Tex-Mex and Japanese – a surprisingly delicious fusion of cuisines. It’s best represented by Okinawan Taco Rice, a simple mashup of taco fillings and Japanese white rice. It’s satisfyingly, unique comfort food that’s quick to make for a weeknight dinner!
As a delicious addition to our Okinawa Travel Series that Mr. JOC has been writing (Here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 coming soon), I’ve been sharing Okinawan recipes including Rafute, Sata Andagi, Taco Rice, and Okinawa Soba (coming soon).
Among these dishes, Taco Rice (タコライス) was my son’s favorite, begging me now to make it every week. Mr. JOC wasn’t sure about the combination of tacos and Japanese steamed rice, but he was pleasantly surprised how good it tasted.
Whether or not you’re a big fan of Tex-Mex tacos, give this recipe a try. Your family will love it! It’s so easy to make, and is perfect for a weeknight meal. You can prepare taco meat and individual toppings ahead of time, and assemble right before you are ready to eat.
How to Make Taco Rice
Tex-Mex and Japanese – a surprisingly delicious fusion of cuisines. It’s best represented by Okinawan Taco Rice, a simple mashup of taco fillings and Japanese white rice.
What’s Taco Rice?
Taco Rice is an Okinawan dish in which the ingredients of a Tex-Mex taco – ground beef, lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes – are served on a bed of warm rice, with salsa on top.
This fusion dish was first created in 1984 by a Japanese restaurant owner, Matsuzo Gibo, who wanted to create an affordable yet fulfilling meal that can be made quickly and enjoyed by the young American military. His restaurant was nearby the American military base and he thought combining tacos, which were already popular among the American military, and Japanese staple dish, steamed rice would be a winning team. True enough, a simple twist to something familiar not only opened the door of his restaurant to more American customers, it had also created quite a sensation in the island that the locals quickly embraced.
It may not be a classic Okinawan dish like Rafute, Sata Andagi, or Okinawa Soba, but Taco Rice encapsulates the spirit of the island where cultures are constantly evolving and influencing each other. Now a new Okinawa’s specialty food, you can find taco rice being served on family dinner tables throughout the prefecture.
Homemade Taco Seasonings
If you look up a Taco Rice recipe in Japanese online, you will notice that a lot of recipes use soy sauce, Tonkatsu sauce, curry powder, or ketchup. In Okinawa, you can get a packet of taco seasoning easily since American military base is there. But in the mainland, taco seasoning is not easy to get. I think that’s why the taco meat is always seasoned with some common Japanese condiments that are available in a Japanese kitchen.
For my recipe, I followed this taco seasoning recipe online to make my taco meat as I have all the seasonings at home. If you don’t want to get individual bottles of spices just to make this recipe, consider getting a packet of taco seasoning for a quick fix. But these spices are fairly common and you either already have them or will be using them in other recipes. So it is a good investment too!
Popular Taco Rice Restaurants in Okinawa
During our recent trip to Okinawa, we couldn’t make it to the original restaurant that taco rice was created due to the limited time we had. It’s called King Tacos (キングタコス) and currently there are 6 King Tacos locations within Okinawa.
The Nagata and Futenma locations in Ginowan, the Misato location in Okinawa city, the Agena and Yokatsu locations in Uruma, and the flagship location in Kin.
The original King Tacos store is located:
- Address: Azakin 4244-4, Kin-cho, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa
- Business Hours: 10:30 am to 1:00 am (no holidays)
- Phone: 090-1947-1684
The original taco rice (タコライス, ¥400/$4) is composed of ground beef, seasoned with taco spice seasoning, served on a bed of Japanese rice. Then taco rice cheese (タコライスチーズ, ¥500/$5) additionally includes cheese on top. And Taco rice cheese vegetable (タコライスチーズ野菜, ¥600/$6) additionally includes shredded lettuce. If you’re on a budget or want something that is kid-friendly when visiting Okinawa, definitely stop by these Taco Rice restaurants.
For now, you want to add this Taco Rice to your Taco Thursday menu! It is gluten-free friendly too. I keep my toppings fairly simple, but this fusion rice bowl is open for customization. Feel free to dress them up with whatever you have in hand. Avocado slices, crumbled feta, pickled jalapeno or roasted vegetables. Just don’t forget to finish it off with plenty of bright, fresh cilantro and the lime slices!
- ½ lb ground beef (I used 85% lean)
- 1 clove garlic
- ½ red onion (¾ goes to taco meat, ¼ goes to salsa)
- 2 leaves iceberg lettuce
- 1 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc)
- ½ cup Mexican-style shredded cheese
- 3 cups cooked Japanese short-grain rice (1 ½ rice-cooker-cups (180 ml x 1.5 = 270 ml) yields roughly 3 US cups; see how to cook short-grain rice with a rice cooker, a pot over the stove, an instant pot, or a donabe)
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp onion powder
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- ¼ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp paprika
- 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp kosher/sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tomato
- 5 sprigs cilantro (coriander)
- ½ lemon
- Gather all the ingredients.
Make Homemade Taco Seasoning
- Combine all the ingredients for taco seasoning in a mason jar (or a plastic bag) and shake well to mix together.
- Mince the garlic clove and set aside (we will use this for stir frying with meat).
- Mince the red onion.
- Cut the tomato into small cubes (you need about half tomato, although it’s shown as a whole tomato here).
- Chop cilantro into small pieces.
- Combine chopped red onion, tomato, cilantro in a medium bowl and squeeze half of the lemon into the bowl. Mix well together.
- Cut the iceberg lettuce into thin strips.
Make Taco Meat
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook the garlic cloves until fragrant. Then add the red onion and sauté until coated with oil.
- Add the ground beef and break into small pieces using a spatula.
- Add 4 tsp Taco Seasoning (Roughly 2 tsp for every ¼ lb) and combine well with the meat. Turn off the heat.
Assemble the Taco Rice Bowl
- Serve the steamed rice on a plate/bowl. Put the ground beef on top. Then top with cheese, lettuce, and tomato salsa as much as you like. Serve with extra salsa and enjoy!
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and in the freezer for up to a month.