What to Eat in Mexico: 53 Mexican Foods to Try During Your Trip

You might be curious about what to eat in Mexico if you are traveling here for the first time and are hoping to sample some of the local cuisine. When most people think of Mexican food, they think of popular dishes like tacos, fajitas, nachos, and burritos but the reality is that traditional Mexican food is so much more than that. 

Each state and region of Mexico has its own specialty cuisine. You could spend months or years living and traveling in Mexico and still find that you are constantly discovering new favorite dishes. 

This article has been written by a British Travel Writer who has been based in Mexico for the last two years. (Me!) 

During my time here, I have explored ten different Mexican states extensively, mostly solo, stuffing every interesting food item I can find into my face as I go. I also have the benefit of having a Mexican (Sinaloan) partner who loves to cook, so we enjoy Mexican food at home every day. 

I have compiled this extensive list of what to eat in Mexico based on some of the best things I have found and will continue to add to it as I go. You can think of it as the definitive Mexican food bible. 

What to eat in Mexico: exploring a traditional market in Motul
What to eat in Mexico: exploring a traditional market in Motul

What to Eat in Mexico

A lot of people will tell you that they like Mexican food, but the reality is that “Mexican food” served outside of the Mexican borders is nothing like the rich, varied cuisine that you will find once you arrive in the country. 

Mexican food has even been recognized by UNESCO as an ​​Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and was awarded this status back in 2010. That is quite an accolade, particularly considering only a small handful of global cuisines have been recognized by UNESCO. 

The millennia-long history, the various indigenous groups, the ancient empires, and the Spanish colonization have all played a role in shaping Mexican food as it is today. Many recipes here were invented by the Ancient Mayans and the Aztecs and many still follow the exact same cooking practices to this day. 

What to Eat in Mexico: 53 Dishes to Try

Rich, flavorful sopa de tortilla topped with chili and sour cream
Rich, flavorful sopa de tortilla topped with chili and sour cream

Sopa de tortilla

Sopa de tortilla is a very flavorful, thick, rich Mexican soup that is a perfect way to warm up on a winter’s day in cooler, high-altitude destinations around the country such as San Cristobal de las Casas or San Sebastian del Oeste. (Or basically anywhere in the country, at any time when you are in the safe, chilly comfort of the air conditioning!) 

To make it, dried guajillo chiles are toasted to crispy perfection in a frying pan with a light splashing of oil. Separately, fresh chopped tomatoes, onion, and garlic are roasted in a different pan, before all of the ingredients are mixed together in a blender, and then added to a broth prepared with chicken stock, sliced chicken breast, a dash of white vinegar, and thin strips of deep fried tortillas. 

For the best experience, enjoy with some chilled sour cream on the top. Yum! 

Sopa de tortilla is often served as an entree at various traditional Mexican restaurants but it is filling enough to enjoy by itself if you only want a light lunch. 

Homemade guacamole is often served as a free appetizer with nachos
Homemade guacamole is often served as a free appetizer with nachos

Guacamole 

Even if you know very very little about Mexican food, you are probably familiar with guacamole. In the most rudimentary terms, this is simply crushed avocado, flavored with onion, tomato, lime, and spices. 

Every Mexican household and restaurant makes their guacamole slightly differently but the wide availability of fresh, locally sourced avocados in much of Mexico makes the dip taste better than ever. You will often be given a complimentary serving of guacamole along with some homemade tostadas or nachos in a lot of traditional restaurants while you wait for your main course to arrive.

Nopales (cactus) served in garlic with melted cheese, chilis and tortillas in Puebla, Mexico
Nopales (cactus) served in garlic with melted cheese, chilis and tortillas

Nopales

Did you know that (some) cactuses are edible? In Mexico, you can enjoy cactus salad (ensalada nopales) prepared with small pieces of cactus cut into squared chunks. Another popular way to serve the alternative, healthy green veggie is with a generous portion of melted cheese, onion, and garlic. 

The taste is a bit of an acquired one. Nopales taste almost bitter and tart so it definitely isnt for everyone, but the fact that the cactus pieces are often served in an abundance of garlic often disguises the sourness. (and repels any nearby vampires!) 

It is usually the Opuntia cacti that is used to prepare Nopales. (It is known as the “prickly pear” in English and its fruits are also edible).  

Poblano cream soup 

Different regions of Mexico serve very different types of food and if you head to the city of Puebla de Zaragoza in central western Mexico, you will note that a lot of Puebla delicacies focus on the poblano chili as one of their main ingredients. 

If you have little to no spice tolerance, you will be pleased to know that poblano chilies are very mild and not at all spicy. This simple dish is found in restaurants and hotel room service menus across Puebla state and is easy to replicate at home. 

It is prepared by roasting poblano chilis in an oven, chopping them up, and then mixing them in a blender with garlic, onion, and oregano. Water is added to give it a liquid consistency and make it into a soup, and if you want it extra creamy, you can add some media crema. 

Sometimes, sweet corn or chicken strips are added but you can also enjoy the soup as-is as a vegetarian option. You will usually be served the dish with some freshly baked, still-warm bread for dipping. 

Delicious! 

Pollo poblano

Pollo poblano (poblano chicken) is a typical dish from the Puebla region, but you will often find it in other parts of the country too – even as far away as Merida, Cancun, and Tulum. Chunks of grilled chicken breast are served in a rich, thick poblano chili sauce and this dish is often served with rice or pasta. 

Mexicans are big on savory breakfasts and so, you will often find pollo poblano served at breakfast buffets in hotels around the Puebla area. 

Stuffed chile relleno de queso
Stuffed chile relleno de queso

Chile relleno de queso

Chile relleno de queso is a simple yet flavourful dish prepared by stuffing a whole poblano chili with cheese. Then, a mixture of beaten eggs is brushed along the sides of the chili, before it is deep fried. 

A generous sprinkling of queso fresco soft cheese is added to the top of the chili, as is a tasty tomato salsa. Chile relleno de queso is believed to have originated from the state of Puebla, where it was first documented in the 16th century, but today it is popular all over the country. 

Interestingly, several restaurants in the cities of Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco state, along with more rural Jaliscan villages like Mascota and Yierbabuena are known for producing some of the very “best” chile relleno in the country, despite being quite a distance from where the dish was invented! 

The chile is often served with a side order of frijoles (refried beans) and a small salad. 

Sikil Pak

While guacamole and nachos are often served as a complimentary starter across Mexico, in the Yucatan peninsula, you often see a different addition at the dinner table: sikil pak. 

Sikil pak is a delicious pumpkin seed, tomato, and cilantro salsa that has a similar consistency to hummus, and was invented by the Ancient Mayans. Like guacamole, it is super addictive and it is enjoyed by heaping generous portions of the dip onto nachos and toastadas. 

Torta ahogada

Torta Ahogada 

The Torta ahogada is a regional specialty sandwich from Jalisco, in western Mexico. It can be found across the state, but in particular, the sandwich is popular in the capital of Guadalajara and nearby Tlaquepaque.

To create it, a crusty roll of bed is stuffed with pork carnitas before being drenched in warm, spicy tomato salsa. You are usually served onions and lime on the side to pile on the top and if you want to make it even spicier, you can add some extra habanero sauce. 

The torta ahogada, also known locally as the ¨drowned sandwich¨ will probably mark the first time in your life that you have to eat a sandwich with a spoon! It is said to have been invented in Guadalajara in the 1900s when a local ordered a sandwich from a street vendor, and the vendor accidentally dropped the entire thing in a container of salsa!

Fortunately, the customer loved it! Today, they are a popular lunchtime choice or a light snack. Torta ahogadas are great when washed down with an ice-cold Mexican beer. 

Entomatadas 

Entomatadas are a delicious yet ultra-simple Mexican dish that is often prepared in the home for lunch, dinner, or as a light snack. To make them, corn tortillas are lightly fried in oil and then transferred to a separate pan where they are fried in tomato passata.

When the tortillas are slightly crispy to the touch and suitably drenched in tomato sauce, they are removed from the pan and placed on a plate. Grated ranchero queso fresco is sprinkled inside the entomatadas, which are then rolled into cigar shapes.

Ranchero queso fresco is a soft cheese with a mild, buttery flavor. It is somewhat similar to panela cheese with a slightly stronger taste. 

A little more grated cheese is sprinkled on top of the entomatadas, along with some chopped raw red onion and some media crema (cream). Entomatadas are enjoyed all over Mexico.

Quesadillas 

Quesadillas are one of the best-known Mexican foods and one of the easiest to make. To create them, corn or flour tortillas are lightly heated in a pan, with a thin slice of cheese in the center.

Mexican manchego cheese is often used for this. (It is different from Spanish manchego cheese despite sharing the same name).

As far as most Mexicans are concerned, a couple of quesadillas are the perfect accompaniment to almost everything. Preparing a steak? Shove a couple of quesadillas on the side! 

Preparing Mexican breakfast dishes like huevos Mexicanos? Make a couple of quesadillas too. That way, you can pick up the eggs and enjoy them inside the cheesy goodness of the quesadilla.

Another nice simple way to enjoy a quesadilla is with fresh avocado and a light serving of media crema. It is believed that quesadillas were invented in south and central Mexico during the 16th-century colonial period. 

Prior to that though, the Aztecs would stuff tortillas with vegetables and squashes like pumpkin. You can, of course, add fried meat and other fillings to the inside of your quesadilla. 

Chilaquiles 

Chilaquiles are an extraordinarily popular choice for breakfast in Mexico. As far as most Mexicans are concerned, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

A lot of people will have multiple dishes to start their morning. For instance, they will have a main course such as an egg dish or chilaquiles, a small platter of Mexican fruit, and a Mexican sweet bread pastry.

This is all then washed down with some freshly squeezed juice and a strong Mexican Chiapas coffee. Chilaquiles are made by lightly frying corn tortillas, and then covering them in salsa.

Two variations of the dish exist. Chilaquiles rojo are made by preparing red sauce (salsa rojo).

This sauce is made with ripe, fresh tomatoes, garlic, onion, guajillo chiles, chiles de arbol, and vegetable stock. It is then seasoned with oregano, salt, and pepper.

Alternatively, chilaquiles verde are made with green sauce (salsa verde). The two different salsas transform the flavor of the dish completely. 

(Chilaquiles rojo are perhaps better for a Western palate, while chilaquiles verde are a little spicier). To prepare the green sauce, tomatillos, onion, cilantro, garlic, and green chilis are used. 

Chilaquiles are typically topped with media crema, grated cheese, and strips of chicken breast or an egg. Some restaurants may serve them with pieces of steak, beef, or other meat. 

What to eat in Mexico: chile en nogada is prepared in the colors of the Mexican flag
What to eat in Mexico: chile en nogada is prepared in the colors of the Mexican flag

Chile En Nogada

Chile En Nogada is a special celebratory dish that is eaten throughout Mexico in the lead-up to Mexican Independence Day. During this period, you will find the dish served virtually everywhere. 

It graces the menus of greasy spoons, coffee shops, hacienda restaurants, and chains like VIPs during this time. Almost everywhere has chile en nogada menu deals during the month of September. 

The dish consists of poblano chilies stuffed with picadillo and then topped with a creamy walnut sauce known as nogada. Then, pomegranate seeds and parsley are served on top.

The colors of the dish – green, white, and red, represent the Mexican flag. Chile En Nogada is typically served at room temperature.

It was invented by Augustinian nuns at the Convent of Santa Mónica on August 28, 1821. This was immediately after the Treaty of Cordoba was signed, granting Mexico independence from Spain. 

Sinaloan shrimp aguachile 

Shrimp aguachile (aguachile de camarron) is essentially the regional dish of Sinaloa in Northern Mexico. Many parts of Mexico, including the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, are recognized for their excellent seafood. 

However, for the very best shrimp aguachile, you need to head to coastal areas of Sinaloa such as Mazatlan, Topolobampo and El Maviri. (You will also find it served in Saylita and other areas of Nayarit and in Puerto Vallarta). 

Sinaloan shrimp and seafood delicacies are particularly great on account of the freshness of the ingredients and the abundance of fish and shrimp found in nearby waters. If you order a shrimp aguachile here, chances are that a fisherman has rowed out into the Pacific earlier that same morning in order to catch the shrimp. 

The shrimp is actually eaten raw, like ceviche. To make it, you simply peel and clean a generous helping of shrimp, chop up some fresh red onion and cucumber, and then place everything together in a bowl, douse with a generous squeezing of lemon juice and salt, and place in the fridge for 5-10 minutes. 

After the aguachile has been given sufficient time to marinade and soak up all those lemon juices, it is usually enjoyed with hot sauce and different salsas. (E.g. salsa rojo/salsa verde). 

Sinaloan tacos a vapor
Sinaloan tacos a vapor

Tacos el chavo de Sinaloa 

There are undoubtedly hundreds of different types of tacos from Mexico and to list them all would mean having to create a dedicated Mexican taco guide of its own. But a particularly unique and interesting type that stems from Northern Mexico is “Tacos el Chavo” or “Tacos a vapor”. 

These tacos are made by rolling mashed potatoes into a corn or flour tortilla with a very small portion of beef and then drowning the entire thing in the liquid from frijoles (Mexican refried beans) with a dash of hot sauce to give it an extra kick. 

Across Mexico, these tacos are known as “Tacos a vapor” but in the Ahome region of Sinaloa, they are affectionately nicknamed “Tacos el Chavo” thanks to a locally famous chef who became beloved for creating the best of the best of this specific type of taco. 

Frijoles 

Mexican frijoles or refried beans (frijoles refritos) are a popular side dish that, as far as most Mexicans are concerned, pair well with virtually anything. You will commonly see them served alongside different egg dishes at breakfast times, but they are also often served for lunch and dinner along with fajitas, grilled meats, tacos, fajitas, and basically anything. 

There are also various different traditional Mexican dishes where the frijoles really are the main focal point and the star of the show. (Like frijoles puercos from the northern states – beans served with pork). 

A lot of families make frijoles refritos themselves by cooking and then mashing beans with onion, garlic, oils, and spice until they are tender and have a paste-like consistency. Sometimes, chillis are placed inside the frijoles jar to give a little extra spiciness. 

Like with anything, the homemade versions are always the best. You will note different tastes and variations of frijoles refritos recipes from state to state.

Of course, you can also find pre-packaged versions sold in stores like Soriana and Walmart. Isadora and La Sierra are perhaps two of the most popular and best-known brands. 

Birria 

Birria

Birria is a slow-cooked Mexican meat soup that originates from the state of Jalisco and is commonly prepared and served on ranches. It is usually made using sheep or goat meat but it is occasionally made with beef in other parts of Mexico. 

To create the dish, the meat is marinated with guajillo, ancho, and chipotle peppers, as well as a blend of spices including garlic, cumin, cloves, thyme, oregano, and marjoram. It is then slow-cooked until tender and juicy.

When served, you will be given a portion of onions and cilantro to sprinkle on the dish, as well as a range of hot sauces and limes for squeezing. Wash it all down with an ice-cold horchata.

Mexican chicken soup
Mexican chicken soup

Caldo de Pollo 

Caldo de Pollo is a Mexican chicken and vegetable soup that is a staple in any Mexican household. If you have any Mexican friends or acquaintances, chances are, if you ask them about Caldo de Pollo, they will wax lyrical about the great batches of Caldo de Pollo their mom made growing up. 

Other Latin countries like neighboring Guatemala, and even Colombia and Brazil, have their own versions of the dish. To prepare Caldo de Pollo, chicken breasts are chopped into pieces and then boiled in water along with garlic and onion.

Once the chicken has started to cook through, you add in a few Caldo de Pollo stock cubes and a selection of different chopped vegetables. (This can basically be whatever you fancy).

Zucchini, potatoes, carrots, and celery are popular choices. Once ready, the soup is served with rice, a squirt of fresh lime, and some hot sauce. 

People will often make giant batches of Caldo de Pollo to last them for several days at a time. It is also a popular thing to prepare and eat when you are sick in Mexico as it is so nourishing. 

Mexican beef soup (caldo de res)
Mexican beef soup (caldo de res)

Caldo de cocido 

Caldo de cocido, also known as caldo de res is a Mexican soup dish that is very similar to caldo de pollo (chicken soup) but which is prepared with beef steak instead. It makes a nourishing and delicious comfort food, and although you seldom see these types of dishes served in restaurants, it is typical for Mexicans to prepare large batches of them in the home, especially if someone is unwell or it is winter. 

Mexican cowboy beans (
Mexican cowboy beans (“Frijoles charro”)

Frijoles Charro 

Frijoles charro is essentially “Mexican cowboy beans”. (The word “Frijoles” is Spanish for beans, while a “charro” is a Mexican cowboy). 

This is because centuries ago, Mexican cowboys and those working on ranches would often prepare beans to sustain their strength for long days of cattle herding. The beans were inexpensive, tasty, and nutritious. 

Frijoles Charro is commonly eaten alongside carne asada, or steaks, particularly in Northern Mexico. However, they can also be enjoyed alone, perhaps with bread or tortillas for dipping, if you want a light meal. 

The soup is prepared using pinto beans, and a broth consisting of stock, onions, garlic, and chili peppers. Different types of meat are usually cut up and served within the soup – commonly pork sausages and pieces of bacon. A generous dollop of Oaxaca cheese is then added to the top, and it melts delightfully into the soup. 

What to eat in Mexico: cochinita pibil
What to eat in Mexico: cochinita pibil

Cochinita Pibil 

The food culture differs substantially from one part of Mexico to another. In the Yucatan peninsula, the locals eat Yucatecan food. 

This is markedly different from most Mexican food. A lot of Yucatan dishes were invented by the Ancient Maya and use herbs and ingredients that are native to Southern Mexico. 

Today, these dishes are prepared using the same cooking methods that the Maya used all those centuries ago. This makes Yucatecan cuisine one of the oldest cuisines in the world, predating even certain European cuisines! 

Arguably cochinita pibil is the most famous Yucatecan dish. It is made by slow-cooking pork marinated with achiote in an underground oven known as a pib.

Once the meat is ready, it has a tender texture where it seemingly falls apart in your mouth. Think of the dish as the Ancient Mayan version of pulled pork. 

The meat is usually served with tortillas and onions. Most people like to roll the cochinita up into a taco and eat it that way with a bit of hot sauce. 

Tacos papas con chorizo

Breakfast tacos are a thing in Mexico. Not only can you enjoy any type of taco at any time of day, but you can also find special breakfast variations.

Scrambled egg tacos are popular. The eggs are often served with spinach, green beans, or chorizo. Another favorite is Mexican papas con chorizo tacos.

To prepare them, red potatoes are prepared with chorizo and then topped with lettuce, queso cotija, salsa, and avocado. Frijoles (beans) are also occasionally added, along with a dash of habanero sauce.

In places in the Yucatan, this dish is often prepared with longaniza – a specific type of chorizo from Valladolid. Individual breakfast tacos at taquerias are often as little as 17-20 pesos each. 

Sopa con puree de tomate 

Sopa con puree de tomate 

Sopa con puree de tomate is a tasty dish that Mexicans will often rustle up when they find themselves at home and not knowing what to cook. It is very simple and is made with ingredients that you probably have in your fridge anyway.

This is a tasty, tomatoey dish that is nonspicy and extremely palatable to those who are not super accustomed to Mexican food. To make it, chop tomatoes and onions and fry them with a little olive oil in a pan.

Then, pour in some tomato puree, tear up some corn tortillas, and fry them in the man. When the tortillas are a little crunchy and suitably tomatoey, add in some grated manchego cheese and cook it until the cheese melts. 

Sopa con puree de tomate is nice when served with a slab of Mexican panela cheese on the side. (Of course, this dish is far from being the healthiest of Mexican foods).

You can also add garlic (at the same stage at which you fry the onions) to give it a little more taste. Some people also like to add noodles or rice.

Pozole 

While a lot of Westerners like to eat roast turkey or roast chicken on Christmas day, a Mexican Christmas tradition is to eat pozole. Pozole is a rich, brothy soup that dates back to the pre-Colombian days of Mexico. 

Centuries ago, the Aztecs and the Mayans used pozole in their rituals. Back then though, it was made with human flesh! 

Thankfully things have changed a lot over the years and today, pork is the meat of choice. Onion, shredded lettuce, radish, hot sauce, lime, and avocado are also added for flavor. Pozole is often served alongside tostadas and crema. 

Steaming hot tamale stuffed with chicken and mole
Steaming hot tamale stuffed with chicken and mole

Tamales 

Tamales are a delicious Mexican dish made from masa, a type of corn dough. The dough is usually filled with different stuffings (e.g. beans, cheese, pork, or beef).

Tamales are made very differently in different parts of Mexico. In Mexico City, Northern, and Central Mexico, fillings like rajas con queso (chili with cheese) or pollo con mole (chicken with mole salsa) are very popular, and the tamale is usually wrapped in a corn husk and steam-cooked.

However, in the Yucatan, most fillings focus on pork meat, and the tamales, steam-cooked in a banana leaf, have an altogether different taste and consistency.

When you buy tamales, they are usually wrapped and tied up in a banana leaf like a little Christmas present. You can also get sweet versions. 

You will find dedicated tamale stores across the country but you will also often see impromptu tamale street food stalls pop up outside of markets, Oxxo convenience stores, etc.

What to eat in Mexico: Sopa de Lima

Sopa de Lima

Sopa de lima is one of the most classic Mexican foods that is eaten all over the country. It originates from the Yucatan peninsula, and arguably some of the best sopa de limas are found in Merida restaurants.

Fresh lime is used generously as a topping for a lot of Mexican foods and locals love its flavor. Sopa de lima is essentially lime soup prepared with strips of chicken and served with tortillas. 

Garlic, peppers, and onion are also often added for taste. Before the Spanish colonization of Mexico, the dish was prepared with wild turkeys rather than chicken. Today, sopa de lima is commonly enjoyed as a starter. 

What to eat in Mexico: cochinita pibil

Huevos Motuleños 

Huevos Motuleños is a breakfast egg dish that originates from the city of Motul, in the center of the Yucatan. (The city makes a great day trip from Merida, and you can sample the dish at Doña Evelia Huevos Motuleños, one of the best huevos motuleños restaurants in the country). 

You will only really find huevos motuleños around the Yucatan peninsula and in the states of Quintana Roo, the Yucatan, and Campeche. Since its invention, it has taken the area by storm! 

Huevos motuleños are made by serving fried eggs on top of tortillas, refried beans, and cheese. Then, homemade tomato sauce, peas, and ham are poured over the top.

People usually add a dash of hot sauce to the top of the eggs, and plantains are served on the side. Variations of the dish exist and no two places make them the same way. 

A Huevos Motuleños festival is hosted between the 14th and the 16th of July each year in Motul. Visitors gather by the San Juan Bautista church to eat eggs, listen to the Yucatan philharmonic orchestra, and watch traditional folk dancing. 

Pollo pibil 

Pollo pibil is a delicious dish from Mexicos Yucatan peninsula that is comparable to cochinita pibil. To make it, chicken is marinated with achiote, sour orange juices, and spices. 

The meat is then slow-cooked underground in a traditional oven known as a ¨pib¨. Although cochinita pibil is arguably the more famous of the two Mexican foods, pollo pibil is a nice alternative if you don’t eat pork. 

The meat is usually served with a side of seasoned rice and tortillas. Pollo pibil is great when wrapped in a fresh tortilla and topped with onion. 

Nachos topped with cheese, tomatoes, beef, jalapeños and guacamole
Nachos topped with cheese, tomatoes, beef, jalapeños and guacamole

Loaded nachos 

If you head out to a bar or a casual restaurant in Mexico, you will find a lot of light bites on the menu. Tacos, burros, fajitas, hamburgers and nachos are all popular options. 

Loaded nachos are great for sharing. Nachos are often topped with cuts of beef such as sirloin or arrachera.

They are then loaded up with mountains of refried beans, cheese, guacamole, and sour cream. Lime, chilies, and salsas. They are great when washed down with Mexican drinks such as horchata or agua frescas (fruit juices prepared with water and sugar). 

Relleno Negro 

Relleno negro is a traditional turkey dish that originates from the Yucatan peninsula. Centuries ago, the Mayans would prepare it with wild boar and other meat that they were able to hunt. 

Today, it is made with turkey. The meat is seasoned with a spice blend made from charred chilies and herbs. This marinade gives the meat a blackish color – hence the name Relleno Negro.

This is one of the oldest, most traditional recipes in Southern Mexico. The dish is often served at weddings and celebrations but you will also find it on the menus of traditional Yucatan cuisine restaurants. 

Papadzules 

Papadzules are a delicious Yucatecan breakfast dish that is enjoyed in Southern Mexico. Fresh, warm tortillas are filled with eggs and then drenched in a sauce made with pumpkin seeds and epazote. 

Then, tomato salsa is poured over the top. The pumpkin sauce has something of a rich nutty flavor.

You usually get 3-4 papadzules per serving. So, you can enjoy an entire plate for yourself, or you can order them for the table and share a couple with your dinner companions, along with another main breakfast dish. This is a must-try during any Yucatan itinerary.

What to eat in Mexico: machaca

Machaca 

Machaca is a dried, dehydrated beef delicacy that originates from the North of Mexico. It was created as a way to preserve meat before refrigeration was a thing. 

Machaca became such an integral part of Northern Mexico’s food culture that it is still used and enjoyed a lot today. To create it, a cut of meat is chosen, rubbed with salt, and left out in the sun to dry. 

Then, it is pounded and beaten with a stone hammer. The name ¨machaca¨ comes from this act of pounding the meat. 

A lot of people in Northern Mexico will prepare their own machaca at home. Today, it is most commonly associated with rancheros, vaqueros (Mexican cowboys), and people living in rural areas. You will see it frequently in the states of Sonora, Sinaloa, Nuevo Leon, Monterrey, and Chihuahua. 

To cook with machaca, the meat needs to be rehydrated. It is often fried with oil and then cooked with onion and tomatoes before being wrapped in a flour tortilla and eaten.

There are also specialty breakfast dishes that are prepared with machaca in the north of Mexico. For instance, machaca con huevos, is said to have been created in 1920s Nuevo Leon by a woman named Fidencia Quiroga.

Carne Asada 

Carne Asada is essentially the Mexican answer to barbeque. The literal translation of the term is “grilled beef” and it is usually used to refer to grilled cuts of steak that are marinated with lime juice and various seasonings. 

Carne asada is more common in the northern parts of Mexico but it can be found all over the country in specialist grillhouse restaurants. The steaks are often served with grilled onion, tortillas, frijoles charro, and salsichas – bright red hot dog sausages that are likely unlikely anything you have tried before. 

Breakfast enchiladas with salsa verde
Breakfast enchiladas with salsa verde

Enchiladas 

Mexican enchiladas are believed to have been invented in the city of Puebla in the 19th century. However, the practice of rolling up tortillas and either stuffing them with something or filling them with something dates back further to Aztec times. 

This is one of the most popular Mexican foods that is enjoyed around the world. However, a true enchilada served up in Mexico is nothing like the imitations you will find elsewhere. 

Enchiladas are typically filled with chicken and vegetables (although variations exist) and then topped with salsa roja or salsa verde and some chopped red onions. Despite being quite a heavy, savory dish, it may come as a surprise to hear that enchiladas are enjoyed at breakfast time, rather than at lunch or dinner. 

What to eat in Mexico: Sopa Azteca
What to eat in Mexico: Sopa Azteca

Sopa Azteca 

Sopa Azteca is a classic Mexican soup dish that is found all over the country. Every household has their own family recipe for the dish, and you will find it served a lot in home-style restaurants and chains (e.g. La Casa de Los Abuelos). 

It is also known as ¨tortilla soup¨ and as the name suggests, is made with torn, fried pieces of corn tortillas, and a tomato and chili broth.

Chiccharon (fried pork belly/pork rinds) are added to the soup along with chili pieces and chunks of cheese. Fresh avocado is sliced and placed on the top before the soup is served. 

The name of the dish is misleading and seems to indicate that sopa Azteca is of Aztec origin. However, it is believed that the Tarascan people near Michoacán invented the dish. 

Mole

Mole (pronounced mo-lay) is a Mexican sauce that is made using chocolate and chilies. (Fun fact about Mexico: chocolate was invented here!) 

It has a smooth, pureed consistency and a rich, nutty flavor. (Although there are many different varieties of moles and the taste can vary substantially). The sauce is said to have been invented by a nun at the Santa Rosa convent in Puebla in the 17th century. 

There are several different ways you can enjoy mole in Mexico today. A simple and easy way to eat it is to eat it served with rice, fresh avocado, and tortillas. If you find yourself in Puebla, you can even take classes to learn how to make your own mole!

Scrambled eggs with vegetables (huevos a la Mexicana)

Huevos a la Mexicana

Huevos a la Mexicana is a simple breakfast egg dish that you can find in cafes, restaurants, and hotels all over Mexico. It is a good choice when you want a filling meal to start your day but you are apprehensive about experimenting with unknown foods.

To prepare Huevos a la Mexicana, eggs are scrambled with tomatoes, onions, and green chili peppers. Cilantro and salt are then sprinkled on top to taste. 

Pollo Asado

Pollo asado or pollo a parilla is grilled or barbecued chicken that is marinated and cooked to perfection until it has something of a charred flavor. Virtually any cut of chicken can be cooked pollo asado – be it the breast, thigh, etc. 

The meat is usually marinated in a mixture of lime juice, oregano, cumin, paprika, and achiote. The achiote gives the outer layer of the meat its signature orange coloring. 

There are several grilled chicken chain restaurants around Mexico, including Pollo Feliz, which is the most popular chicken chain restaurant in the country. (Despite being a chain, the quality of the food is pretty good). 

Pollo Brujo (whose name translates to mean ¨witch chicken¨) is also pretty good. Still, arguably some of the best pollo asado is to be found from the people cooking the dish on grills at the side of the roadside in rural, off-the-beaten-path parts of Mexico.

Pollo asado is usually served with a delicious tomato salsa that is slightly spicy. Salads, fries, guacamole, and nachos are often eaten on the side.

Yucatecan pay de coco, flan de coco, and little sweet balls of solidified sugar stuffed with fresh coconut make great sweet treats to pick up during your coastal road trip in the Yucatan.  

Chalupas 

Chalupas are a light-bite snack that hails from the state of Puebla. They are made by lightly frying a small tortilla and then slathering it in a healthy dollop of either tomato or tomatillo (green tomato) salsa. 

The latter usually have quite a tangy taste. You will usually be served 5-6 chalupas and be given a few of each type.

You can enjoy them meze-style to share at the table with your dining companions or have them by yourself as an entree or a quick snack on the go.

Ceviche 

The popular raw fish dish ceviche originates from Peru, but it is widely enjoyed across Latin America. (And to be honest – the world, because ceviche is also enjoyed in Mediterranean countries who probably don’t realize the dish has Peruvian roots). 

Each country places its own unique spin on the dish. From Peru to Mexico, Colombia to Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Honduras, no two versions of ceviche are the same and chances are that every Hispanic family has their own personal twist on the dish.

Cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, avocados, and jalapeño peppers are popular veggies to include in Mexican ceviche. Since Sinaloa is essentially the seafood capital of Mexico, locals will tell you that the best ceviche is to be found here, but fortunately, you can find excellent variations of it in most coastal towns and cities. 

In Mexico, ceviche is prepared in a similar way to shrimp aguachile. Shrimp make the base of the dish and they are cleaned and mixed with chopped vegetables before being marinated with lime and tomato juice. 

Beef steak burrito served with cebollitas cambray asadas in Merida
Beef steak burrito served with cebollitas cambray asadas in Merida

Burritos 

Burritos are perhaps one of the traditional Mexican dishes that need little introduction thanks to their popularity north of the Mexican border in the United States, Canada, and the world. There are countless varieties of burritos that you can enjoy. 

Basically, any type of meat/veg/salsa combo that you can think of can be stuffed inside a flour tortilla and then folded into a cylindrical shape and heated to form a burrito. In Mexico, they are often served with a grilled spring onion on the side. (Cebollitas cambray asadas). 

Huevos rancheros 

Huevos rancheros or “ranch eggs” are one of the most popular egg-based breakfast options that you will encounter on menus in Mexico. They were awarded their name thanks to their popularity in rural areas of the country where people working on farms would wake up super early and prepare themselves a quick snack before tending to their animals and then heading back home to tuck into a more filling dish consisting of two eggs prepared sunny side up and set on a bed of fried tortillas, refried beans, and homemade tomato sauce, 

Huevos rancheros is believed to date back to at least the 16th century and the days of grandiose haciendas. Today it is served in all corners of Mexico. 

Ordering carne a las baras in Ixtapa, Jalisco
Ordering carne a las baras in Ixtapa, Jalisco

Carne a las baras 

If you are a meat eater, and you see carne a las baras, or carne en vara on a menu at a traditional Mexican restaurant, you should order it without hesitation. To prepare the dish, meat (usually beef) is placed on a skewer and then cooked to your liking over an open flame.

A lot of restaurants that serve carne a las baras have open kitchens so that you can watch the chefs at work grilling the meat and hand-making the tortillas and salsas. Rice, salad, and frijoles are usually served on the side. 

Menudo 

If you have an adventurous palette, then “menudo” is a popular caldo (soup) that you may want to try during your time in Mexico. The soup is made with cow stomach (tripe) that is slow-cooked over 7-8 hours in a spicy broth flavored with garlic, onions, hominy, lime, oregano, and chili. 

The dish dates back to the 1930s and locals will tell you that it is an excellent cure-all soup for when you are feeling hungover or sick. It is no coincidence then, that Mexicans often head to a friend’s house to eat menudo soup after a big Christmas or New Years Eve party!

Legend has it that farmers and rancheros in Northern Mexico invented the dish when they were trying to find a productive use of the leftover parts of the cows they farmed after all of the “good” cuts were used. Like most soups here, Mexicans will usually squeeze half a lime over the top, and then serve with corn or flour tortillas that they then roll up into flute shapes and dip in the soup. 

Fajitas de pollo 

Usually traditional Mexican food served in Mexico is a far cry from the imitation Mexican food that you will find outside of the countrys borders. However if you dont consider yourself very adventurous, you may be pleased to hear that chicken fajitas (fajitas de pollo) are not too dissimilar from “immitation” fajitas found internationally.

Interestingly, chicken fajitas were invented by rancheros (farmhands) working close to Ciudad Juarez and the Rio Grande border between Mexico and Texas, USA. 

Chicken is grilled in spices and oil with onions, red and green bell peppers, and other veggies. Some people like to add potatoes to the mix, and some Mexicans fry the chicken in different blends of salsas like Salsa Maggi (soy sauce) and Worcestershire sauce. 

A plate of chicken is usually brought to your table while still sizzling hot and fresh off the grill.

Flautas 

Flautas are rolled, deep-fried tacos that are filled with potato, chicken, or beef. They have a crispy, crunchy fried texture and they are rolled up to look like flutes (as per the name).

Flautas are then topped with guacamole, cheese, and sour cream. You are usually served 3-4 long, thin flautas and they are pretty filling!

Mexican Desserts

Coconut pie is a popular treat sold in the beach towns of southeastern Mexico
Coconut pie is a popular treat sold in the beach towns of southeastern Mexico

Pay de coco (and other coconut treats) 

If you drive along the Ruta Esmerelda and the Yucatecan beaches that line the Gulf of Mexico in the northern part of the Yucatan state, you will find many Mexican street vendors and tianguis selling fresh coconuts and other coco treats. 

Some of the beaches and coastal towns here, like Chuburna, Chelem, and San Crisanto, are lined with coconut groves. Locals can enjoy an abundance of free coconuts that literally drop into their front yards by the dozen every day so it makes sense that they would capitalize on this by selling yummy coconut desserts. 

A little plastic bag of huesitos - a popular dessert in Jalisco Mexico

Huesitos 

Huesitos, meaning “little bones” in Mexican Spanish, are delicious little milk candies that are found in Jalisco. They are very similar to jamoncillo – Mexican milk fudge candy, but they have a slightly larger cookie-esque shape and a crumbly consistency. 

They are often flavored with canela (cinnamon) and you will find that they grace the dessert menus of a lot of eateries everywhere from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara and Zacatecas. You can usually buy a couple of them served on a little plate or in a bag, and they are often as little as 4 pesos (23 dollar cents) per candy.

Ice cream (nieve) 

Mexican ice creams make for a great treat and a way to cool yourself down on a hot, sticky summer’s day. (Or basically any day since most parts of the country, especially the tourist coastal areas see temperatures that soar above 91.4°F on most days and months!)

You will find lots of independent ice cream stores marketed as nieverias or palaterias in virtually every town and city across virtually every state. Mexican ice creams and lollies (paletas) are special because they are often prepared with real fruit pieces or fresh fruit juices paired with filtered mineral water so they are in fact quite healthy. 

A lot of these little tiendas serve flavors ranging from the standard (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, etc.) to unique Mexican offerings like elote (sweetcorn) ice cream. (Don’t knock it until you have tried it! It is more delicious than it sounds!) 

Look out for the “Michoacana” brand of ice cream stores that you will find across Mexico, whose brand image depicts a little girl holding an ice lolly. The story goes that the brand was created by a man from Tocumba, Mexico who worked in the United States and saved his earnings to create an ice cream business. 

He hand-prepared everything and dragged his pushcart across town selling ice creams and today, it is a huge enterprise spanning the United States and Mexico. Despite being a “chain”, all Michoacana stores are independently owned so no two are the same, and you will find tons of variations of different flavors and ice cream styles. 

Churros 

Churros are sweet deep-fried pastries that are similar to donuts in terms of their taste and consistency. They actually originated in Spain, but they were brought over to Mexico during the colonization and are a local delicacy here today. 

The pastries are prepared in a long stick shape, which gives them a soft, spongy interior and crispy outer ridges. They are usually flavored with sugar or cinnamon and then served with a pot of sauce for dipping. (Commonly chocolate sauce).

In Mexico City, you can try churros at Churrería El Moro which is said to be one of the best churro dessert spots in the country. Otherwise, you can find street food vendors serving cups filled with churros all over the country – from El Cuyo to San Cristobal de las Casas

Delicious coffee soaked flan served in Izamal, Yucatan
Delicious coffee soaked flan served in Izamal, Yucatan

Flan 

Flan is arguably the most popular traditional dessert in Mexico. If you are dining out at a restaurant and they only serve one dessert, it will be flan. 

The creamy custard pudding is made using eggs, milk, and sweetener. It has a jello-like texture that isn’t for everyone, and in some ways, it could be compared to Italian panna cotta.

You will find different versions of flan around the country – e.g. sometimes you will see a coffee-flavored flan. Interestingly, the dish has been traced back to Ancient Rome. After the Spaniards tried it and fell in love with it, they took it over to the Americas with them when they colonized Mexico. 

Conchas and pan dulces 

Pan dulces are sweet breads that were brought to Mexico by the Spanish colonizers centuries ago. In the 16th century, people in Mexico would enjoy sweetbreads with a hot beverage as a breakfast or an early afternoon snack known as a merienda.

Today, people will often have a pan dulce for breakfast along with an egg dish or some chilaquiles, and a platter of fresh fruit. Conchas are one of the most popular varieties.

These shell-shaped sweet breads are made in vanilla and chocolate flavors and are usually topped with a layer of icing sugar. Another cute and tasty type of pan dulces are “cochitos”.

These little pig-shaped cookies have a cinnamon and coffee flavor, and their name literally means “little pigs” in Spanish.

Many Mexican bakeries and patisseries sell rows upon rows of different pastries and sweet breads.

Some are very similar to croissants, pain au chocolats, and pastries that you would expect to find in France. This is because the French occupation during the 18th century heavily influenced the local cuisine.

A street vendor serves out cups of agua de cebada in Los Mochis Sinaloa

Mexican Street Food Eats

Street food is a huge part of Mexican food culture. As you travel around the country, you will often find that the main parks, promenades, and plazas of most towns and cities are filled with Mexican street vendors selling everything from tacos and burritos to elotes and esquites.   

You can easily find a filling snack for less than 20 pesos/around $1 USD. Mexican street food can be a light dinner substitute or something to tide you over until mealtime. 

Elotes and esquites

Elotes are one of the best-loved Mexican street foods. This is quite simple, sweetcorn piled up with a variety of different toppings. 

The most ¨traditional¨ way to enjoy Mexican elotes is to enjoy the corn grilled on the cob, slather it with a layer of mayonnaise, and then sprinkle chili powder and fresh lime on the top. You will often find a lot of vendors preparing the dish with canned sweetcorn too. 

Sometimes they will take a bag of Tostitos potato chips, top them with the tinned sweetcorn, and then pour fresh cream, chili powder, cheese, carrots and jalapenos over the top. Some people really take this to the extreme. 

For instance, you will find street vendors selling crazy elotes topped with 3-4 different types of cheese, mountains of potato chips, etc. A huge portion of elotes topped with almost every type of potato chip and topping under the sun shouldn’t cost you more than around 30-40 pesos ($1.80-$2). 

Elotes are the official name for the dish when it is served on the cob. They are called esquites when they are served in a cup. But generally, Mexicans refer to all of these things as elotes. 

Marquesitas 

Marquesitas are a beloved street food dessert in Southern Mexico. You will see stalls selling this treat on virtually every street corner in places like Merida, Izamal and Mahahual

Marquesitas are quite simply, Yucatan-style crepes. To make them, batter mix is poured onto a huge skillet.

The thin pastry is then slathered with a topping of your choosing. Queso de bola (Dutch Edam cheese), Nutella, and cajeta (Mexican caramel sauce) are popular choices.

The crepe is then rolled up into a cigar shape and eaten. You can ask for a little extra sauce or toppings on the side for dipping if you like. 

Mexican foods
Mexican foods

Final thoughts on what to eat in Mexico

As you can see in this list of dishes, you will never be in a position where you don’t know what to eat in Mexico. There are so many delicious dishes and regional specialties here that you could even spend months traveling around Mexico and still feel as though you have barely scratched the surface.

What do you think about this list of Mexican foods? Are there any that you have tried?

Which Mexican dishes appeal to you the most? If you are visiting Mexico for the first time, you may enjoy reading these Mexico travel tips.

I have been living in Merida in the Yucatan since the beginning of 2022 and I have been working hard to make this website the most complete resource for traveling to Mexico so hopefully, you will find plenty of useful information here.

Have a wonderful time exploring Mexico! Buen Viaje! xo


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer based in Merida, Mexico and the Editor-in-Chief of Mexico Travel Secrets. She has over seven years worth of experience in working in travel media and has travelled to 57 countries, mostly solo. Throughout her career, Melissa has produced written content for several high-profile publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, the Huffington Post, Rough Guides, and Matador Network.

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