Right before the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, I was making my way back from the northern Mexican state of Sonora, where I was filming my public-television series, “Pati’s Mexican Table.”

Sonora is known as mainly a cattle state, so I was surprised to find there some of the best shrimp tacos I have ever had. I learned to make them from the creator himself, a charismatic man named Toño Contreras, owner of Mariscos El Rey. He began his career selling shellfish on the beach, then he had a little seafood stand, and now he has a few restaurants under his belt.

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These Double-Stacked Shrimp and Cheese Tacos, a.k.a. tacos bravos, are very much in the Sonoran tradition of super-dressed, super-sauced and super-cheesy shellfish dishes, and they’re one of his specialties. When I made them for my family, they immediately understood the appeal: The combined sauce and melting cheese form a crust on the tortilla stack as they heat on the comal or skillet and make them irresistible, from top to bottom.

Everyone in my family loved them so much that they ask me to make them over and over.


  • 2 pounds ripe Roma tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 to 3 chiles de árbol, stemmed but not seeded, or more to taste (may substitute 2 dried guajillo or New Mexico chiles or 1 fresh jalapeño)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, plus more as needed
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 pounds medium shrimp, rinsed, shelled, deveined and butterflied
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 to 16 (6-inch) corn tortillas
  • 3 cups (12 ounces) melty shredded cheese, such as asadero, quesadilla, Oaxaca, mozzarella, Monterey Jack or muenster
  • 1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted and sliced

Step 1

In a medium saucepan, combine the tomatoes, garlic and chiles, cover with water and set over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, until the tomatoes and garlic are completely soft and the chiles are plump and rehydrated, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes, garlic and chiles to the jar of a blender. Add the tomato paste, oregano and salt, then puree until smooth.

Step 2

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until shimmering. Carefully add the tomato puree (it may sputter), cover partially and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened and darkened and the flavors have intensified, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Step 3

Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. In a large saute pan over high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Once the butter begins to foam, add half the shrimp and sear until browned and just cooked through, about 1 minute per side. Transfer the cooked shrimp to a medium bowl and repeat with the remaining butter, oil and shrimp. Cook in 2 batches so the shrimp sear, and avoid steaming and overcooking them.

Step 4

Heat a comal, griddle or large skillet, preferably nonstick or cast iron, over medium heat until hot. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and brush or spread on the surface.

Step 5

One by one, spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of the sauce over the tortillas and lay as many as will fit on the greased comal or griddle without overlapping. Top each tortilla with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the shredded cheese. Cook until the cheese begins to melt and the bottoms of the tortillas begin to dry and brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a spatula, stack one tortilla on top of another, with both cheese sides facing up. (Don’t worry if the tortilla that you scrape up to stack on top of the other one tears a little bit.) Spoon 3 or 4 seared shrimp on top of each stack, gently fold, and continue to cook until the cheese has completely melted and starts to ooze out and create a crust, an additional 2 minutes or so.

Step 6

Remove from the heat and repeat with the remaining tortillas, sauce, cheese and shrimp. Serve hot, topped with sliced avocado.

Nutrition Information

(Based on 8 servings and 16 tortillas)

Calories: 515; Total Fat: 28g; Saturated Fat: 11g; Cholesterol: 188mg; Sodium: 960mg; Carbohydrates: 36g; Dietary Fiber: 7g; Sugar: 4g; Protein: 30g.

Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

From Pati Jinich, cooking show host and culinary instructor-chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington.

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