6 Best Ways to Use Store-Bought Corn Tortillas, According to Chef Jose Xiloj

The TikTok star keeps it simple when cooking for many.

11 min read

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“Corn tortillas have been in my blood since I was a kid,” says Jose Xiloj, a.k.a. @jose.elcook. The 24-year-old chef-turned-influencer has earned well over three million followers across TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube with his irreverent cooking videos and kitchen tips. But his career began humbly, helping out at his father’s Mexican and Guatemalan restaurant in New Jersey. “I’d do the dishes and man the grill starting when I was just eight years old.” 

Eventually, Xiloj ended up in culinary school, but dropped out when he realized he could learn the same things in professional kitchens — while also making money. Bouncing between restaurants all over his home state of Connecticut (“I plan to stay a while since we have the best pizza in the world!”), he got to try almost every aspect of the business, from baking to kitchen management. After work, he’d come home and cook more, posting some of the dishes he made on Instagram. Content creation had always been a dream of his, and this was a place to start.

“I did everything in that little apartment,” he says. “Cuisines from around the world, cooking tips, cleaning hacks, things related to the kitchen and whatnot. Even if I didn't have the stuff to do it, I just tried my best.” 

It took well over a year before his content made him any money; his first earning was two cents of ad revenue on TikTok. (“After a year of making content, two cents felt like a huge amount of money to me!” he says.) But after one of his cooking videos went viral — a bacon-and-puff-pastry-wrapped asparagus — he realized he just might have the makings of a full-time career. By October of last year, he was making more income on social media than at his bakery job, so he quit the bakery. But it wasn’t just about the money; he’d developed a loyal following on his various platforms that had morphed into an uncommonly kind and supportive little corner of the internet.

“My goal is to be relatable,” he says. “My channel is for the common person that needs a quick meal, that needs to learn how to make something with ingredients they already have. Mothers, fathers, teens, people my age — they love to see it because they have access to this stuff, and they need to eat, so the content matters to them.”

This is why Xiloj loves tortillas: Affordable, accessible, convenient, and endlessly riffable, they’re a blank slate upon which just about anything can be built — and he’s not picky about the source. “When I was growing up, my dad made his corn tortillas from scratch,” he says. “And if I have the time and the ingredients, I’ll do that too. But there’s no shame in a store-bought tortilla. If I’m making a big meal for lots of people, or just want to make something fast, that’s my go-to.” 

Here, Xiloj shares his six favorite ways to use store-bought corn tortillas.

1. Baja Tacos

“When it comes to corn tortillas, I believe you've got to respect the ingredient. You don't have to do too much to a corn tortilla for a taco. All I do is put a little bit of oil on there and throw them on the griddle or grill or whatever you have at home. They shouldn't get crispy, just nice and warm, and then you stack them (double tortilla always, because that's just where I'm from!) and fill ’em up with whatever you want. Me, I love fish — seared on both sides with crispy skin. Any Southern Californian fish, fresh diced tomatoes, pico de gallo, and some avocado. It is so simple, but it's so good. Some lime juice on there with a little bit of cotija cheese or some other kind of white shredded cheese. Done!”

2. Tortilla Soup

“My dad used to grind up corn tortillas and drop them in his soup to make it thicker, and I still do that to this day — corn tortillas are the ultimate soup enhancer. I like to use the tortillas in two different ways: First, I chop the tortillas roughly with a knife and put them directly into the chicken soup broth, where they bring that nice softness, a robust look, and that good corn flavor. And then as a little twist at the end, I cut a few into two-inch strips, shallow-fry the strips. Once they’re golden-brown and crunchy, toss them right on top. I love the mix of textures.”

3. Pork Nachos

“The best nachos, in my opinion, have slow-roasted pork on them. I’ll cut up some tortillas into that traditional triangular nacho shape and deep-fry them, nice and crispy. Then I'll make a homemade cheese blend with a little bit of beer and some good Gruyere, some cheddar, make a little roux with that, and put it over the carnitas. Maybe a little barbecue sauce and avocado because those two things go really good together, in my opinion. It's amazing. And then some tomatoes, red onion — similar to what the United States would have on their barbecue pizza, just with homemade carnitas and cheese. Put it on a square plate, all layered up. At the end, you'll make it pretty with the garnishes: cilantro, onions, maybe some avocado. Delicious.”

4. Flautas

“Here, I’ll start by roasting some chicken, and then I'll probably mix that with some kind of marinade, and shred it up. Then I add lime juice, some tomatoes, a little bit of cheese, and then I roll it all up inside the tortilla like a cigar. The key is to put a toothpick through each one so it’ll hold its shape, and deep-fry it till it’s nice and crunchy. This is a situation where store-bought tortillas are truly better than the homemade ones, because with a homemade tortilla, there's not enough moisture to keep it from breaking. The store-bought ones have just enough texture to stay intact. After they come out, you add a little bit of lettuce, some fresh radish, a little crema (which is basically just Mexican sour cream), and then some more cheese on top. It looks very beautiful. You can stack them like a pyramid before you serve them.”

5. Chilaquiles

“Start by cutting them in that traditional triangle shape and deep-frying them into chips, same as you’d do for the nachos. Then you can set those aside because they'll stay crunchy. Next comes the sauce: I make a tomato-based blender sauce with some chiles and tomatillos, or even just regular tomatoes. You toss that sauce into a skillet and cook it off to reduce it and get it thick. Then you throw in your chips, coat them really nice. And then you serve it on a platter with some cheese, some lettuce if you want, avocado, your favorite salsa or hot sauce. You can put a fried egg on top. It's a very traditional breakfast in Mexico.”

6. Taquitos

“What I would do here is take a whole corn tortilla and fill it with my favorite meat — I like shredded, slow-roasted, marinated chicken; something that can break down and be tender enough so it's not dry. Then I’ll put some cheese in there because you need some fat to contrast with the lean meat. And maybe some seared vegetables — something strong that’ll hold up to the other ingredients, like mushrooms. Then I would close it just a little bit, like a taco, to retain shape, and put it in the air fryer. It'll get nice and crispy, almost like an empanada except in a corn tortilla instead of a thick flour dough. At the end, I’d plate the taquitos side by side and garnish them really beautifully with either some kind of cream or more avocado, some pico or some pickled onions even. Or even add some sauces on the side, where people can dip individually and eat it as finger food. These are great for a party.”