil and season with the ancho powder and salt. Place the fillets on the grill over medium-high heat and cook until golden brown and slightly charred, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a spatula, turn the fish over and continue grilling until just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Remove the fish and let rest for 5 minutes before shredding into bite-sized pieces.

  3. While the fish is resting, wrap the tortillas in foil and place on the grill for 5 minutes to warm through.

  4. Lay the warm tortillas on a flat surface and drizzle with some of the chipotle crema. Top with fish, cabbage, onion, cilantro, and salsa. Fold and eat with a squeeze of lime juice.