Corn, chicken, beans, avocados, peppers, repeat. Mexican cuisine may include one of the aforementioned as a part of each dish, but there is much more to traditional Mexican cooking than tacos and guacamole. After living and traveling back and forth in Mexico the last 18 months, I can tell you that I have tried a bit of everything in this amazing country. I have gone outside the box and eaten crickets, tasted beef tongue, and have had enough tequila to last a life time. It blows my mind that people who have never traveled to this Cultural Utopia actually believe that Chipotle and Taco Bell are Mexican… Flour tortillas? Burritos? Nachos? Doritos Locos Tacos? Honestly, what the hell is a Doritos Loco? After taking my taste buds through adventure after adventure of Mexican Cuisine, I have compiled a list of my 15 favorite Mexican dishes/foods. To my Mexican friends, remember, this is my list and I am happily open to debate 😉
15. Fresh produce
There is a reason the majority of produce you find in a typical United States grocery store is from Mexico. This country has the perfect setting and landscape to grow a vast range of produce year round. A walk through a local market in Mexico can overwhelm you with fruits and vegetables. Tropical fruits such as papayas, pineapples, coconuts and mangoes are some of the more popular fruit items to satisfy your sweet craving or make a nice juice. Many varieties of peppers and chiles fill the rafters as they dangle from overhead. Habaneros, Guajillos, Serranos and Jalapeños are spicy options, but the Chile Poblano sets the stage as the king. Lastly, there is one item from the produce stand that stands out among the food scene in Mexico. Keep reading to find out what it is 😉
Tamales are made of cornmeal that is steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. The cornmeal is stuffed with different kinds of meats, sauces or fruits. The most common kinds of tamales you will find are Mole con Pollo or Pollo con Salsa Verde. These are both chicken stuffed tamales accompanied with Mole or Salsa Verde, both delicious options. Another common flavor is Tamale con Dulce. These tamales are stuffed with different kinds of fruits such as strawberries or pineapple and are perfect for the morning. Tamales can be found through out towns and larger cities on the sides of the streets in the mornings and evenings.
One of my favorite ways to get a tamale in Mexico City is by chasing a man that I know as a legend. The “Tamale Man” rides through the streets on his bike with his large pressure cooker echoing the sounds of a repetitive recording that will forever stick in your head. “Tamales! Que Ricos! Oaxaqueños! Deliciosos! Calientitos!” These are not the best tamales at all, but I’m going to be honest, I have jumped out of bed to chase the tamale man down the streets to buy my breakfast for the next morning.
13. Sopa Azteca
No, “Max and Erma’s” Tortilla Soup is not good and it does not even come close in comparing to this. Sopa Azteca is a class Mexican soup made from chicken broth, tomatoes, onions with some chile for a kick. When the broth is complete, fried tortilla strips, cheese, avocado and a dollop of cream are added to balance the spiciness. Another common addition to the soup is chicharrón, which is fried pig skins. Not my favorite, but I can admit it is excellent in this soup.
12. Esquites and Elotes
When walking through the streets of Mexico, it is not hard to find esquites and elotes. These popular Mexican street snacks are grilled or boiled corn. Esquites are kernels of corn shaven off the husk and placed into a cup for your enjoyment while an Elote is the whole thing. I hope you have some tooth floss. You can eat them plain or add some extra flavor.
The most popular way to enjoy equities and elotes is not at all healthy, but it is mouth watering. The corn is suffocated in cream or mayonnaise, covered with cheese, and powdered with chile. A squirt of lime tops off the Mexican favorite.
This was one of the first dishes I had in Mexico and there is no surprise it kept me coming back for more. Molcajete is a simple dish with a lot of flavor and variety. The dish is served in a hot molcajete ceramic bowl containing different meats, salsa, cheese, onions, chorizo and chiles while being served with some warm and handmade tortillas. The best way to enjoy Molcajete is by taking a small piece of everything from the bowl, wrapping it up in your tortilla and eating it until your too full to walk. Be careful, this dish comes out steaming hot.
Tostadas are very similar to that of Molcajete, but these are served cold rather than hot. A Tostada is a flat and crunchy tortilla accompanied with different toppings. The toppings of a Tostada can go in many different directions, but the most common are some mix of chicken, beans, lettuce, salsas, cheese, cream and avocado. This Mexican specialty is basically the mix of a salad and open faced sandwich.
9. Avocados (Guacamole)
Remember when I mentioned that there was one common produce that dominates the Mexican food scene? You guessed it, avocados. Have you ever seen the commercial with the jingle, “Avocados from Mexico”? There is no doubt that the best avocados come from Mexico and not California. The country is full of avocado ranches and trees that produce these creamy fruits. Avocados are in just about every dish and add some soft texture to your tacos. Guacamole is of course the most popular way to enjoy an avocado as you can enjoy the dip as an appetizer or spread it onto meats with your entree.
A delicious breakfast favorite that will be hard to find anywhere else. Chilaquiles are tortilla chips covered with different kinds of salsas and topped with the likes of chicken, chorizo, cheese, cream, beans and more. My favorite style of Chilaquiles come covered in salsa verde and are topped with two or three over-easy eggs. This dish is both soft and crunchy and delivers a sweet, but spicy flavor. It is absolutely perfect in the morning.
I know it isn’t a food but, how could anyone visit Mexico without drinking tequila? People, you need to throw out your haunting memories of that awful $6 bottle of tequila you had in college that made you unable to move from bed the next day. Tequila is so much more than what most Americans experience in their partying days. This stuff is smooth and the perfect drink to celebrate any get together with. There are thousands of tequilas in Mexico to try and the best way to experience many of them is by taking a trip to the actual town of Tequila.
This place is the Tuscany or Napa of Tequila as the valley is surrounded with beautiful blue agave plants. The nectar from these plants is distilled to make the delicious spirit.
A trip to Tequila will give you the opportunity to visit some legendary distilleries such as Jose Cuervo and Sauza, but the smaller, local distilleries have the best flavors. Visit Tres Mujeres for a unique experience. This distillery makes all of their tequila organically and ages the agave nectar in barrels underneath the ground. I have tried a lot of tequila in my time in Mexico and I can promise you that they produce some of the best. Check out the links to their Facebook page and website to learn more!
6. Chile en Nogada
This dish comes around once a year as it is served seasonally revolving around Mexican Independence Day on September 16th. The dish is served to represent the colors of the flag and country; red, white and green. The green comes from the Chile Poblano that is stuffed with ground beef or pork accompanied by spices, pine nuts and dried fruits. Next, the white is served with a light and sweet sauce made with cheese, cream and nuts. The sauce is poured heavily over top to bathe the stuffed pepper. Lastly, the red is represented through tart and crunchy pomegranate seeds that have been sprinkled on top. Put all of these things together and you do not only have the colors of Mexico, you have an incredible dish.
Quesadillas are simple enough to make by folding a corn tortilla over top of cheese, but they are so much more than that. Quesadillas are best served in small markets through out Mexico. They are of course filled with cheese, but it is what else can be added that makes them so delicious. They are placed on a hot flat surface to cook and can be filled with chicken, chorizo, vegetables and salsas. A personal favorite of mine is Flor de Calabaza, or pumpkin flowers. These flowers add a little bit of sweetness to the already delicious and cheesy Quesadilla.
4. Cochinita Pibil
The Yucatan Peninsula is the most popular tourist destination in Mexico as it is home to both Cancún and Chichen Itza. These destinations are awesome, but this area of Mexico is on another level with its’ food scene. Many different fruits as well as Mayan spices are added to Yucatán cooking and Cochinita Pibil is the crown and jewel. This dish is made in a similar style to pulled pork. The chicken or pork is bathed in a spicy and citrusy marinade before being slow roasted in a banana leaf. It is served with tortillas and fried plantains. Cochinita pibil is so popular that you can find it through out Mexico, but it is definitely best served in the jungles of the Yucatán.
Italians have pasta sauces and Mexicans have Mole. Different kinds of Moles are traditionally used throughout Mexican cuisine as the base for many different kinds of dishes. When I say different and many, I mean it. Mole depends on the region or city that you are in as the locals make their sauces based on what is best provided to them. I have eaten a nut Mole created from peanuts and almonds that was delicious with bread and I have had a pink Mole created from beets and wine that was a delicious treat over top of vegetables and chicken.
Moles are very difficult to make as the list of ingredients is overwhelming. To make Mole, you need access to a lot of different kinds of chile peppers and most of them can only be found in certain regions. The best way to have Mole is by going to the local market for some homemade pastes to take home. The most popular of Moles are Mole Verde, Mole Rojo and my favorite, Mole Poblano. Mole Poblano originates from the state of Puebla and packs in both a sweet and spicy flavor as a little bit of chocolate is added to the chile peppers for a unique taste. This Mole is best as Pollo con Mole, (chicken with mole) or my next dish on the list.
Enchiladas are one of the most popular foods in Mexico and for very good reason. Enchiladas are made by tightly wrapping meats, cheeses or beans in corn tortillas, much like a crepe, before being drowned by different kinds of Moles. They are then topped off with cream and cheese and often accompanied by a side of bread to scoop up any left over sauce. Enchiladas are served through out the day, but I enjoy them the most as a breakfast. Chicken enchiladas bathed in a sweet Mole Poblano is the breakfast of champions.
How could I possibly write a list of my favorite foods in Mexico without tacos, let alone placing them in the top three? Tacos are Mexico. Everywhere you look, you will find tacos and street tacos are definitely the best. However, there are so many different kinds of tacos out there, that I have not even come close to trying them all. Basic tacos are filled with meats such as steak, chicken, pork or chorizo. A more vegetarian option can be filled with nopales (cactus) and cheese that are a delight. Fish tacos are often served on the coast, but I would not eat them whilst visiting a small town in the middle of the country… If you want to go outside the box you can even have some beef tongue or chicken livers in your tortillas. As there is a wide variety of tacos in Mexico, it is apparent that I need to make a top three for my number one cuisine of Mexico.
These tacos are made by using beef, sheep, or goat and steam cooking it underneath the ground. So much goes into the preparation of these meats that they need to be left untouched and cooked overnight. The results are mouth watering. The meat melts in your mouth just as a beef brisket would in the Southern part of the United States. The tacos are served with nothing but meat in the tortilla and it is up to you to add more. I think the best addition is a little bit of cilantro, diced onions and a dash of a mild salsa.
2. Al Pastor
The next taco on my list owns the streets of Mexico City. A walk or ride around the massive metropolis will give you the opportunity to see the process of the famous Tacos Al Pastor. Aptly named the “Shepherd” or “Father” in English, these tacos dominate the food scene in Mexico City.
Al Pastor is made by slow cooking a very large hunk of marinated pork, rotisserie style with a flame. This process is very similar to the way gyro meat or shawarma is cooked in Greece and the Middle East. The tacos are finished of with a slice of fresh, juicy pineapple with a dash of diced onions and cilantro for extra flavor. You will find Tacos Al Pastor through out the country, but no one does it quite like Mexico City.
Lastly, my favorite taco of all, Campechanos. These street tacos take some different flavors and combine them into a unique, but perfect way. The two main ingredients are beef and chorizo while there is typically a third ingredient added to the delicious combination. Different taco vendors make Campechanos in their own way. The most common is beef, chorizo and crunchy chicharrón. The best Campechanos I have had substitute potatoes instead chicharrón. The potatoes are sliced very thin and sautéed to a crisp as to add the crunchiness in the absence of the chicharrón. I have made these tacos a few times on my own, but nothing compares to the way they are made by street vendors. A night out drinking and partying in Mexico is always best accompanied by some Tacos Campechanos as a late night snack.
If you haven’t been down to Mexico yet for the food, it is time to book that flight or ride to the other side of “The Wall” and give your taste buds an experience of a lifetime. Resorts in Cancún are not good enough as you really need to explore. Take a tour of a distillery in Tequila. Go to Puebla and sample the Moles. Head to the jungles of the Yucatán Peninsula and search for the best spices to make Cochinita Pibil. Visit for Independence Day and enjoy a home made Chile en Nogada. Party until the sun comes up and enjoy some tacos in the street.
Sure, there are plenty of Mexican restaurants through out the U.S, but it is nearly impossible to re-enact these flavors outside the borders. I would love to hear your list of best foods in Mexico! Please make sure to comment, make suggestions, add to the list, switch things up and disagree. Let the debate begin!
And remember people, take your time while trying new foods in Mexico! These signs are posted randomly in the streets for a reason 😉