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The food in Mexico entered UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. This means the food of Mexico is a culinary treasure worth preserving.
Mexican cuisine is diverse with regional differences from the coasts to the mountains.
The different cultures and communities all over the country influence the vibrant textures, flavors and scents.
With influences from indigenous communities like the Aztec, Mayans or Zapotec combined with Spanish and European flavors, the food is rich in taste and history.
Varying by region, the food in Mexico is diverse in flavors, unique and full of delicious contrasts.
From Mexican street food to iconic regional plates, there’s something for everyone within the country’s cuisine.
Use this best food in Mexico guide to explore the traditional dishes. From breakfast, seafood dishes, tacos, sauces and stews, go on an exciting culinary adventure with these treasures.
1. Huevos Rancheros
Huevos rancheros is one of these authentic Mexican breakfasts that’s hearty and flavorful. The name translates to “rancher’s eggs” in Spanish and features corn tortillas and fried eggs topped with warmed salsa.
This late breakfast would typically be eaten by ranchers working on a farm. There are many variations of this typical Mexican dish.
In Mexico City, locals spread the refried beans between the tortilla and the eggs. And in southern states like Oaxaca, where we spent 6 months, huevos rancheros come with a side of plantains.
Nobody knows exactly how this food in Mexico originated. However, it is commonly attributed to being popular among ranchers in Mexico and in the US states bordering Mexico in the 1950s.
Mexican restaurants offer many variations to this dish. Some add refried beans, hash browns, tomatoes, sausages, queso fresco, tortillas, and even rice.
One variation we enjoyed was Huevos Divorciados or divorced eggs. Two eggs, separated by refried beans, with one drenched in green or salsa verde and another in salsa roja, or red salsa.
While in Mexico, be sure to enjoy this hearty huevos rancheros breakfast dish. No matter which version you try, you’ll be fueled for the day with these tasty flavors.
A staple on Mexican breakfast tables, Chilaquiles features fried tortillas sautéed in a sumptuous green or red salsa. It is then topped with onions, chili peppers, and queso fresco, a soft cheese.
It is the quintessential Mexican food that uses corn tortilla as its base.
This corn tortilla food popular throughout Mexico has been around since the Aztecs. The name refers to chilis and greens in the Aztec Nahuatl language.
In Mexico, chilaquiles are known as a hangover dish and served at the end of the night at wedding parties.
Our first taste of chilaquiles was at the La Merced market in Mexico City. This is the country’s largest and most traditional food market. While it can be intimidating to visit, Mexico is generally safe following proper safety habits.
In the food section at the La Merced market, we ordered the chilaquiles combinado which also included beef and eggs for a hearty meal.
We loved the combination of textures and the crispy corn tortillas. Chilaquiles quickly became one of our favorite foods in Mexico we had it over and over again.
This is one of those Mexican dishes worth returning for especially the fresh sauces and delectable corn tortillas.
3. Tacos al Pastor
Tacos al Pastor are the most iconic tacos from Mexico City. The pride and joy of Mexico City, these tacos are one of the many Mexican foods taking the world by storm.
Everyone loves these small handheld corn tortillas topped with pork, onions, chopped cilantro and a pineapple slice.
Tacos al pastor feature marinated pork cooking on a huge vertical spit.
In the evenings and especially in Mexico City, you cannot miss the giant layers of meat rotating besides an open grill
While putting on a show, the taqueros slices off bits of caramelized pork and serves it on warm tortillas with a juicy slice of pineapple.
Chopped onions, cilantro, a drizzle of lime juice and your choice of red or green salsa complete the experience.
Tacos al pastor have their origins in the late 19th century Mexico with the arrival of Lebanese immigrants.
The Lebanese introduced their shawarma version to locals and Mexican restaurants were quick to infuse their flavors into the Tacos al pastor.
Succulent, fresh, and flavorful is how we would describe eating Tacos al pastor. As our favorite Mexico City tacos, they should not be missed on any trip to Mexico.
4. Tacos de Barbacoa
Barbacoa refers to the method of slow-cooking meat, making it tender and infusing all the flavors of the different ingredients.
In Mexico, meat, usually lamb and goat, is wrapped in maguey or banana leaves and cooked in a pit underground for several hours.
The resulting shredded meat is wrapped in a soft corn tortilla with chopped onions, cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.
A light broth soup called consome accompanies the tacos de barbacoa.
Throughout the country, you’ll find regional differences. The kind of meat used varies with goat head being one of the most popular.
The spices and herbs used also vary. And, sometimes barbacoa is cooked slowly on a stove top instead of cooking underground.
You’ll find barbacoa at unassuming local eateries or at market stalls. It is not an everyday food in Mexico and we typically saw it available on Sundays.
We have had our share of tacos de barbacoa in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Oaxaca. Even though they were prepared differently, they were always soft and moist.
Sample the different flavors on your travels to Mexico and don’t miss these traditional tacos.
5. Tacos de Canastas
These tacos which are extremely popular in Mexico City are unlike your typical tacos.
The tacos are already filled and sit steaming in baskets. As a result, these tacos are known as basket tacos, sweaty tacos, tacos sudados or tacos al vapor.
Traditionally, tacos de canastas are made elsewhere and brought to the stall covered in a cloth and steaming naturally.
The filling includes anything from chicharrón or pork skin, mashed potatoes, refried beans, and more.
The moist tacos are eaten together with either green or red salsa. Flavorful and tasty, they make for a tasty snack at any time of the day.
6. Tacos de Camarones – Seafood and Shrimp Tacos
Lovers of seafood will adore the succulent shrimp and other flavorful ingredients in tacos de camarones.
This Mexican food is a taco variety filled with the best-tasting shrimp and other seafood one can have. Besides shrimp tacos or tacos de camarones, you can also have fish tacos and even octopus tacos.
Most Mexican restaurants add cabbage, onions, tomatoes, pico de gallo, chilies and avocado, to this Mexican food.
Like all other tacos, shrimp and seafood tacos are accompanied by a variety of sauces and salsas.
With fresh seafood available from the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, you’ll enjoy feasting on the freshest tacos de camarones.
Mexican Street Food
Tlacoyos are a popular street food especially in Mexico City. Pronounced kla-COY-yo, this is an ancient food that dates back centuries.
This Mexican dish is an oval or football shaped patty made of corn masa, often cooked on a hot comal.
Made with blue corn dough, the patty is stuffed, often with beans or cheese. Some of our favorite toppings were grilled cactus or nopales, corn fungus or huitlacoche and squash blossom or flor de calabaza.
Legend has it that the Spanish Conquistador, Hernan Cortes, fell in love with his first bite of this Mexican food.
A traditional Mexican street food, tlacoyos have made their way to high-end gourmet Mexican restaurants.
While the basic preparation and cooking methods remain largely unchanged, the innovative toppings add a twist to this dish.
However, we recommend getting tlacoyos from small food stalls on your travels to Mexico. The well rounded flavors in tlacoyos will surprise and delight you.
Lonches is a toasted bread sandwich and specialty of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city.
The birote bread used for this sandwich can only be made in Jalisco and is found all over Guadalajara city.
The bread looks like a baguette, is slightly salty with a texture similar to sourdough bread. Some say the air, water or altitude is what gives the bread its unique characteristics.
While exploring the food in Guadalajara, this was one of our favorite sandwiches to have on the go.
The white bead is filled with ingredients like sliced pork, milanesa or breaded meat, cold cuts, cheese and more.
Onions, avocado, shredded cabbage, tomato and a drizzle of mayonnaise, salsa or chili sauce complete the sandwich.
The sandwich is then heated up on a grill or pan and served warm.
Incredibly tender and flavorful with delicious avocado flavors, this is a specialty sandwich and food of Mexico worth seeking.
Many confuse this food in Mexico for another Mexican street food favorite, the torta which is popular in Mexico City.
While both are sandwiches, the ingredients used and type of bread differ. Incidentally, this Mexican street food derives its name from the Latin American term for snack or light meal.
When thinking about traditional Mexican cuisine, tamales is one of the first Mexican foods that springs to mind.
This classic Mexican dish is made from corn dough, called masa wrapped in corn or banana husk and steamed.
There are numerous versions of tamales filled with savory meats and traditional vegetable ingredients.
There are also sweet variants called tamales dulce where fruit like pineapple, prunes or raisins fill the masa.
One of the most popular tamale versions is the tamales Oaxaquenos, a delicacy originating from Mexico’s Oaxaca region.
In Oaxaca, the tamales are wrapped in banana leaves . They are filled with sumptuous chicken and topped with the famous Oaxaca mole sauces.
Beyond chicken, you’ll find tamales with other traditional vegetable ingredients, though it is the mole sauce that makes them a delicacy.
Mexican tamales have been around for thousands of years dating back to the Aztec Empire. The word “tamales” comes from the Aztec Nahuatl language and it means “wrapped”.
There are many different kinds of tamales to explore throughout Mexico. The most common are savory ones stuffed with chicken, chili peppers, or cheese.
You can also find sweet versions with fresh fruit filling or even chocolate. Our personal favorites were tamales Oaxaqueños or Oaxaca style tamales filled with cheese or chicken and mole sauce.
You can’t go wrong with this Mexican staple food. Explore the different versions on your travels to Mexico and savor the flavors of one of the best Mexican traditional dishes.
10. Elote – Grilled Mexican Street Corn
In Mexico, corn-on-the-cob goes way beyond simply being slathered with butter and salt. While Mexicans always put their corn in sticks, they add other ingredients to this street food.
Elotes are grilled or steam corn topped with various ingredients, depending on your preferences.
Traditionally, the grilled or steamed corn is layered with mayonnaise and garnished with chili powder, cotija cheese and lime.
As one of the most popular Mexican street foods, vendors selling elotes are found on busy streets throughout.
In addition to elotes, street cart vendors also sell esquites, which is corn in a cup. The main difference is instead of the corn on a cob, esquites are cups of corn that have been rubbed off the cob.
They are served warm with chili, cheese, lime and whatever else the vendor may have.
While we like corn on the cob, we loved the convenience of eating the corn in a cup in the form of esquites.
We discovered esquites on a street foods tour of Mexico City and they quickly became a favorite.
That said, relish elotes on your travels to Mexico and try the esquites as well and find your favorite.
Mexican Favorite Dishes
11. Chile Rellenos
Chiles rellenos or stuffed peppers are popular throughout Mexico. They are said to have originated in the state of Puebla.
Generally, the chili peppers used are green poblano peppers stuffed with cheese.
Though, many local restaurants also stuff the peppers with a mixture of ground meat, herbs, spices, and vegetables.
While in Oaxaca we took a cooking class and learned to make the Oaxacan version of chile rellenos.
The regional variation is made with chile de agua, the heirloom chile from Oaxaca. And, the stuffing consists of shredded chicken and a combination of sweet and savory ingredients.
In the month of September to celebrate Mexico’s Independence, Chiles en Nogada, another stuffed pepper is the emblematic dish.
This traditional Mexican dish features poblano peppers stuffed with a delicious ground meat mixture. Topping the dish is a walnut based cream sauce and pomegranate seeds.
The colors resemble the Mexican flag and it is absolutely delectable.
If you happen to be in Mexico during their Independence day celebrations, definitely get the chile en nogada.
If not, try the different stuffed peppers available and look for the ones made in the Oaxaca style.
Enchiladas are one of the most popular Mexican foods. In its simplest form, enchiladas are simply corn tortillas dipped in a spicy or hot sauce.
The tortillas are rolled and usually stuffed with meat, beans or cheese. What started as an amazing street food has evolved with local restaurants using a variety of fillings.
The most common filling in Mexican enchiladas is queso fresco, a fresh farmer’s cheese made with raw cow’s milk. Though you’ll also find them stuffed with meats, such as chicken, pork or steak.
They are usually topped with diced green chilies, cheese, and beans giving them a Mexican flag look.
Across the border where enchiladas are a popular Tex-Mex food, the style is completely different. They feature flour tortillas filled with meat, mild chilli sauce and the cheese is typically American rather than Mexican.
Even though you may be familiar with enchiladas, you cannot miss tasting this Mexican food in the country.
Popular throughout Mexico and prepared differently by each local restaurant, you’ll enjoy the diversity of this traditional Mexican dish.
Popular Regional Food in Mexico
Pozole is one of the most traditional Mexican dishes from the state of Jalisco and Guadalajara.
It is a heart warming comforting soup made with hominy corn and pork or chicken.
Shredded cabbage, spices, lime juice, radishes, and fried tortillas, or tostadas accompany this classic Mexican dish.
There are different styles of pozole and we discovered three kinds in Guadalajara. There is a white or blanco, red or rojo and green or verde styles.
The main difference is the color due to the type of salsa or sauce added to the soup.
Mexican Pozole is one of the most traditional Mexican dishes usually served during the cooler months and special occasions.
It is a traditional favorite at weddings, Independence Day, Christmas and more.
If your travels take you to Guadalajara, the birthplace of this food in Mexico, explore the different pozoles. Nonetheless, you will be able to find this typical dish at local restaurants throughout.
14. Cochinita Pibil
Straight from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the cradle of Mayan civilization, is Cochinita Pibil.
A delicious dish, it consists of delectable pork from a roasted whole baby pig.
It is cooked with spices including achiote seeds believed by the Mayan’s to be sacred.
Traditionally, the Mayans roasted the whole suckling pig underground, wrapped in banana leaf topped with hot stones.
That is where the Pibil name comes from, referring to the under-the-ground cooking method.
We first discovered cochinita pibil while on a food tour in Roma, one of the trendy neighborhoods in Mexico City.
One bite and we were hooked, cochinita pibil quickly became one of our favorite Mexican dishes.
We loved the juicy marinated pork and accompanying condiments. A tasty mix of Mexican culture, we highly recommend seeking cochinita pibil on your Mexico travels.
15. Mexican Moles
Mole sauce is said to have originated in Oaxaca and also in the state of Puebla. It is a rich and complex tasty sauce with different ingredients based on the ingredients found in each region.
In the state of Oaxaca, mole is a signature dish and considered the symbol of the state.
Each mole sauce is multi-layered and made with multiple ingredients.
Depending on where you are in the country, the mole sauce can have more than 20 ingredients for mole poblano.
And the famous black mole from Oaxaca has over 30 ingredients including chocolate and six different types of chili.
Mole sauce is used in a variety of traditional dishes like enchiladas, tamales or eaten by itself with corn tortillas.
Moles are rich and very much a part of Mexican culture. No trip to Mexico would be complete without savoring the deep flavors and rich history of this food in Mexico.
The food in Mexico plays an important role in the identity of the Mexican people. Mexican cuisine is creative, uses products native to the land and age-old cooking techniques.
The traditional food of Mexico highlighted in this article are iconic and layered in history. This list is not exhaustive but a representation of the iconic food of Mexico to relish.
While in Mexico, go beyond what you might traditionally think of Mexican food. Explore the different kinds of chili and chili peppers, the range of mole sauces and even corn fungus or huitlacoche.
Starting with this list of authentic food in Mexico will stimulate your taste buds and imagination.
What’s your favorite Mexican food? Please let us know In the comments below.
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Rosemary is the editor-in-chief and strategist at Authentic Food Quest.
Traveling slow since 2015 with her partner, Claire, she has explored the cuisine in 45 countries and more than 240+ culinary cities.
Her writing about local food specialties has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post.
As a food and travel writer, Rosemary has co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
Rosemary is an avid runner when she’s not eating and exploring new destinations. She has run ten marathons and counting.
Before Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary held senior-level strategy positions in advertising.
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