Cilantro lime chicken tacos are juicy chicken breasts marinated in a tangy cilantro lime marinade, cooked (they can be grilled), and then sliced and piled into tortillas. Served with all the taco toppings your family loves, these juicy grilled chicken soft tacos are great for Taco Tuesday!
You're looking at my family's favorite dinner (on Tuesday nights, of course), and the dinner I bring most often to new moms. I love making this dinner, because I start marinating the chicken early in the day, and then cook it on the grill pan mid-afternoon. It gives me time to assemble a board to take to a family.
If it's the weekend, though, I definitely grill these cilantro lime chicken breasts outside. The smoky grilled flavor is just another layer of deliciousness. While there is literally nothing better than the combination of cilantro and lime (cilantro haters, please exit now), when piled in a soft flour tortilla with pico de gallo, crumbly cotija cheese, and dollops of avocado, heaven is reached.
I've even eaten these cilantro lime chicken tacos cold, standing over the sink after a midnight breastfeeding session--they are THAT GOOD. They are also super picnic-friendly! Here is how I would assemble it on a board for serving to a crowd, or for taking to a family who could use a home cooked meal:
What you need to make these:
- lime: We need the zest and the juice of one whole lime.
- cilantro: Fresh cilantro leaves and stems, chopped; about 2 handfuls of it.
- oil: Two tablespoons of neutral oil for cooking, like canola oil, vegetable oil, grapeseed or avocado oil. Neutral oil is any oil that doesn't have any flavor on its own. This means no olive oil or coconut oil, ok?
- smoked paprika
- salt and pepper
- chicken: You need 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or about 1.5 pounds of chicken. You can absolutely use chicken thighs here, too.
- taco fixings: soft flour tortillas, pico de gallo, guacamole and crumbled cotija cheese to make the cilantro lime chicken into incredible tacos. Extra cilantro and lime juice for garnish, too!
How to make cilantro lime chicken tacos:
- First, make the marinade by whisking together the lime zest and lime juice, chopped cilantro, oil, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.
- Using a fork, poke the chicken about 10 times to allow the marinade to permeate the chicken. Place the chicken in a resealable bag, and pour the marinade on top.
- Let the chicken marinade at room temperature for 30 minutes. Yes, I said room temperature. Do not do it more than 30 minutes, or the food police will come after you. It's best if super cold food doesn't hit a hot pan or hot grill--trust me on this. Letting meat come to room temperature will elevate your grill game, because your meat will be so much more tender. If you'd like to marinate the chicken for longer, place it in the fridge. You can do it up to 2 hours in advance. Do not do it any longer, because the lime juice will break down the chicken and make it mushy if left too long!
- Grill or cook the chicken in a grill pan greased with an extra drizzle of oil until golden brown on both sides, and until it registers 165-degrees F.
- Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes--this is crucial for allowing the juices to redistribute in the meat and stay there. If you cut meat too soon after its been cooked, the juices go out on the plate, leaving you with a dry pice of meat.
- Slice the chicken against the grain into thin slices, pile into a soft flour tortilla. Dollop with pico de gallo, crumbled cotija cheese, and a smattering of guacamole. An extra squeeze of lime juice and extra fresh cilantro on top is all you need!
Can you make this in the instant pot? Or slow cooker?
So, I really think the key to the incredible flavor of this recipe is the smokiness you get from grilling the meat. Even if you just use an indoor grill pan, the high heat sears the outside and keeps the juices inside. An instant pot is a pressure cooker, and the meat will be all white without any char or golden brown surface. If you use a slow cooker, it will fall apart into shredded chicken, and that's just not what we're going for here. For an instant pot chicken recipe similar to this, try my instant pot salsa chicken with rice.
What to serve with cilantro lime chicken tacos:
In our house, we always serve tacos with rice and beans! Sometimes, I'm lazy and we just open a can of black refried beans and warm them up. Keep it simple!
More taco-inspired recipes:
- Instant Pot Taco Soup
- Instant Pot Chicken Tacos
- Ground Beef for Tacos
- Peanut Butter Steak Tacos (yes, really)
- 3 limes, zested and juiced
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for cooking
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 big handfuls of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 1.5 pounds (about 3) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Items for serving as tacos:
- flour tortillas, warmed
- pico de gallo
- extra cilantro and lime wedges
- cotija cheese
- Add the lime zest, lime juice, 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil, smoked paprika, salt, pepper and finely chopped cilantro to the bag or bowl.
- Unwrap the chicken from the package, and use a fork to poke holes all over the meat (~10 prices with a fork is enough). Place the chicken in a large food storage bag or bowl, and pour the marinade on top.
- Let the chicken marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature. The chicken can marinate for up to 2 hours in the fridge, but pull it out 30 minutes before cooking to rest at room temperature.
- Preheat a grill pan (or a gas grill). Use additional oil to coat the pan or grates of the grill. When hot, place the chicken in an even layer and do not touch for 8-9 minutes. Let the chicken sear on the first side and develop grill marks.
- Flip the chicken to cook on the second side, when it easily releases from the pan. Cook the second side of the chicken until it has grill marks, about 6-7 minutes.
- Before removing the chicken from the grill, check the temperature in the thickest part with a meat thermometer—it should be 165-degrees F. It’s okay to pull the meat off at 162 or 163, because the temperature will rise a few degrees as the meat rests.
- Use a very sharp knife to cut the chicken against the grain into long diagonal strips. Tuck the chicken strips into tortillas, and top with desired taco toppings.
lime: We need the zest and the juice of one whole lime.
cilantro: Fresh cilantro leaves and stems, chopped; about 2 handfuls of it.
oil: Two tablespoons of neutral oil for cooking, like canola oil, vegetable oil, grapeseed or avocado oil. Neutral oil is oil that doesn't have any flavor to compete with the main flavors of the dish.
chicken: You need 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or about 1.5 pounds of chicken. You can absolutely use chicken thighs here, too.
taco fixings: soft flour tortillas, pico de gallo, guacamole and crumbled cotija cheese
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 212Total Fat: 10gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 40mgSodium: 446mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 4gSugar: 2gProtein: 17g