Spicy Grilled Chicken Tacos

DinnerGrillQuick and EasyChicken

Spicy grilled chicken tacos! Quick marinade, then grill. Ready in about 30 minutes. Great for a quick weeknight dinner, backyard cookouts, and tailgate parties.

Photography Credit: Sally Vargas

We have a family motto and it is this: Everything goes better in a tortilla.

Any and every kind of leftover can go inside a warm tortilla, usually with a healthy dose of pickled jalapenos. I can always sniff out a late-night snacker when the aroma of tortillas heating in a hot pan on the stove comes wafting through the house.

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Today’s tacos are more purposeful – a deliberate meal instead of a secretive midnight snack!

First, I marinate the chicken briefly in a spicy paste of ancho chile powder, oregano, cumin, and sweet orange juice while the grill is heating. You can also use this time to prepare the taco toppings.

Grill the chicken, then let it rest while you warm the tortillas. Now you are ready to assemble the tacos and dig in. The whole meal comes together in about 30 minutes!

Spicy Grilled Chicken TacosThe ancho chiles I use in the marinade are named for their wide shape. They are large, have a deep reddish brown color when dried, and are mild in flavor with just a hint of heat. You can find ancho chile powder at any markets that sell Mexican ingredients, or online.

I like to put all the toppings in little bowls on a big platter at the center of the table: avocados, radishes, tomatoes, red onions, wedges of lime, and a sour cream sauce. I add arugula, as well – this green isn’t traditional for tacos, but we always seem to have some in the fridge and I think it adds a nice green crunch to the tacos.

Everyone can grab a warm tortilla from the pile and make their own tacos just they way they like them.

You could also easily double or even triple this recipe for a larger party. A taco and a cold beer on a warm day? Now that’s living!

Spicy Grilled Chicken Tacos Recipe

  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Look for ancho chile powder with the Mexican ingredients at your grocery store, on buy it online. (If you can't find ancho chili powder, you replace the ancho chili, the oregano, and the cumin with 2 1/2 tablespoons regular chili powder, though the flavor won't be quite the same.)


For the chicken:

  • 2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
  • 3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 to 6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (1 1/4 pounds)

To serve:

  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • 3 cups packed baby arugula (3 ounces)
  • 2 medium ripe avocados, sliced
  • 4 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • Roughly chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup sour cream thinned with 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges


1 Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for medium-high, direct heat.

2 Make the marinade and coat the chicken: In a large bowl, stir together the chili powder, oregano, cumin, sugar, salt, garlic and orange zest. Stir in the orange juice and olive oil to make a loose paste. Add the chicken to the bowl and toss to coat all over.

Set aside to marinate while the grill heats and you prepare the rest of the toppings.

Spicy Grilled Chicken Tacos

3 Grill the chicken: Grill the chicken for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 165F. Transfer to a plate and rest for 5 minutes.

4 Warm the tortillas: Place each tortilla on the grill or on a hot, dry skillet over medium-high heat. As soon as you see pockets of the air start to puff up in the tortilla, turn it with tongs and heat for a few seconds on the other side.

Wrap warmed tortillas in a tea towel to keep them warm until serving.

5 Assemble the tacos: Slice the chicken into strips. On each tortilla, place a small handful of arugula. Top with chicken slices, sliced avocado, radishes, tomatoes, and onion slices. Drizzle with the thinned sour cream. Serve with lime wedges.

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Sally Vargas

Sally Pasley Vargas is a freelance writer and the author of three cookbooks (Food for Friends, The Tao of Cooking, Ten Speed Press, and The Cranberry Cookbook). She currently writes the column The Confident Cook for The Boston Globe along with seasonal recipes for the Wednesday Food Section.

More from Sally

6 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Laura

    super yum!

  2. Andy

    Thank you so much for this delicious recipe. The marinade is wonderful. We had it tonight with Elise’s Mexican green rice, and we were both amazed at the flavors: better than what we can get in the best Mexican restaurant here in DC. Really, really wonderful flavors! Thanks again; we will eat this all summer.


  3. Viginia Luther

    Thank you so much for the wonderful recipe.It looks really yummy.I will definitely be going to make this one.I love cooking and especially love to make chicken recipes.Spicy Grilled Chicken looks really simple and colorful.

  4. Marta @ What should I eat for breakfast today

    It looks so fresh and yummy!

  5. Sara @ Last Night's Feast

    These look super fresh and vibrant!!

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