Quick, easy, and savory with a few easy-to-find spices, chicken tikka tacos are packed with flavor. Make them with a gentle hum of heat, or as hot as you like. The secret to these tandoori chicken tikkas is smoked paprika so that you won’t miss the grill—or tandoor oven!
The world is an even better place for having North India’s tandoori creations, and as it turns out, so are tacos. Tandoori chicken is traditionally cooked in a cylindrical clay oven called a tandoor. Since few home cooks have access to this special oven, the good news is that your grill or an oven broiler does a very good job in its place.
Tikka means small bites or pieces and these Indian Mexican fusion tacos are a tasty combination of these cuisines. Normally, restaurant chicken tikkas are made with chicken breast, but I most often use chicken thighs. Dark meat is much juicier, more flavorful, and forgiving if you accidentally overcook it. Also, dark chicken meat is cheaper than breast meat, which is always a bonus.
If you want the flavors of tandoori chicken tacos but prefer something lighter, take all these ingredients except the flatbread and make a memorable taco salad.
What I love about this recipe
- Give you a quick dinner with a little marinade planning
- Makes a lovely make-ahead do-it-yourself meal for entertaining
- Astonish yourself with tandoori chicken possibly better than your local take-out
- Healthy and kid-friendly and vegetable-forward
I love shortcuts that don't skimp on flavor. Begining with the marinade for the chicken, toast whole spice or replace with homemade tandoori masala powder or buy one.
Whole spices: Cloves, cumin, corinader, fenugreek (or fennel seeds), and cardamom. Or one tablespoon of tandoori masala powder.
The rest of the marinade ingredients: Ginger garlic paste, chili powder, smoked paprika (or regular), salt, lemon juice, ghee or oil, and the chicken.
How to Make Tandoori Chicken Tikka Tacos
Toast the marinade spices in a small skillet over medium heat. Cool, then grind them into a fine powder with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
Whole spices toasting
Toasted spices ground to a powder
Cut the chicken into pieces and coat it with all the marinade ingredients. Allow the mixture to marinate for 30 minutes up to 5 hours.
Preheat the oven broiler or grill and on a lined baking sheet, spread the chicken pieces out, then brush both sides with ghee or oil.
Chicken finished cooking
Assemble the tacos: Warm the flatbread, prep the vegetables, cheese if using, and the sauce for drizzling.
Toppings for Tacos
- Chopped tomato
- Thinly sliced radishes and cucumbers
- Red onions lightly pickled or freshly chopped
- Slices of avocados
- A flutter of cilantro
Cheese: Cotija or queso blanco, cheddar, Monterey Jack, feta, or paneer.
Sauces: Maggi hot and sweet sauce, yogurt, green chutney, Mexican salsa
Tips and Tricks
- The recipe uses just enough mild Kashmiri chili or a small amount of cayenne to give you a gentle hum of heat. If you want more of a kick, certainly add more chili.
- If you don’t have fenugreek seeds, sub-in fennel seeds, or even yellow mustard seeds will be a nice trick.
- If you would like to use your grill to cook the chicken, keep the parts whole. Use the grilling instructions for my tandoori chicken thighs. Then cut the chicken into strips.
- Besides corn tortillas, flour tortillas, chapatis/rotis, or almost any flatbread will work beautifully as a wrap.
How to Soften and Freeze Corn Tortillas
Warming in the Microwave
Dampen enough paper towels to wrap six tortillas at a time. Place the wrapped tortillas on a plate and microwave them on high for one minute. Check to make sure the tortillas in the middle are hot enough. If not, heat them in 10-second increments until they are all very warm.
A kilo of corn tortillas
Warming tortillas in the microwave
Warming Tortillas in a Skillet
Heat one tortilla at a time in a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Cook just for a minute on each side. Place the tortillas in a kitchen towel to keep them soft and warm until you are ready to use them.
Freeze Corn Tortillas
My local Mexican grocery sells one-kilo stacks of fresh corn tortillas. Since I am typically cooking for two people, I freeze the tortillas in batches that I need for one meal. To freeze, wrap the tortillas as tightly as you can in plastic wrap, then again with aluminum foil. They will keep for up to 2 months.
Tacos are a comforting weeknight meal, but they also are perfect for entertaining your favorite people. Everything can be prepped ahead, and all you need at serving time is to set up an inviting array of chicken tikka, flatbreads, and toppings.
You might also consider filling out the meal with some simple guacamole, beans, and rice. Everyone gets to put together their creations. Include a nice amount of greens so that if someone wants to go the salad route, they have all the fixings.
Other Ways to Use Tandoori Chicken Tikka
Besides tacos and salad, the big flavors of these chicken strips make a satisfying topping for pizza, the basis for a good chicken korma, or the first step for chicken tikka masala. A quick meal would also be to stir it into your favorite dal for a hearty and warming family meal with some simple rice on the side.
Some more Indian-inspired chicken recipes
Did you try this recipe? I’d love to hear about it! Please rate by clicking stars ⭐️ on the recipe card and/or let me know in the comments below. Thank you! ~Alonna
Recipe Card 📖
Tandoori Chicken Tikka Tacos
Whole Tandoori Spices for Toasting
- 5 cloves ~ Shortcut: To skip the toasting and grinding steps, see the Notes below for a substitute for these 5 spices
- 3 green cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds ~ Or 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
Chicken Tikka Marinade Ingredients
- 1 pound skinless boneless chicken thighs ~ Or chicken breast
- 1 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili powder ~ Or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne or 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika ~ Or 1 teaspoon regular paprika
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste ~ Or 2 teaspoon each ginger and garlic purée
- 3/4 teaspoon sea or table salt ~ To taste. See Notes below
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
- 1 tablespoon ghee ~ Or neutral oil divided
- ground spices from above ~ Or 1 1/2 tablespoon tandoori masala powder
- Measure out the whole spices and toast them over medium heat in a small skillet. Stir frequently, so the spices toast evenly. Pour into a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and allow the spices to cool for 5 minutes. Grind them to a fine powder. Remove any large pieces of cardamom shells.
- While the spices are cooling cut each chicken thigh into three pieces, or cut the chicken breast into 1/2-inch strips. Cut the white meat across the grain; this will be across the width, not the length of the breast.
- In a bowl large enough to hold the chicken, mix together the ground spices (or 1 1/2 tablespoon of tandoori masala powder), the ginger garlic paste, lemon juice, salt, Kashmiri chili, paprika, and one teaspoon of ghee or oil.
- Stir in the chicken and coat it thoroughly with the marinade. Set aside for at least 30 minutes or overnight. While the chicken is soaking up flavor, prepare your tortillas and the toppings you are using.
Cook the Chicken in the Oven
- KEEP IN MIND: Chicken thighs are best cooked to between 175°F (80°C) and 190°F (90°C). If using chicken breast, pull the meat as soon as it is cooked through. Watch closely because white meat dries out quickly; ideally bring to a temperature no hotter than 160F (70°C).
- Preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil and top with a well-oiled cooling rack. Place the chicken pieces on the rack leaving some space around each piece. Brush the chicken with the remaining 2 teaspoon of ghee or oil.
- Broil the chicken for 4 minutes. If your broiler is hot enough, there should be some charring. Turn the chicken over, brush the second side with ghee and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes.
Assembling the Tandoori Chicken Tacos
- Warm the wraps you are using. For corn tortillas, take no more than 6 tortillas at a time, and dampen enough paper towels to wrap the tortillas completely. Place them on a plate and microwave the on high for one minute. Check to make sure the tortillas in the middle are hot enough. If not, heat them in 10-second increments until they are very warm.
- Alternatively, heat one at a time in a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Cook just for a minute on each side. Place the tortillas in a kitchen towel to keep them warm and soft until you are ready to use them. Other flatbreads should be warmed up as well, using the best method, depending on what you are using.
- Assemble: Take a warm flatbread and fill it with 3 to 4 chicken strips. If the chicken pieces are too large, tear them to a better size. If some of the chicken pieces are too large, cut or tear them as needed. Top with the vegetables of your choice, cheese, onion, and yogurt/chutney. Serve with a wedge of lemon or lime.
- Whole spices shortcut: Use 1 tablespoon of tandoori masala powder you make or buy. The most popular tandoori masala brands are Shan, Swad, Everest, and MDH.
- Salt: If using Morton kosher salt, double the amount. I like to season the chicken very well, so it holds up to the relatively bland flatbread and toppings.
- Topping ideas:
- Red onion
- Green chutney
- Cucumber or radishes
- Shredded cabbage or lettuce
- Lime or lemon wedges
- Cheese ideas: Crumbles of cotija or queso blanco, cheddar, Monterey Jack, feta, or paneer.
- If you don’t want to spend the time making a quick onion pickle, but you want to take the bite out of raw onions:
- Slice or chop your onion and either soak it in vinegar (white or cider) for 15 minutes.
- Blanch the onion in boiling water for 1 minute or 2