How to plan a simple taco gathering: the make, the buy & the do-ahead

Brought to you by Archer Farms only at Target.

Spring has sprung. In a span of a week, our lawn turned green and the forest unfurled into a glimmering emerald panorama. All at once it seems highly appropriate to be eating outdoors, and besides, how can we stay away with the chorus of the bullfrogs and the quacking of the mallards calling us to come and salute spring?

I decided rather last minute to welcome friends over for a meal last weekend. They were in town on short notice and we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see them – and meet their adorable new baby girl.

Everyone in the family pitched in to prepare for our first backyard gathering of the season. The boys power-washed the deck chairs and Danny primed the grill, while I prepped for a simple taco feast.

The day turned out to be gloriously warm; the children ran barefoot and our friends toured the garden and the chicken coop before we ate. And boy, did we eat.

backyard entertaining on

As the sun slanted through the green tinged weeping willow, I set out a selection of Archer Farms tortilla chips and their pungent Roasted Tomato and Chipotle Salsa, and poured iced watermelon agua fresca into glasses garnished with fresh mint.

We gathered around the food and caught up on happy news like new babies, as well as somberly recounted the Boston Marathon bombings, as our friends are from Boston. It was a good reminder to count our blessings and appreciate our health and safety, as well as our sunny Saturday get-together.

simple summer entertaining on

To me, the best moments with family and friends are when we are gathered, casually, around the table and sharing a meal together. Sure on this particular occasion the kids spilled their juice, the babies wailed, and more than one taco hit the deck – literally – but no Skype chats or instant messaging can replace the fellowship we shared.

As parents, we share a certain empathy for each other in our various plights. It helps enormously to compare notes (ideally over guacamole, chips and cold beer) and sigh in relief to know that others are losing sleep with a teething baby and coping with picky eaters as well.

So we laughed, and lamented, together.

Pork carnitas party with kids on simplebites.netALL photos by Tim Chin

Planning a simple taco gathering with friends: the make, the buy, and the do-ahead.

Although it seems like a lot of components, a build-your-own taco party is an easy way to entertain. For starters, have your guests bring the beverages; just remember to make and stock plenty of ice.


  • Tortilla chips. A must for pre-dinner munching, we enjoy white, blue or yellow corn varieties, ideally organic.
  • Salsa. Until tomatoes and peppers are fresh, local and in season, I’m purchasing our salsa. Target carries a wide selection of Archer Farms salsas, many of them organic.
  • Corn or Flour soft tortillas.
  • Sour cream. My boy’s favorite garnish.

Carnitas and outdoor entertaining on


  • Carnitas. Below I’ve included a super simple recipe for Carnitas, a pork shoulder braised in orange juice with some spices that is shredded for the taco filling. It’s about 30 times better than boring roast chicken and comes together quickly. You can make this!
  • Guacamole. It has to be homemade. Gaby has at least a dozen variations.
  • Toppings. Prepare your fresh toppings such as lettuce, diced onion and chopped tomatoes on the same day as you are entertaining.

Do ahead:

If you have at least a day’s notice before the taco-scarfing crew descends on your backyard, you can get some of the prep squared away. You can grate the cheese and cook a batch of beans. I stick with Diana’s flavorful Frijoles Rancheros, which tend to be even better on the second day.

Carnitas party tablescape on

To Serve:

Ask a friend to warm the soft tortillas on the grill while you warm the braised pork and the beans. Enlist the help of any children running through the kitchen to help you set out the toppings on the picnic table. And definitely check if another pitcher of margaritas is needed before you sit down.

Then relax and enjoy. At least, until things get out of hand at the kiddie table.

Carnitas: Braised Pork with Cumin and Orange Juice

Adapted from the cookbook 'Absolutely Avocados', this simple taco filling comes together in minutes and is a real crowd pleaser.
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Dishes
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 8 people
Calories: 235kcal
Author: Gaby Dalkin


  • 4 lbs pork shoulder
  • 1 medium onion peeled
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup Archer Farms salsa
  • 3 cloves garlic peeled
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons salt


  • Trim the excess fat off of the pork and cut it into 2-inch pieces. Don't worry if they are not even or look messy. Place them in a large, heavy skillet.
  • Cut the onion into 8 wedges and add to pork. Add orange juice, lime juice, salsa, garlic, cumin, and salt to the skillet and carefully stir to combine.
  • Add enough water to cover the pork and place the skillet over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover and reduce the heat until the liquid is just simmering. Cook for 2 hours.
  • Remove the lid and bring the liquid up to a slow boil. Cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated or reduced. The pork will be tender and fall apart easily.
  • Shred the pork with a fork, toss with remaining skillet juices and serve hot.


Calories: 235kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 27g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 92mg | Sodium: 745mg | Potassium: 614mg | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 130IU | Vitamin C: 24.3mg | Calcium: 36mg | Iron: 2.2mg


Looking for more simple summer entertaining ideas? I’ve curated a Pinterest board that is all about easy (and beautiful) summer gatherings from the family backyard barbecue to casual taco night with friends.

What’s stopping you from entertaining more often? Discuss in the comments and let’s float some good ideas around.

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Now this looks like a fun gathering and such a great idea!

  2. So, so, so fun! Who does not love tacos?!

  3. Such a beautiful spread! Thanks for sharing… I agree, it’s good to count our blessings and enjoy the company of friends, especially sitting together for a meal!

  4. MMM This sounds like a perfect gathering! We’re in the middle of planning a deck redo and adding a patio. I think I need this to be our first celebration once they are done!

  5. My friend, your timing couldn’t be more perfect with this! We’re about to have friends and family in for a few weeks at the end of the month and you know my introverted self isn’t the best at entertaining.

    But this? This looks totally do-able! And you know I’m a fan of Target. Anything time I can entertain that is SIMPLE? Well, now you’re talking my language 🙂

    • Kara, that is awesome. You can totally do this, and enlist the kids help, too. I didn’t mention it in the post, but your could do the pork in the crockpot, too, if that is easier for you. =)

  6. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says

    5 stars
    Growing up in Texas, this was both common at parties, and at the weeknight dinner table. Much like the make-your-own salad you did with the boys the other day, I grew up with “Make Your Own Taco” nights.

    We love Archer Farms. Our Target finally got a bigger grocery section, and it made us take the plunge to getting the Target credit card to save 5% too, so you’ll see a lot of their stuff on our table at dinner time. I love that there are REAL ingredients! So unusual of a store brand.

  7. Tacos parties are such great fun!

  8. I think what stops me is the mental effort involved in planning ahead and organizing. Once that is done, it all feels fun to me–so I’m a big fan of anything that can help simplify that pre-entertaining side of things.

    Thanks for the helpful ideas, Aimee!

  9. What a lovely evening with family and friends! Would love to do this with my family soon!!

  10. What a fun party!

  11. 5 stars
    You’re reading my mind! I’ve been dying for tacos on the grill, but we’ve had a spate of unexpectedly chilly weather down here that’s kept me from getting our backyard al fresco-ready. Today’s supposed to be beautiful, and I think I know what we’re having for dinner.

  12. This looks like my kinda party! Planning ahead makes a huge difference and allows for you to actually enjoy the event 🙂

  13. Fish tacos are my go-to meal for guests. I’m always looking for more taco ideas–thanks so much! Gorgeous-looking food!

  14. Yum!
    I wonder, could you do this in the crock pot???
    Thanks for the great ideas!

  15. What a great looking party! And who doesn’t love taco’s?

  16. would love this spread in my backyard! i love archer farms products and target 🙂

  17. Love the photos in this post Aimee – they really bring it alive. It always feels more real to me when there’s people in them sharing their food – it tells a story. Plus, tacos… who doesn’t love them?? That pork sounds delicious…

  18. I love that table/ buffet! Can you tell me where you got it? Perhaps at Target maybe?

  19. Oh I love this. That recipe looks divine, and I feel like you freed me to make things more simple and delish. We do tacos weekly (kind of a must here in Arizona) and I’m always looking for ways to streamline.

  20. I love this!! There is truly no substitute for real life friendships and it always is somewhat messy.

    We don’t have a big space so I”m hesitant about inviting friends with older kids over, our girls are little and I think older kids would be bored. We tend to enjoy an evening get-together. But this menu would work great in our backyard space and all the kids can just run around.

    Beautiful pictures!

  21. What a great menu that seems relatively easy to put together. The pork filling sounds yummy and I’ll definitely be trying it. But I have to say that the iced watermelon agua fresca sounds very refreshing!

  22. Yum! We have family or friends over at least once a week for dinner and tacos are one of my go-to choices. And oh how I love carnitas!!! I never thought to try Archer Farms salsa, though! I will definitely have to check it out because we live a half mile from a Target. 🙂

  23. Love your entertaining ideas and tips!

  24. I’m actually planning to have a Mexican food bar at my daughter’s graduation party in two weeks. What’s nice is that as long as the ingredients are there you just switch them up to make your own whatever. Tacos, taco salad, loaded nachos… I’m getting hungry just looking at your pictures and thinking about all that wonderful food. We’re actually getting our salsa from a local Mexican restaurant. They also have an amazing (if you like HOT) onion/pepper dish. I don’t know what it’s called, but it has red onion, jalapeno and habanero peppers in it. So delicious! and guaranteed to open up sinuses – ha! Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  25. The party looks so fun! Casual entertaining is the best!

  26. I just started hosting supper club with a group of friends in February – and taco bar was our first choice. It turned out FANTASTIC & is always fun for and enjoyed by the kids AND adults! 🙂

  27. I love these photos 🙂 It looks like such a fun time!

  28. Hi
    I love your posts!
    The carnitas turned out absolutely perfectly! I simmered it for about 3 hours, but what I love, is this recipe is hard to mess up! The cooking method made the meat so tender! Everyone said it was so good and wanted to know how it was spiced. Thanks for providing such and easy and flavorful recipe. I have a three year old and was able to pick up the ingredients and start it during nap time. The hardest thing was trimming the pork! I got a little obsessed with trying to remove fat and not knowing how much to leave.

    • That is awesome, Aisha. Thanks for letting me know. I’m so glad you all enjoyed the carnitas!! Next time, leave a little more fat on the meat and the pork will be even more tender.

      Keep cooking!

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