A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico

Even if you eat plenty of Mexican food in the United States the transition to the Spanish menus at Mexican street carts and local restaurants can be daunting.  Here is a beginners guide to eating in Mexico and a list of some of the most common things you will see on the menu and what you can expect.

In Mexico, the main meal of the day is lunch and takes place between 1:30 – 4:00 pm.  Therefore many restaurants are only open for breakfast and lunch.  It is a good time to take advantage of the comida corrida, which is a low price set menu with several courses.

Tacos, quesadillas and even enchiladas are often considered small plates or snacks, and are eaten more often in the mornings and evenings.  You should not be surprised to find that there are few to no taco carts in the streets at midday.  Please also note that Mexican people often eat dinner late, and so many popular dinner spots do not open before 7:00 pm.

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
A street vendor preparing small tacos with many choices of toppings

 

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Small Tostada snack for 20 pesos

Finally, you will often see plates that are more expensive, such as Carne Asada, or Pork Pibil.  You might picture a plate with nothing but meat, but don’t worry, these dishes will not only come with rice and beans, but a huge stack of tortillas, fresh salsas and likely some avocados.  Now onto the Mexican food guide:

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Pork Pibil topped with avocado and pickled onions

 

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Enchilada’s with rice, beans, avocado, tortillas and homemade sauces

Huevos (Eggs) – A common Mexican breakfast dish there are many types of Huevos.  Some of the most common are Huevos Rancheros – a crispy tortilla with fried eggs (often runny), tomato sauce, refried beans and cheese; Huevos Mexicanos – scrambled with vegetables and often meat, served with refried beans and lots of tortillas; Huevos al Gusto – Eggs made however you like, with whatever you like, and Huevos Motuleños – see picture and description below.

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Huevos motuleños – crispy corn tortilla shell covered with fried eggs, cheese, ham, peas, plantains, and a red sauce

Common Fillings – Before going into the different types of vessels for your meat, here are some of the most common you will encounter – pollo (chicken), pavo (turkey), pescado (fish, unfried unless called ‘Baja’), chorizo (spicy, oily mexican ground sausage), carne asada (grilled steak), carnitas (stewed pork which is often charred), al pastor (pork thinly sliced and cooked on a spit like gyro meat, often served with pineapple), barbacoa (beef or goat, usually the head, cheek or other fatty pieces – has a strong gamey flavor).

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Al Pastor being prepared on a spit

 

If you are a vegetarian, click here for a quick guide to ordering vegetarian in Mexico.

 

Toppings – every establishment has their own specialties, but onions, cilantro, chopped tomatoes, refried beans, lettuce, cabbage and avocados are the most common.  Many places will also top with crumbled queso cheese, crema (a thin tangy sour cream) or both.  You may be asked ‘con crema o queso?’ – ‘with cream or cheese?’  If you are lucky, you might also get some bright pink pickled onions.

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Fresh guacamole being prepared

 

Salsas – Each establishment has their own specialties but the most common you will find are roja (deep red and smoky, usually less spicy but not always), verde (green, tangy and often fiercely spicy), pico (coarsely chopped tomato, onion, hot pepper, lime), chopped onions in vinegar or lime, chopped onions with peppers in vinegar or lime, and chopped peppers in vinegar (these ones can be killer hot).

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Salsa roja, salsa verde, pico, and onions with habanero peppers

Tacos – almost always a soft corn shell, double wrapped.  They are smaller than you would think, and 3-4 are necessary for a decent meal.

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
A Chicken Mole taco and a Chorizo and Potato taco

 

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
A Poblano Pepper taco and a Nopales (cactus) taco

 

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Al Pastor tacos

Tostada – A crispy corn shell like an American taco, but flat, topped with meat of your choice and assorted toppings.

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Vegetarian Tostada’s

Salbute  – A crispy fried tortilla cooked in a way that it puffs up, topped with meat of your choice and assorted toppings.

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
A street vendor preparing Salbutes, among other dishes such as quesadillas and sopes

Panucho – Just like a salbute, except it is slit and stuffed with refried beans before topping.

Quesadillas – Can be a corn or flour tortilla, always containing queso and the toppings of your choice.  There is usually also the option for jamon (ham) which is similar to the American sliced deli meat.

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Quesadilla Rojas – a vegetarian variety stuffed with queso and poblano peppers

Enchiladas – Can be a corn or flour shell, usually considered a snack even though an order will contain 3 – 4.  You will be asked if you want roja or verde (see sauces above) although others like mole are sometimes available.

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Enchilada’s with salsa roja

Flautas / taquitos / tacos dorados – These are all basically the same, either corn or sometimes flour tortilla, rolled into a tube shape with your choice of filling and then deep fried until crispy.  Usually topped with lettuce, crema and other diced veggies.

Empanadas – A thick flour of corn or wheat which is stuffed, sealed and deep fried.  A very heavy dish, especially since it is often topped with crema.

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Potato Empanadas covered with crema, lettuce, and pickled onions

 

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
A single snack empanada stuffed with queso cheese

Huraraches – Like a taco, but with a thicker, oblong dough which is usually pan fried in oil, then topped with your choice of meat and assorted vegetables.

Tamales – One of the most ancient foods that is still eaten to this day.  Masa corn flour (often mixed with lard) is stuffed with your choice of filling and then steamed, traditionally in corn husks although in the Yucatan they often prefer banana leaves.  These are filling and cheap, and a good late night snack after a few drinks.  Topped with a mild red salsa.

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Tomale with salsa roja

Chili relleno – A mild poblano pepper stuffed with cheese, battered and fried.  Usually though not always vegetarian.  

Torta – Your choice of meat with assorted veggies and sauces, served on bread.  The varieties are countless.

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Pork and Ham Torta Cubano

CevicheRaw seafood which is ‘cooked’ in acidic lime juice and tossed with diced tomato, onion and pepper.  Choices usually include fish, shrimp, octopus / squid, or mixed.

A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Ceviche

While this list is by no means extensive, it will be a great way to get you started through your first few weeks in Mexico.  Good luck and happy eating!

 

Since you will probably need something to wash it all down with, check out our quick guide on ‘What to Drink in Mexico’. 

 

Traveling through Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula? Make sure to try the Top 8 dishes by reading our guide here.

 

 

Summary
A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Article Name
A Beginners Guide to Eating in Mexico
Description
A complete guide for beginners on what to eat and how to order in Mexico.
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