How to eat tostadas, a cultural tutorial from Texas. Ready in 30 minutes, these loaded vegan tostadas with beans, roasted chili sweet potato, shredded cabbage, avocado and nacho cheese sauce are filling and so delicious!
Tostadas, with a base of crunchy corn tortilla and various toppings are popular in Mexico and the Southwest US states, such as Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. They can be a little daunting to eat for the uninitiated, so this tutorial should be helpful to you!
A go-to on busy weeknights or a fun alternative to tacos or burrito bowls, try my other vegan tostada recipes, like my vegan ceviche tostadas with heart of palm and avocado or my vegan breakfast tostadas with tofu scramble.
What are tostadas?
Tostadas are a delicious meal of Mexican origin with a firm, crunchy fried corn tortilla as the base, topped with a variety of shredded, crumbled or chopped meats, cheeses, vegetables and sauces.
Some traditional toppings would include: shredded chicken, shredded beef, ceviche, refried or mashed beans, crumbled cheese, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, crema, avocado and more.
Because it is an open-faced dish eaten with your hands, the toppings are usually cut small or shredded, so that it's easier to eat the tostada.
Small pieces mean when you bite into it, there aren't large pieces of food that you have to bite through at the same time that you're trying to hold the delicate, thin tostada shell and keep it from breaking apart.
How to eat tostadas
Although I've lived in Houston, Texas all my life and have eaten hundreds, if not thousands of tostadas, I am not Mexican. So, I surveyed a few of my Mexican-American friends to get their input on the social norms of tostada-eating!
How do Mexicans eat tostadas? Here's what they had to say:
There is no wrong way to eat a tostada. 😄 But, usually its a tostada loaded with everything on it. And you hold it with two hands and pray it doesn't fall apart. 😂- Veronica, who was raised in Laredo, TX
Karina says that her family normally lifts the whole tostada and bites into it.
Melissa, who was raised near the Mexico-US border says lifting the whole tostada and taking a bite is definitely more "Mexican border authentic. If you must and can't seem to get the feel of it", then break it into two or more pieces and eat it that way. She's never seen tostadas eaten with a spoon or fork or folded over on itself like a tostada sandwich or taco.
How to eat a tostada without making a mess
First, lift up the tostada with two hands, being careful not to bend it (it might break) or tilt it so the toppings don't fall off. Then, holding it level with two hands, take a bite out of the side. Hold it over your plate, so if anything falls, it falls onto the plate.
The first bite might be mostly crunchy tostada shell, but you'll get to those tasty toppings soon enough!
Continue this method to take more bites of the tostada on the same side you started with, until the tostada is all gone. As the tostada gets smaller, you should be able to hold it with one hand.
Use the final couple bites of the tostada to scoop up anything that dropped on the plate. Or, use a utensil to eat it.
If you're having trouble eating the tostada whole or that's not possible for you, then try one of these other methods, although some may say they are the less authentic way to eat tostadas. We all have different abilities and it's okay if we eat differently.
Break the tostada in half
Break the tostada in half at the base, so you have two half-moon pieces of tostada to eat. This is more manageable than keeping it whole.
Break it into "chips" and eat like nachos
Go even further and break the tostada into multiple pieces, the size of tortilla chips and eat the tostada with your hands like nachos.
Break it apart with spoon or fork and eat with utensils
If you don't like getting your hands dirty while you're eating, then you can also break the tostada apart using a spoon or fork and eating it that way. This method is much less common.
Fold it over and eat it like a tostada sandwich or crunchy taco
Love tacos? Throw all caution to the wind and fold your tostada over and eat it like a tostada sandwich or crunchy taco. This is very uncommon to see and can be even messier than eating it whole, since the toppings fall out.
My Mexican-American friend Karina did let me know that there is a traditional tostada called Tostada Siberia, where two tostadas are are used and the toppings are in the middle, somewhat similar to what we see here.
🧄 Ingredient notes
- Tostada shells - tostada shells are corn tortillas that have already been fried or baked until crunchy. You could compare them to a whole, circular tortilla chip. Most tostada shells you'll find will be fried with oil. But, at a well-stocked grocery store, you can find heart-healthy baked tostada shells that are oil-free. If you can't find baked ones, then you can make your own homemade tostada shells using corn tortillas with my tutorial.
- Refried beans - Most refried beans are made with lard, oil and/or cheese to make them creamier. When shopping for refried beans, look for vegetarian, fat-free canned or dried options. Santa Fe brand makes dried refried beans that you combine with water to rehydrate them. They are delicious and convenient!
- Vegan nacho cheese sauce or queso - A dairy-free chile con queso or nacho cheese sauce takes these loaded vegan tostadas to the next level. I have two options, if you want to make your own. My recipe for Vegan Nacho Cheese Rotel Dip without Cashews is creamy, silky, oil-free and low in calories. My recipe for Vegan Chile con Queso with Soy Chorizo (choriqueso) has depth of flavor, and is more rich, creamy and indulgent. It is not oil-free. Make either one and you'll love the results. Or, buy store-bought vegan queso instead for an easy and convenient option.
📋 Substitutions and variations
Here are some suitable substitutions for the ingredients in this recipe:
- Sweet Potato - instead of sweet potato, you could use white potato, butternut squash or even summer squash (this would cook faster)
- Refried pinto beans - use whole pinto beans, mashed up with a fork, instead of refried beans. Or, you can use refried black beans instead.
- Red cabbage - instead of shredded red cabbage, use shredded lettuce or green cabbage.
- Avocado - instead of avocado, drizzle dairy-free sour cream or a flavored vegan crema, like jalapeño cilantro crema, chipotle crema or habanero crema.
- Vegan nacho cheese/queso - instead of making your own nacho cheese, you can buy a store-bought variety. I really like the Good Foods Plant Based Queso Style Dip. Or, you can sprinkle on vegan cheese shreds.
- Chili powder - instead of Texas-style chili powder, use taco seasoning, ground chile, smoked paprika or paprika
- Nut-free - make this nut-free by using a nut-free nacho cheese sauce, like my vegan rotel dip without cashews
- WFPBNO - make this whole food plant based no oil by using oil-free, vegetarian refried beans and choosing a WFPBNO cheese sauce, such as my rotel dip recipe
- SOS-free - make this SOS-free by omitting the salt in the beans, cheese dip and choosing or making a no-salt hot sauce/salsa.
Switch things up with these variation ideas!
- Extra Spicy - add sliced jalapeños or chiles, extra hot sauce
- Extra toppings - add diced tomato, thinly sliced radish, shredded lettuce, sweet corn, diced bell pepper, diced onion
- Black Bean Loaded Tostadas - refried black beans give the tostada an entirely different flavor, so try those instead of the pinto beans!
- Loaded Vegan Nachos - make loaded vegan nachos instead of tostadas
Step by step instructions for how to make these bean sweet potato avocado tostadas.
Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Add diced sweet potatoes to a medium bowl, along with the chili powder, ground cumin, granulated garlic, salt and dried cilantro/parsley. Toss to coat the sweet potatoes in the spice mixture. Spread the sweet potato on the lined baking tray in a single layer.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until fork tender. While the sweet potatoes are baking, make your beans and prep the other tostada topping ingredients.
Mix refried beans, seasonings, water and hot sauce together in a small saucepan. Heat beans on stove in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until hot. Remove from heat.
You can use store-bought tostadas, if you can find them. Look for baked tostadas without oil, to keep this meal oil-free and lower in calories. Or, make your own homemade tostada shells in the oven or air fryer following my tutorial on this site.
Before assembling your tostadas, heat vegan queso or nacho cheese sauce on the stovetop in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until hot and bubbly. Or, heat in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until hot and bubbly. My recipe for Vegan Nacho Cheese Rotel Dip without Cashews is creamy, silky, oil-free and low in calories.
My recipe for Vegan Chile con Queso with Soy Chorizo (choriqueso) has depth of flavor, and is more rich, creamy and indulgent. It is not oil-free. Make either one and you'll love the results. Or, buy store-bought vegan queso instead for an easy and convenient option.
Assemble your tostadas: Divide prepared refried beans across 8 tostada shells, spreading the beans across the tostada shells in an even, thin layer.
Top the beans with roasted diced sweet potatoes.
Add the shredded red cabbage and sliced avocado.
Drizzle on the vegan queso and optional garnishes of fresh lime juice, a sprinkle of salt and black pepper and hot sauce.
Don't be intimidated by tostadas! Just enjoy them with plenty of napkins nearby. They are a fun and sometimes slightly messy food.
🥡 Make ahead and storage tips
You can make the roasted sweet potato and refried beans ahead of time and then re-heat them when you're ready to make the tostadas. They will stay good in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
However, the prepared tostadas with toppings on them do not keep well as leftovers. Store the ingredients separately.
🚦 Calorie density score
🟡 This recipe gets a yellow light on the calorie density chart. Some of the ingredients (the avocado, tostada shells and vegan queso, depending on the recipe you use or brand you buy) are higher than 600 calories per pound, so eating richer meals like this regularly may prevent you from losing body fat or may even cause you to gain weight. Learn more about calorie density from Jeff Novick, MS, RDN.
Get your own printable calorie density chart for your refrigerator and free ebook explaining calorie density in simple terms.
Not traditionally, no. Most people eat tostadas by keeping it whole, lifting it with their hands carefully and taking bites into it.
A tostada is a fried flat corn tortilla topped with meat, cheese and veggies and is served and eaten open-faced and flat. A taco is a folded tortilla, made of either corn or flour that is soft or fried crunchy and then stuffed with fillings.
Mexicans eat tostadas by picking them up with their hands and carefully biting into them bit by bit. They do not typically break them, fold them over or eat them with utensils.
Not traditionally, no. A taco is squeezed together to keep the fillings inside and then eaten. A tostada is eaten by keeping the crunchy corn tortilla base intact and flat and then carefully lifted up and eaten by taking bites out of the side. Both meals are eaten with your hands, rather than utensils. And, both tacos and tostadas may have a corn tortilla as their base with similar fillings or toppings. But, they are different dishes.
You can re-heat store-bought tostadas in the oven or air fryer for 30-60 seconds at 400 F. But, you don't have to heat them up to eat them. They are edible straight out of the package, like tortilla chips.
🗺 Cultural influences
Tostadas, as spoked about in this blog post, are from Mexico and TexMex or Mexican-American culture. Tostada in Spanish means "toast" or "toasted". Traditionally, tostadas are fried in oil and topped with shredded meat, cheese, lettuce, hot sauce and other ingredients.
This recipe is inspired by my mixed ethnic background and heritage as a native of Houston, Texas and by the strong cultural influences of my friends from Mexico. See About for more information on my cultural influences and how I attribute recipes.
💜 More recipes you'll love
If you love this loaded vegan tostada recipe, check out these other plant-based tostada recipes!
Loaded Vegan Tostadas
Roasted Chili Sweet Potatoes
Seasoned Refried Beans
Assemble the Tostadas
- 8 tostada shells store-bought or homemade *see note #1
- 3 cups red cabbage finely shredded
- 1 avocado sliced
- 2 cups prepared vegan nacho cheese sauce or queso *see note #2 for links to recommended recipes
Make the roasted sweet potatoes
- Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- Add diced sweet potatoes to a medium bowl, along with the chili powder, ground cumin, granulated garlic, salt and dried cilantro/parsley. Toss to coat the sweet potatoes in the spice mixture.1.5 pounds sweet potato, ½ teaspoon chili powder, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon granulated garlic, ¼ teaspoon sea salt, ½ teaspoon dried cilantro or parsley
- Spread the sweet potato on the lined baking tray in a single layer. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until fork tender. While the sweet potatoes are baking, make your beans and prep the other tostada topping ingredients.
Make the seasoned refried beans
- Stovetop Instructions: Mix refried beans, seasonings, water and hot sauce together in a small saucepan. Heat beans on stove in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until hot. Remove from heat.15 ounces canned refried pinto beans, ½ teaspoon onion powder, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon sea salt, ⅓ cup water, ½ teaspoon hot sauce
- Microwave Instructions: Or, heat in a microwave-safe glass bowl and heat in microwave for 1 minute. Stir, then heat for 30 seconds at a time, stopping to stir, until hot.
Heat Vegan Nacho Cheese Sauce/Queso
- Heat vegan queso or nacho cheese sauce on the stovetop in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until hot and bubbly. Or, heat in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until hot and bubbly.2 cups prepared vegan nacho cheese sauce or queso
- Divide prepared refried beans across 8 tostada shells, spreading the beans across the tostada shells in an even, thin layer.8 tostada shells
- Top the beans with roasted diced sweet potatoes, shredded red cabbage, sliced avocado, queso and optional garnishes of fresh lime juice, a sprinkle of salt and black pepper and hot sauce.3 cups red cabbage, 1 avocado, fresh cilantro, 1 lime, black pepper, 1 pinch sea salt, hot sauce