A land with the most colourful, flavorful, exotic yet simple culinary tastes, Mexico is the hub of all things tasty and irresistibly mouth-watering, even when you view them in pictures. With influences from Lebanese, Aztecs and Mayan Indians for over many decades, the dishes today are a mix of cultures and flavour, something you can’t miss out on if you’re fine dining or street-food crawling.
20 Mexican Dishes to try out when in Mexico
Dishes in Mexico revolve a lot around tortillas in various stages of frying. Chilaquiles are a popular breakfast item that is a clever way to reheat leftover tortillas and yesterday’s salsa. A common Mexican peasant dish, these are made with tortillas cut into quarters, bathed in green or red salsa (with the red being more spicier) and topped with scrambled or fried eggs, shredded chicken or beef, cheese, cream and fried beans (frijoles). Too tasty to resist!
A popular Mexican soup that is stewed for hours, often overnight, this is the comfort food Mexicans turn to in cold winter days. Made from hominy corn with plentiful herbs and spices, as well as meat – usually pork, and topped with shredded lettuce or cabbage, Pozole is loved by many and consumed all year round too. A sprinkle of lime, chilli, radish, avocado, salsa and onion are garnished on top to make this traditional soup all the more flavourful and impossible to resist.
Go to Mexico City and visit the local street vendors for the most authentic Pozole.
3. Tacos al pastor
One of the more popular varieties of tacos, it translates to ‘Tacos in the style of shepherds’. Originating from the Lebanese and Syrian migrants in 1920s, Tacos al pastor is made from thin strips of pork sliced off a spit in shawarma style and then placed on a corn tortilla and served with onions, coriander, pineapple and salsa. The flavours and colours of this pineapple-infused taco will already have your mouth watering before you take a bite!
Mexico City offers the best street food experience, and that is your destination for Tacos al pastor.
How can you not try Mexico’s favourite drink while you’re enjoying their dishes? Mezcal is claimed as the “drink fallen from heaven” and you’ll feel it an exaggeration unless you try it yourself. A sweet, smoky yet smooth and punchy drink which is distilled from more than 30 varieties of the agave plant, the variations in flavour are many, which gives you all the more reason to get yourself drunk on different Mezcal flavours!
For one of the better varieties of Mezcal, head to Amaya, a newly opened hip-café.
So many things can be done with a simple tortilla, even if they are from the previous day, like frying them to a golden toast in hot oil. Tostadas literally mean toasted, and they are a simple wholesome dish that can be eaten alone or with any topping that one feels like piling on! Popular toppings are fried beans (frijoles), cheese, meat, seafood, shredded veggies and whatnot. Almost comparable to tortilla chips available in packets, tostadas are a similar concept to brush off tortillas that can’t be made into tacos but can still be enjoyed the day after!
6. Chiles en nogada
A dish representing the Mexican flag, the three colours of the flag are encompassed in its Picadillo, sauce and pomegranates, which are green, white and red respectively. The picadillo is made from chopped meat with fruits, aromatics and spices and the sauce is their distinctive creamy walnut-based sauce. Served at room temperature with a cold sauce, this dish originated in Puebla and is very popular during Mexican Independence day – which doesn’t come as a surprise!
Head over to Puebla restaurant for the best Chiles en nogada experience.
The Mexican version of the corn on the cob, Elote is something you can find in stalls in almost every street corner! Served traditionally on a stick or in cups, with the kernels having been cut off the cob, it is slathered with creamy, gooey sour cream, mayo, cheese, butter, lime and salt and chilli powder. Not the typical corn o the cob you’ve always had. Once you have this Mexican Elote, you’ll find it hard to remember how you ever survived without it!
Dating back to the times when the Mayans would eat corn tortillas wrapped around small fish, Enchiladas are a popular snack for Mexicans. Made from both corn or flour, tortillas are soaked in a spicy sauce and then stuffed with meat, cheese, beans and veggie filling. A popular breakfast item, Enchiladas are eaten today is a result of various influences, but a much-enjoyed dish nevertheless.
Morelia restaurant claims to serve up the best Enchiladas around town!
A sauce popular in Mexican cooking, Mole comes in various flavours, and you need to acquire its taste. But given that there are seven kinds of mole, there is something to suit everyone’s platter. A rich sauce with 20 or so ingredients, including a few varieties of chilli peppers, mole is prepared with constant stirring for long periods of time. The most recognizable flavour is the Mole Poblano, or the brown chilli-chocolate mole, which is served with rice and chicken and garnished with sesame seeds. The next famous flavour is the yellow mole which is the same spicy poblano minus the chocolate.
Restaurant Pueblo serves up the best varieties of Mole around Mexico
You’ve undoubtedly heard of this dish and know of its roots in Mexico, but this traditional sauce was invented by the Aztecs. A mash of onions, tomatoes, lemon juice, chilli peppers and avocado which gives its characteristic green colour, guacamole is eaten with tortilla chips or used as a side dip with other dishes. Guacamole has extended its borders and caught up with the American cuisine as well where it is sold as packeted condiments for salads and dips. Take a dip in guac when you head down to Mexico for a sour, tasty bite!
A wonderfully filling snack, Tamales were invented by the Aztec, Mayan and Inca tribes who needed fuel food before battles. Made of corn dough pockets these are stuffed to the brim with a sweet or savoury filling like chicken, chilli and cheese, fruits, veggies and mole. Wrapped in corn or banana leaves and then steamed, Tamales can be found in almost alternate street food vendor in Mexico. So wander about and enjoy your pockets!
For a fine dining experience, try Tamales in Oaxaca restaurant
A quesadilla is the simplest snack item you’ve come across. Flour tortillas filled with cheese and baked till the cheese melts? Gooey! In the Mexico capital, however, you need to specify that you want the queso in your quesadilla or you’ll end up cheese-free. With a large number of toppings available instead of the queso, cheese still remains the favourite. When roaming the streets of Mexico City, try finding a street vendor who sells charming blue corn tortillas and go experimenting with as many toppings as you like!
A gordita means “the little fat one” which gives you an idea of the fillings stuffed in this tortilla. The corn tortillas are double fried and then used as bread to sandwich endless amounts of fillings inside. The Mexican street food scene is run over with these greasy, delicious Gorditas that are stuffed with beans, cheese, meat, onions, guacamole, cilantro and all the spicy salsas you wish to put your tongue through. Just one tip though – don’t try to eat a Gordita while you’re walking!
Another tortilla variant, this one is thicker than a traditional corn tortilla. Made from blue corn dough, Tlacoyos are filled with crackling pork, soft cheese, green chilli sauce, shredded lettuce and bean paste. The ingredient is stuffed into the centre of the dough and then cooked. Garnished with salsa, cheese and cactus (nopales), you can’t miss these oval fried pockets when you’re roaming the streets of Mexico. Buy them fresh from the street food vendors who fry them in open-air girdles in Mexico City.
A variation from the tortilla based snacks, this is made from Pambazo bread which is Mexican white bread. The bread is soaked in red guajillo chilli sauce which is then dried and then stuffed with shredded beef or pork, fried potatoes, fried beans, cheese and shredded veggies. The bread dipped in chilli adds a spicy zing along with the stuffing which makes you hungry for unlimited amounts of pambazos sandwich.
A sweet potato dish that is simmered in the oven with cinnamon and piloncillo (molasses sugar) syrup, Camote is a dessert you can’t miss out on if you’re in Mexico. Keep an ear for the distinctive whistle of the Camote vendor’s cart, and then indulge in this warm syrupy goodness which is cooked till the piloncillo melts and coats the potato. Served hot with condensed milk and strawberry jam on top, this is one of Mexico’s oldest and sweetest desserts, which is enough to make you try them and fall in love!
Try Puebla restaurant for the best Camotes all year round!
A rolled-up flour tortilla (yes, you can’t escape tortillas in Mexico!) which is filled with scrumptious fillings which range from beef to beans to just cheese, Falutas are a deep-fried goodness that is super crispy and golden. Flautas are often confused with Taquito, but Flautas are larger with burrito-sized tortillas which are eaten for the main meal instead of as snacks. Topped with sour cream, shredded lettuce and guacamole, it fills your mouth with delicious flavours with every crunch!
A fajita is any grilled meat that is served in a taco or on flour/corn tortillas. Originally it included only beef cuts, but now chicken, veggies and even shrimp versions are available widely. Sauteed with bell peppers, onions and topped with sour cream, salsa, grated cheese, fried beans, guacamole and diced tomatoes, Fajitas are the top favourite item on any restaurant’s menu.
A classic Mexican dessert, Flan is made from custard with a clear caramel sauce layer on top. Incredibly rich and luscious with condensed milk, egg yolks and sugar adding to the richness and sweetness, you can’t resist biting into a slice, or another as you see the creamy Flan on your plate.
20. Escamoles para taquear
Something you won’t find on most to-eat lists is Mexico’s celebrated source of protein– bugs. Sold in local markets topped on various dishes, as an ingredient in guacamole, a puree sprinkled on dishes, in taco fillings. Insect caviar of giant ant eggs is considered a delicacy that was brought by the Aztecs and shows how Mexico is adaptable to change for its sources of proteins from a long time. To have the best ant egg caviar, with sips of smoky Mezcal, visit Los Danzantes restaurant.