Blackened Tilapia Fish Tacos Recipe

Tilapia Fish Tacos exploding with flavor from a quick fish marinade and the most flavorful spice rub!

 Blackened Tilapia Fish Tacos topped with complementary refreshing sweet and tangy Pineapple Cucumber Slaw and addictive silky Avocado Crema are the BEST light, flavorful and filling Fish Tacos that rival any restaurant!   These Tilapia Fish Tacos are easy to prepare, healthy and about to become a new favorite for lunch, dinner, friends and family!

up close of Tilapia fish Tacos with pineapple ad cabbage in a corn tortilla


What readers are saying about these Tilapia Tacos:

These are awesome! Made them tonight for my family…These are flavorful and we will absolutely make again!  Thank you for this recipe!!! – Lindsay

I made these last night and they were FANTASTIC!  – Jillian

I made this tonight and it was sooo Soo good!! … Ihave leftovers for tomorrow and I can’t wait to eat more!  Definitely adding this recipe to our weekly rotation. Thank you so much!! – Kristin

Tilapia Fish Tacos

Are you guys tired of my taco recipes yet? I sure hope not because I could eat the layers of flavors and textures all day, everyday, especially these Blacked Tilapia Fish Tacos!  Here in San Diego, we have our fair share of palate pleasing Mexican restaurants and I often find myself ordering the fish tacos whether deep fried Baja Fish Tacos (A MUST TRY) Grilled Fish Tacos or Blackened Fish Tacos as opposed to chicken because I don’t make as much fish at home.

But to be completely honest, I think I just spoiled myself from ordering fried fish tacos again because these Tilapia Fish Tacos are just that good and so much healthier!   Both marinating and blackening the tilapia gives these easy fish tacos so much flavor while still tasting light, fresh and satisfyingly delicious.

Tilapia Fish Tacos Recipe ingredients

  • Tilapia: Use fresh tilapia from or frozen, thawed tilapia. You can also use any white fleshed, mild, flaky fish fillet such as mahi-mahi, sapper, halibut or cod.
  • Tortillas: Corn tortillas are the tortillas of choice for fish tacos. I love La Tortilla Factory Corn Tortillas. They are thicker, homemade tortillas that never break or tear even when charred and piled with toppings. I find mine at Sprouts or you can pick them up on Amazon.
  • Fish marinade: This is a quick whisking of olive oil, lime juice, soy sauce and seasonings. Olive oil prevents the fish from drying out and distributes the oil-soluble flavors evenly throughout the fish, soy sauce adds a depth of flavor, lime juice adds the needed acidity and spices bring the flavor

What fish is best for Blackened Fish Tacos?

White fleshed, mild, flaky fish fillets are traditionally used in fish tacos such as tilapia, mahi-mahi, sapper, halibut or cod.

I chose tilapia for these fish tacos because because they are mild, cook quickly and can be purchased at a competitive price year round.  You are welcome to substitute your favorite fish for this blackened fish taco recipe.

What spices go well with Tilapia Tacos?

After you marinate your Tilapia, it’s to make your spice rub consisting of:

  • ancho chili powder
  • smoked paprika
  • cumin
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • salt
  • oregano
  • brown sugar
  • cayenne pepper (optional)

A note about ancho chili powder: Although I personally use ancho chili powder a lot, I shy away from sharing it in recipes because I try and use common pantry spices so you don’t have to go buy more for one recipe – but I had to use it in this Blackened Tilapia Fish Taco Rub because it tastes perfect.

Ancho chili powder comes from ground dried poblanos and  is more mild than cayenne or chipotle powder but still has a deep rich, smoky, mild sweet heat.   Perfection.  So I promise if you buy ancho chili powder I will start using it more in my recipes so it won’t go to waste 🙂 but even if for just this recipe, it is so worth it.

Mind blowing Blackened Fish Tacos with a quick marinade and the most flavorful spice rub! These are hands down the BEST FISH TACOS ever! And the sweet and tangy Pineapple Cucumber Slaw and Avocado Crema hit this one out of the park! seriously better than my favorite restaurant!

What toppings are best for Blackened Fish Tacos?

These marinated Blackened Tilapia Fish Tacos would not be complete without the refreshing sweet tang of the crunchy Pineapple Cucumber Slaw against the blackened smoky spice rubbed fish.

  • Pineapple Cucumber Slaw: is a quick tossing together of fresh pineapple, red cabbage, cucumber, red onion, cilantro and lime juice – so refreshingly delicious and so ready to be piled on your Tilapia Fish Tacos!
  • Avocado Crema: Ever since I used it in my wildly popular and Cilantro Lime Shrimp Tacos, I can’t get enough! It is my preference over chopped avocados or guacamole because everything tastes better with crazy creamy avocado infused with lime, cumin, garlic and cilantro. 


Although I love the Pineapple Cucumber Slaw and Avocado Crema pairing, feel free to top your Tilapia Fish Tacos with any of your favorite topping ideas. I suggest something sweet to contrast the smoky, slightly spicy fish, something crunchy and something creamy.

  • Cabbage:  Thinly sliced red or green cabbage tossed with lime, salt and pepper.
  • SalsasBlack bean corn salsaavocado salsa, charred corn salsa, mango salsa, or pineapple salsa or strawberry salsa.
  • Guacamole:  Use your favorite recipe or my homemade guacamole recipe (amazing!) or you can even use store bought.
  • Avocados: Chopped or sliced avocados are the easiest avocado option and add a wonderful creaminess.
  • Pico de gallo:   Use my homemade pico de de gallo recipe or store bought. You can make the pico de gallo ahead of time and store it in an airtight container in the fridge.  Bring to room temperature before serving.
  • Lime:  Use lime wedges to add freshly squeezed lime juice if additional tanginess is desired.
  • Cilantro:  If you skip the pico de gallo, you can load on fresh cilantro and tomatoes instead.
  • Jalapenos:  Pump up the heat with chopped or sliced jalapenos or hot sauce. 
  • Pickle red onions: Tangy, punchy fantastic and so simple to make with this easy pickled red onions recipe.
up close front view of easy Tilapia Fish Tacos with cabbage, avocados and cilantro

About Tilapia

If you aren’t familiar with Tilapia and wondering why I have a whole Tilapia Fish Tacos recipe devoted to it, here are a few fun facts:

  • Tilapia is currently the fourth most popular type of fish in the US behind tuna, salmon and Alaskan pollock.
  • Tilapia is the third most popular aquaculture or farm raised seafood product behind shrimp and salmon.
  • Tilapia is nicknamed the “aqua-chicken,” because it can be produced on a mass scale.  This allows tilapia to be available year round at affordable prices without sacrifice quality.
  • You have probably eaten more tilapia than you realize!  Since 2006, Americans have consumed over 1 pound of tilapia per person each year.
  • Processing and packaging methods are regulated to ensure the tilapia fillets have a mild, uniform flavor.
  • Tilapia is the oldest farm raised fish in the world.  It is primarily raised in freshwater systems using cages, ponds, raceways or open waters.
  • Organic production methods for tilapia have been developed by some farmers.

How to make Blackened Fish Tacos

How to marinate Tilapia for this Fish Taco Recipe

I first tried making these Tilapia Fish Tacos without marinating them and just using a spice rub – but I found all the flavor was on the outside and the inside of the fish was still bland.  Not okay.  Not good enough for you my friends!

Instead, to infuse these blackened fish tacos with flavor through and through, I whipped up a simple marinade of olive oil, lime juice, soy sauce and some of the spices from the Spice Rub.  Now we’re talking better than restaurant Tilapia Fish Tacos!

You marinate your tilapia for 30-60 minutes  – NO more or it will get mushy!

a line of tilapia fish tacos in corn tortillas with cabbage and fish sauce
showing how to make Tilapia Fish Tacos by adding a wet spice rub all over the tilapia fillets

How to Pan Fry Blackened Fish

I like to blacken my Tilapia Fish Tacos.  Blackening isn’t just burning – or we all might be expert at blackening by now, but is a cooking method in which fish or chicken is cooked in an extremely hot cast-iron skillet for a few minutes to sear the outside of the fish.

The smoking skillet combined with the spice rub gives blackened food a a nice crispy seasoned crust.  And the best part is cooking literally takes minutes –  which makes these Blackened Tilapia Fish Tacos extra company friendly – do all the prep beforehand and when friends arrive, cook for 6 minutes!

To cook tilapia:

  • After the tilapia marinates, dab off the marinade.
  • Rub tilapia with the spice rub mixed with a little olive oil.
  • Let fish rest for 15 minutes.
  • In a large cast iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat.
  • Once very hot, add 1 tablespoon butter.
  • As soon as it melts, add fillets and cook approximately 3 minutes per side, or until nicely blackened.
a collage showing how to cook tilapia for fish tacos in a cast iron skillet

Tips for the Best Blackened Fish Tacos

  • Use quality tortillas.  Try and purchase QUALITY corn tortillas – you can taste the difference!
  • Don’t marinate the fish longer than 30 minutes.  The acidity of the lime juice can break down the tilapia and make it mushy.
  • Use a hot skillet.  Don’t add your fish until the oil is sizzling hot or you won’t get that golden-brown crust.
  • Don’t overcook.  Tilapia should be cooked to around 137 degrees F.  Don’t overcook or it won’t be as tender and juicy.
  • Only flip fish once. Resist the urge to move the fish as it cooks or to flip it more than once. The fish needs to stay in the same place for a continuous amount of time to blacken, only then will it naturally release from the pan.
  • Let fish rest.  Just like other proteins it is important to let the tilapia rest for 5 minutes before cutting into chunks.  While the fish cooks, the juices are forced away from the heat to the middle of the protein.  The resting time allows for the redistribution and reabsorption of the juices throughout the breast.
  • Serve a crowd.  If you want to serve more people, I suggest doubling the recipe and using the grill or oven method to easily cook your fish at once.
  • Lime juice to taste.  Don’t forget the lime!  The lime brightens and enlivens the flavors.
a collage of toppings for tilapia fish tacos with a bowl of cabbage, cucumbers, pineapple

PREP AHEAD Tilapia Tacos

These Blackened Fish Tacos can be mostly prepped ahead so when it comes time to cook, it’s just a quick marinade to dinner.

  • Marinade for tilapia: Whisk all the marinade ingredients together, cover and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator WITHOUT THE FISH for up to 2 days.
  • Slaw: Chop the slaw ingredient but keep them in separate airtight containers up to 24 hours ahead of time.  You can combine them up to 60 minutes before making, but not too much earlier because we want the cabbage to stay nice and crunchy.
  • Avocado crema:  Can be made and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days IF you transfer the crema to an airtight container and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the crema before adding the lid.  This will delay oxidization/browning that occurs when the surface of the dip/avocado come in contact with air. 

What to serve with Blackened Fish Tacos

I love my Tilapia Fish Tacos with Mexican Rice or Cilantro Lime Rice,  Grilled Corn Salad or Southwest Salad,  big pile of chips and either guacamole, homemade salsa, or salsa verde.

Now stuff your tacos until your content, with the Blackened Tilapia Fish Tacos, Pineapple Cucumber Slaw and a drizzle of Avocado Crema  and prepared to be blown away by the symphony of tastes and textures.  Followed by Churros.  You’re welcome.  xo.

How to store Blackened Fish Tacos

Cooked tilapia should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When properly stored, it is good for three to four days. Store the slaw in an airtight container for up to four days. It will become less crunchy the longer it is stored.

How to Reheat Tilapia Tacos

  • Skillet (preferred method): Heat a drizzle of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, add some butter if desired for extra richness. Add tilapia, cover, and cook just until warmed through.
  • Microwave: Transfer tilapia to a microwave safe plate. Microwave for 45 seconds then at 15 second intervals as needed. Take care not to over-cook or it will become rubbery.
  • Oven: Transfer tilapia to a large sheet of foil and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap up fish in the foil and transfer to a baking sheet. Reheat at 350 F degrees F for 10 minutes or just until warmed through.

Tilapia Fish Tacos FAQs

What makes fish blackened?

“Blackened” is a method of Cajun cooking in which fish, chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, etc. are coated in a spice rub then seared at high heat. The seasonings char, deepen in flavor and mingle with the butter to create an irresistible dark crust that is smoky, spicy and complex giving way to juicy, tender protein – in this case fish.
Blackening became popular in the 1980’s as a way to replicate the taste of charcoal grilling in the kitchen. What makes this technique unique is the spice blend used. While the proportions of the seasonings vary, blackening seasoning typically includes paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, oregano, cayenne, salt and pepper.

Do you need to rinse tilapia before cooking?

No, rinsing tilapia before cooking is not necessary. In fact, it is generally recommended to avoid rinsing fish, including tilapia, as it can spread bacteria present on the surface to other areas, leading to potential cross-contamination. It is best to handle tilapia carefully, ensuring it is fresh and properly stored, and proceed with cooking without rinsing it.

Is tilapia healthy?

Tilapia can be a healthy choice as part of a balanced diet. It is a lean source of protein and contains essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. While it is lower in omega-3 fatty acids compared to some other fish, it still contributes to overall protein intake. The nutritional value of tilapia can vary depending on factors such as farming practices and the overall diet. It is important to choose responsibly sourced tilapia and include a variety of fish in your diet to ensure a well-rounded intake of nutrients

tilapia fish tacos lined up in corn tortillas with cabbage and cilantro

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©Carlsbad Cravings by

Mind blowing Blackened Fish Tacos with a quick marinade and the most flavorful spice rub! These are hands down the BEST FISH TACOS ever! And the sweet and tangy Pineapple Cucumber Slaw and Avocado Crema hit this one out of the park! seriously better than my favorite restaurant!

Blackened Tilapia Fish Tacos

Mind blowing Blackened Tilapia Fish Tacos exploding with flavor from a quick fish marinade and the most flavorful spice rub! They are topped with complementary refreshing sweet and tangy Pineapple Cucumber Slaw and addictive silky Avocado Crema are the BEST light, flavorful and filling Fish Tacos that rival any restaurant!  
Servings: 4 servings
Total Time: 26 minutes
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 6 minutes

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  • 1.5 pounds tilapia (I use 4 5 oz. fillets)
  • 6-8 6-inch corn tortillas, warmed
  • 1/2 cup Mexican cheese blend, more or less
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon butter


Spice Rub

  • 1 TBS EACH ancho chili powder, brown sugar
  • 1 tsp EACH smoked paprika, ground cumin, garlic pwdr, onion pwdr, salt
  • 1/2 tsp EACH dried oregano, pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Pineapple Cucumber Slaw

  • 2 cups chopped fresh pineapple
  • 2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Avocado Crema


  • Marinade: Mix together all of the Spice Rub ingredients in a medium bowl. Remove 1 ½ tablespoons Spice Rub and add this to a large freezer bag along with all of the Marinade ingredients. Whisk together then add fish. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes. You will use remaining spices later.
  • Avocado Crema: Meanwhile, make the Avocado Crema by adding all the Crema ingredients to your blender and blending until smooth, scraping sides down as needed. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve.
  • Pineapple Cucumber Slaw: Add all of the Pineapple Cucumber Slaw ingredients to a large bowl. Toss to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • Spice Rub: After 30-60 minutes (no more), remove fish from marinade and pat dry. Mix remaining Spice Rub together with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small bowl. Rub evenly over fish and let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature.
  • Cook: In a large cast iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat. Once very hot, add 1 tablespoon butter. As soon as it melts add fillets and cook approximately 3 minutes per side, or until nicely blackened.
  • Assemble: Remove fish from skillet and break into large pieces. Evenly divide fish among tortillas then top with cheese, Pineapple Cucumber Slaw and Avocado Crema. Garnish with additional lime and hot sauce if desired.


Total prep time does not include marinating.

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©Carlsbad Cravings Original

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Reader Interactions

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  1. Yvonne says

    What’s the measurements for the spices?

    • Jen says

      They are all listed in the recipe 🙂

  2. Katy says

    Does the slaw hold up if made 24 hours before?

    • Jen says

      Hi Katy, it holds texture wise but will gather liquid as the pineapple continues to release juices so you will want to drain any excess liquid.

  3. Angela says

    I was a little intimidated by some of your recipes at first because they have so many ingredients but after starting, I realize that they come together so quick and the flavor pay off is so worth it! I never bought ancho or chipotle chili powders before but now I want them ok everything! This fish taco recipe is out of this world!

    • Jen says

      Your comment made my day Angela, THANK YOU! I know my recipes are long due to the seasonings and scare some people away so I’m so glad you just went for it! I’m thrilled you loved these tilapia fish tacos and are enjoying my recipe!

  4. Lindsay says

    These were amazing. I will make them again and again! Thank you for a great recipe! The fish turned out perfect.

    • Jen says

      Yesss! Thank you so much Lindsay!

  5. Jeni says

    I made this today. So delicious. Had to substitute for some stuff I didnt have. Subbed yogurt for sour cream and mango for pineapple.
    The avocado cream was to die for and the fish… oh the fish… you are so right about marinating it first and the the spice rub… My kids loved it as well…. The best fish taco I’ve ever made.

    • Jen says

      Thank you for the ultimate compliment/honor of being the “best fish tacos” and I’m thrilled your kids loved them too!

  6. Layne says

    The freshness and crisp slaw with the creamy sauce and spicy fish tasted incredible together. Thank goodness for you and your fabulous recipes.

    • Jen says

      You’re so sweet Layne! Thanks for your awesome comment, I’m so happy you loved the fish tacos! xo

  7. Natalia says

    Yes, ma’am…This are the best fish tacos I have ever eaten. Great flavor!!! Thank you so much for this great recipe. I can’t wait to eat the leftovers tomorrow. So good!!!

    • Jen says

      I love hearing this are the best fish tacos, thanks so much Natalia!

  8. Natalia says

    I prepared these tacos last weekend and they were excellent. So good!!!

    • Jen says

      I’m so pleased you loved them Natalia!

  9. Nisha says

    My husband followed this recipe exactly. 100/10. We will make this over and over.

    • Jen says

      Awesome, thanks so much Nisha!

  10. Lauren Culver says

    Jen, this was a winner for kids and adults alike. Thank you!

    • Jen says

      That’s what I like to hear, thanks Lauren!

  11. Megan Peeples-Walck says

    Surprisingly my grocery store didn’t have tilapia, but make it with rockfish and it was amazing! I could just eat the slaw by the spoonful. I have tried so many of your recipes.. Pad Thai, French Dip Sandwiches, Cilantro Lime Chicken, Bulgogi Beef tacos… all incredible. I have given your website out to so many of my friends. Never made anything that wasn’t an absolute show stopper. Thank you for making me a dinnertime hero!

    • Jen says

      Wow! Thank you so much, Megan! I am so happy you enjoyed the fish tacos along with many of my other recipes! Thank you for the awesome review and recommendations!! I hope you have a wonderful week and find more recipes to enjoy!

  12. Julie Richardson says

    These are bar none the best ever fish tacos!!

    • Jen says

      Thanks Julie!! I am so glad you love them!

  13. Rob says

    This looks terrific. I wanted to make fish tacos, and I was going to just grill the tilapia, but your blackened fish looks amazing.

    • Jen says

      Thank you! I hope you love it!

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