Flautas and taquitos (also called tacos dorados) can be difficult to tell apart and decipher what makes them different. They are very similar and the terms are used interchangeably depending on geographical location and personal preference. Both are filled and rolled tortillas that are fried until crisp and topped with condiments such as guacamole and sour cream. But there are a few details that make them distinct from each other.
Taquitos and flautas can be categorized by their size, shape, or the particular kind of tortilla used in their preparation. However, as with other Mexican dishes, these distinctions aren't always carried out and the dishes and names are interchangeable.
Size Does Matter
At times, the crucial difference between flautas and taquitos is found in their length. In some areas of Mexico, a flauta is very long and thin and made from a burrito-sized flour tortilla or similarly-sized corn one. Taquitos, on the other hand, are the shorter versions, rolled from regularly-sized corn or flour tortillas—or even from small appetizer-sized ones if the taquitos are intended as a snack or first course, rather than as an entree.
Shape and Tortilla Type
For some Mexicans, the shape of the rolled tortilla is the determining factor: flautas are carefully rolled to be round (and cooked in abundant oil in order to keep that shape), while taquitos use a twice-folded tortilla rather than a rolled one, making for a somewhat flattened product that can easily be fried in much less oil.
Also, oftentimes the term flautas (which translates as “flutes”) is used to refer to a large flour tortilla that is rolled up around a filling and deep fried. Sometimes these are rolled to be narrower on one end than the other to create a long, tapered cone shape. When this criterion is used for a flauta, the other term, taquito (literally, “little taco”), refers to a corn tortilla rolled in a similar fashion with a filling of beef, chicken or cheese, and then fried until crisp.
To further complicate matters, many street food stands in central and southern Mexico sell a very similar item (usually a corn tortilla folded around a filling) and call it a fried quesadilla—even when (as happens in the Mexico City area) it does not contain cheese! Quesadillas, however, are usually not fried for as long as flautas or taquitos are, resulting in a much less crunchy product.
Presentation and Accompaniments
With all of their differences, flautas and/or taquitos are usually served in the same manner--topped with or on a bed of chopped lettuce or cabbage, sometimes accompanied by diced tomatoes, onions, and/or avocados. They are often adorned with shredded or crumbled cheese and crema or sour cream and offered with a choice of two or more sauces (often a red one and green one) as a condiment. Guacamole and/or refried beans are also frequently included as part of a serving of taquitos or flautas.