Yucatan Food: 38 Sumptuous Dishes to Try in Mexico

Yucatan food is as much of a highlight of visiting the spectacular Yucatan region of Mexico as seeing the area’s pueblo magicos and archaeological sites. The Yucatan cuisine is also very special.

It differs from typical Mexican food. A lot of the dishes that you will find here are only sold in this specific part of Mexico. 

Yucatan Food 

A charcuterie board of different Yucatan food treats!
A charcuterie board of different Yucatan food treats!

A lot of Yucatan food dishes follow traditional recipes that have been used for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. Many dishes in this region are pre-Hispanic. 

In other words, they follow recipes used by the ancient Maya and predate the Spanish colonization of Mexico. Yucatecans are very proud of their history and heritage. 

You will notice that although you can indeed find more generic Mexican dishes in this part of the country (i.e. fajitas, burros, tacos, etc), Yucatan food is unlike any imitation Mexican food you may have tried in the United States or elsewhere. Following Ancient Mayan recipes and keeping the Mayan culture alive is important to Yuctecans. 

You will also note Spanish and Lebanese influences on Yucatan cuisine which makes the assortment of dishes in this region quite unlike anything you may have seen elsewhere. For instance, you will find that Edam cheese graces the menus of a lot of Yucatecan recipes. 

It is known as queso de bola here. This seems quite peculiar at first, but it was due to the fact that this area was once close to Latin America to Europe trade routes following the Spanish colonization. 

History and background aside, if you consider yourself a foodie traveler, you will love sampling Yucatan food while in Mexico. There are countless excellent restaurants, taquerias, and food stalls throughout this part of the country – from the cultural city of Merida to Izamal, Progreso to El Cuyo, and everywhere in between. 

40 Spectacular Yucatan Food Dishes to Try 

Yucatan food in general is very good. You can’t really go wrong with anything you order – even if you were to point randomly at something on the menu that you had never previously heard of and hope for the best. 

That being said, sometimes it is nice to come prepared and know for sure that you are sampling the best of the best. The Yucatan food dishes detailed below should all be on your radar during your Mexico itinerary. 

Cochinita Pibil 

Yucatan cuisine
Yucatan cuisine
Yucatan food
Cochinita pibil is a Yuctan food delicacy

If there were a signature Yucatan food dish, cochinita pibil would be it. You could refer to cochinita pibil as the original Yucatan pulled pork if you will. 

To create the dish, marinated pork is cooked slowly underground in a pib. A pib is essentially just a hole in the ground with stones and wood at the bottom. 

The meat is placed inside and then cooked covered in banana leaves. The meat is cooked over many hours and when it is ready, it is so tender and juicy that it just falls apart perfectly in your mouth.

As is customary with a lot of Yucatan food dishes, cochinita pibil is usually served with a side of fresh, warm tortillas. You can ask for corn or maize tortillas depending on your preference and whether you are watching your weight (maize is slightly healthier!) 

The pork is usually presented in a large (inedible) banana leaf with some handmade nachos and refried bean dip on the side. The meat is plenty flavourful by itself as is, but you will be given diced onion and tomato, and a selection of salsas to drizzle over the top as you wish. 

Pollo Pibil 

Yucatan food: pollo pibil
Yucatan food: pollo pibil

Pollo pibil has some similarities to the beloved cochinita pibil. This is chicken that is slow-cooked underground on the bone. 

The main difference is that the chicken is marinated with achiote paste (recado rojo) as opposed to the more citrusy marinade that is used to make cochinita pibil. Achiote paste, green pepper, tomato, and onion make up the marinade for pollo pibil. 

The flavor of this dish is somewhat more subtle than that of cochinita pibil. Depending on the restaurant, you will be served a half or whole chicken and you can cut the tender meat from the bone. 

Again, fresh tortillas and a selection of salsas/condiments are served alongside the meat. A serving of seasoned rice is also common. 

Huevos con Longaniza 

Going out for desayunos (breakfast) in the Yucatan is a very pleasant experience. You can opt to have breakfast in your hotel restaurant, in a quaint cafe in old Merida, or perhaps by the sea in the beach towns of Progreso or Chicxulub.

Huevos are eggs. They are usually enjoyed scrambled and accompanied by a good strong Mexican coffee but they can be prepared in a number of different ways.

Huevos con longaniza are a Yucatán food delicacy. This is a spiced pork sausage, somewhat comparable to chorizo. 

It is made in Valladolid. You will also find a lot of local butchers selling it if you are staying in self-catered accommodation and want to try your hand at preparing some Yucatan food yourself. 

Huevos Motuleños

Yucatan food: Huevos Motuleños
Yucatan food: Huevos Motuleños

Motul is a small Yucatecan town situated 44km east of Merida. Like other small settlements in this area, it has its charm: a colorful town square, gorgeous churches, and excellent taquerias.

However, Motul is perhaps best known for its contribution to Yucatan food culture. The breakfast dish huevos Motuleños was created here and today, it is available across the peninsula.

The dish is made with eggs on tortillas with black beans and cheese. Sometimes, additional ingredients are added.

For instance, plantains, peas, and ham. A generous drizzling of hot sauce is also often included.

This is Mexico after all. You may find that different eateries prepare the dish in different ways.

If you rent a car in Mexico and your schedule permits, it is even worth stopping for breakfast at a Motul cafeteria to try it. You could stop in Motul en route from Merida to Izamal. This is one of the best places to visit in the Yucatan for foodie travelers.

Puntas de Filete al X’catic

Yucatan food: Puntas de Filete al X’catic
Yucatan food: Puntas de Filete al X’catic

Puntas de Filete al X’catic is a flavorful yet simple dish that is made by seasoning steak tips with achiote before cooking them and serving in a slightly spicy tomato and X’catic chili salsa. The dish is usually served with plantains and rice, along with tortillas.

For the best experience, enjoy the dish with Mexican drinks that are native to Yucatan. For instance, pineapple with chaya (a type of Yucatecan spinach) juice.

Huevos a la Mexicana 

Huevos a la Mexicana (aka Mexican eggs) are a great, filling breakfast dish that utilize the very best of fresh, locally sourced ingredients. You will find this dish featured on breakfast menus across Mexico, but it is also very popular in the Yucatan. 

To make huevos a la Mexicana, eggs are scrambled alongside fresh chopped tomatoes, green chili peppers, and onions. The quintessentially Mexican way to eat this dish is to enjoy it with a side of warm, fresh tortillas.

Tear off a piece of tortilla and then use it to eat the eggs with your hand and scoop up your breakfast. Of course, as with most dishes in Mexico, hot sauces can be drizzled on the eggs to give them a little extra kick. 

Chilaquiles

Chilaquiles roja
Chilaquiles roja

If you don’t fancy eggs for breakfast, you can try a distinctly more Mexican alternative: chilaquiles. To make the dish, fresh, corn tortillas are cut into pieces and then lightly fried.

Restaurants and cafes that serve breakfast will often boast a whole section of chilaquiles dishes. The fried tortillas are often served with eggs, cheeses, beans, and either salsa roja (red sauce) or salsa verde (green sauce). The green salsa tends to be spicier, whereas red salsa (salsa roja) is tomato-based and more reminiscent of a pasta sauce!

Sopa de Lima 

Sopa de lima is a traditional Yucatan food that is commonly found at restaurants and cafes across the state. It is essentially, a lime soup prepared with fried, shredded tortilla strips and meat.

Chicken is commonly used. However, you can also find variations of the dish made with pork or beef.

Homemade tortilla chips are often served alongside sopa de lima. They make the perfect accompaniment and are great for scooping up the soup. 

You would usually have sopa de lima as a starter or an appetizer before the main course. However, if you are not massively hungry, you may also enjoy having it as a light lunch. 

Papadzules 

Yucatan cuisine: papadzules
Yucatan cuisine: papadzules

Papadzules are a Yucatan food dish with ancient Maya origins. In some ways, they could be compared to enchiladas.

To prepare papadzules, fresh, warm tortillas are filled with eggs and then drenched in a sauce made with pumpkin seeds and epazote. Papadzules are a popular breakfast dish and you will see a lot of street vendors selling them from their carts in the squares and parks of Merida.

That being said, you can still enjoy them later in the day and papadzules grace the menus of a lot of Merida restaurants. Each vendor may have their own special way of preparing the dish.

Sometimes, chilis and pickled onions are sprinkled on the top to give a little extra kick. Hacienda Teya is one of the most beautiful Yucatan haciendas that has been converted into a traditional Yucatecan restaurant. Their papadzules are arguably the best in the state! 

Fruit Platters  

Tropical fruits are available in abundance across the Yucatan!
Tropical fruits are available in abundance across the Yucatan!

If you want a light and healthy breakfast to offset the 10,000 tacos you have consumed during your time in Mexico, don’t fret. You will be pleased to know that fruit platters are widely available at most breakfast restaurants and coffee places as a lighter option.

These are usually large enough to share between two people and are very affordable. You will be able to tuck into a selection of delectably sweet, fresh tropical fruits. For instance, fresh sliced pineapple, mango, melons, papaya, and banana.

Carne Ahumada de Temozón 

Carne Ahumada de Temozón is wood-smoked pork that is served with avocado, sour orange, red onions, beans, and tomato sauce. Today,  temozón is loved and enjoyed by people across Mexico and indeed, the world!

However, all of this happened completely by accident. Temozón was created in the Yucatan village of the same name by a local butcher who was experimenting with different cooking methods in his father’s store. 

Longaniza de Valladolid 

Longaniza de Valladolid is the chorizo-like seasoned pork sausage that originated in Valladolid. It is commonly enjoyed at breakfast time and you will find a lot of restaurants across the Yucatan that serve eggs with longaniza.

However, you can also enjoy longaniza for lunch or dinner. It is often served with refried beans and tortillas. 

Queso Relleno 

Queso Relleno is a beloved Yucatan dish that highlights people’s love of Edam cheese in this part of the country. The dish has a Dutch influence but it is a dish adapted from the gastronomy of Yucatan,

This is quite simply, stuffed cheese – and not suited for those with any sensitivity to lactose! To make it, Edam cheese wedges are hollowed out and stuffed with minced meat, hard-boiled eggs, olives, dried fruits, and spices. 

The Queso Relleno is then cooked in a broth, soup, or sauce of flour and corn known in Mayan as “k’ool. Fresh tomato sauce is then added. 

This may sound questionable, but somehow the blend of ingredients just works. Queso Relleno is a favorite dish among both locals and tourists in the Yucatan region.

It is believed that the dish dates back to the 17th century. At this time, Dutch ships brought to Curaçao (a Dutch colony), the cheese, which began to be filled with chicken or shrimp. 

Queso Relleno is strictly a Yucatan food. However, similar variations of stuffed cheese dishes are enjoyed across the Americas. For instance in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica.

Panuchos

Panuchos and salbutes are two somewhat similar Yucatan food dishes. Although they do have distinguishing characteristics.

Panuchos are refried tortillas that are stuffed with refried beans and then topped with pulled chicken, tomato, pickled red onion, avocado, cabbage, and pickled jalapeño pepper. Sometimes, a slice of a boiled egg is also included.

It is believed that panuchos were invented in the San Sebastian neighborhood of the Yucatan capital of Merida. A restaurant called Don Ucho was situated on the main road here and the owners thought up panuchos when weary travelers venturing between Merida and Campeche would request a hearty dish.

It is believed that the name panucho is the result of a sort of Chinese whispers effect on the dish that was created at Don Ucho. It was named Don Ucho, then pan de Ucho, and finally, panuchos!

Salbutes Yucatan

Salbutes are comparable to panuchos, and to an outsider, it can be tricky to know the difference. These are deep-fried corn tortillas that are cooked somewhat differently and therefore do not become as crispy as panuchos.

Salbutes are not stuffed with refried beans. They can be topped with hearty stews and soups, pork, beef, seafood, or scrambled eggs.

It is common to enjoy salbutes as a light afternoon/evening snack. It is something that you might pick up from a street vendor when you are out and about in the Yucatan if you are feeling a little hungry but it isn’t time for dinner yet.

Dulce de Papaya 

Dulce de Papaya is a distinctly Yucatecan dessert that demonstrates that it absolutely is possible to transform papaya into something phenomenally unhealthy! To make it, papaya is slow-cooked in water with sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla.

It is left to cool down before it is served. Then, the papaya is enjoyed, soaked in syrup, and topped with either coconut or shredded cheese.

Sikil Pap 

If you are tired of dining on an endless sea of guacamole, there is another Yucatan food alternative that you can try: sikil pap.

Sikil pap is a delicious and addictive dip that is made with pumpkin seed, coriander, and roasted tomato. It is often served alongside Totopos but you can dip pretty much anything you like in it – pieces of tortilla, homemade nachos, tostadas, etc. 

Escabeche Oriental

Escabeche oriental (pickled chicken or turkey) is a traditional Yucatan food dish that originated in the eastern part of the state. It is mostly prepared with chicken but turkey is often used.

The chicken is roasted and seasoned with onion and Yucatecan spices. Then, it is shredded and served in a broth with roasted Xcatic chili. 

Relleno Negro  

Relleno negro is a traditional turkey dish that is seasoned with a spice blend made from charred chilies and herbs. The herbs and spices applied to the meat give it a blackish color – hence the name Relleno Negro. 

The process of making the dish and charring the herbs and spices is interesting. Most families and restaurants will do this outside early in the morning when the sky is clear and there are few people around to prevent the herby haze from hurting people’s eyes.

Achiote, oregano, tomato seeds, onion, pepper, garlic, salt, and other herbs and spices are crushed together to form a paste. This is one of the oldest, most traditional Yucatecan recipes. 

Relleno negro is often served at weddings and celebrations but you will also find it on the menus of traditional Yucatan cuisine restaurants. Historically, the Yucatecans would also make it with wild boar, and any other meat they were able to hunt.

Relleno Blanco 

Relleno blanco is the sister of relleno negro if you like. It is essentially a roasted turkey served with pork and stuffing. 

To make the dish, stuffing is made from pork mince, sour orange, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, garlic, butter, eggs, tomatoes, capers, olives, and raisins. It is cooked inside the chicken and the entire thing is roasted. 

It’s then bathed in K’ool and tomato sauces and served in a broth. If you see specialty Yucatan cuisine restaurants, it is likely you will find this on the menu. 

Lomitos de Valladolid  

Lomitos de Valladolid is one of several Yucatan food dishes that originated in the Pueblo Magico town of Valladolid. To make it, pork loin is cooked, diced, and then served in a spicy tomato sauce with a hard-boiled egg on the side. 

Mondongo Kabic 

A lot of Yucatan cuisine uses parts of meat that you may not have previously tried or which may seem relatively adventurous to you. Mondongo Kabic is one such example.

This thick broth is best enjoyed on a cooler day. It is a very thick broth made with the belly and hooves of a cow and red chilies.

It is usually spicy,  although variations exist from establishment to establishment. You will find similar broths across Mexico – from Mexico City to Guadalajara, but the Yucatan food version is prepared in a unique way.

Mondongo is made with classic Yucatecan ingredients such as sour orange and achiote. You can find a very good version at the stalls of the Lucas de Galvez market in central Merida. 

Yucatan Food: Street Food Dishes to Try 

Marquesitas Crêpes

Meander down Paseo Montejo in Merida, Yucatan, or the Malecon (seafront) at any Yucatecan beach and you will see a lot of street carts labeled  ¨marquesitas¨. This is a dessert native to this part of Mexico.

Marquesitas are Yucatecan crêpes but they are distinctly different from crêpes you may have eaten elsewhere. They are cooked on a large skillet before your eyes and then stuffed with a filling of your choice.

This is commonly cajeta, condensed milk, jam, chocolate, or Edam cheese (queso de bola). The crêpes are then rolled up like a taco and served in a brown paper bag. 

Elotes

Yucatan food
Yucatan food

Elotes are so simple and yet so flavourful. This street food dish is quite simply, corn on the cob.

Corn on the cob may be something that you have seen and eaten from street food vendors across the world. It may seem as though it is nothing to write home about. 

However Mexican elotes are not just any old corn on the cob. This is corn on the cob cooked to perfection so that the buttery, tender corn just falls off in your mouth.

Mexican elotes are served with mayonnaise, a slice of lime, and chili powder. The idea is that you lather a generous blob of mayonnaise onto the corn, a sprinkling of chili, and a squeeze of lime.

It is not the easiest (or most glamorous) thing to eat by hand, but that is all part of the fun. Just don’t touch your eyes afterward! 

Codzitos

Codzitos are fried corn tortillas that are served as-is without any filling. They are eaten by hand and drenched in fresh tomato sauce and pieces of shredded Cotija cheese. 

Mexican Street Chips with Hot Sauce

Yucatan food
Yucatan food

You will find wonderful large bags of homemade Mexican corn chips sold by street vendors and at some taquerias. These are also common at events – for instance when the January Merida fest is taking place, or if you attend any sort of outdoor fair or for example, you go to the Charreria.

Don’t underestimate how tasty such a simple snack can be! The vendor will typically ask you if you want hot sauce drizzled on the top, as they present you with a large red bottle of sauce.

Your answer should absolutely be yes! This is usually salsa Valentina – a hot sauce that is really not too hot and is suitable for people who prefer milder sauces.

The corn chips soak up the sauce and become delightfully soggy and salsa soaked. Just be sure to pick up plenty of napkins! 

Yucatan Food: Tacos to Indulge in in the Yucatan

Tacos are a staple of any Mexican diet. Locals can eat them day after day and never get bored (why would you? Tacos are spec-taco-lar!) of them. 

The same is true of Yucatecans. Taquerias and street food stands selling tacos exist by the hundreds here. In the Yucatan capital of Merida, it can feel as though every other store sells tacos.

Some of the tacos that you will find here are native to the Yucatan. (For instance, Yucatan cuisine tacos that are stuffed with cochinita pibil.)

Others can be found across Mexico. For instance, tacos con bistec or tacos con arrachera. Regardless, they are equally delicious and wonderful and are very much an integral part of Yucatan food culture.

Individual tacos in the Yucatan can cost anywhere between 18 and 35 pesos per taco (or thereabouts). The precise price depends on the filling and the place where you are eating them.

A lot of eateries sell a multi-taco offering where, for instance, you can get three tacos for 99 pesos or something similar. The experience is all very DIY.

You will be served your tortillas and meat, along with a bowl of limes, chopped fried onions, and a wide variety of salsas. Habanero sauce, salsa Roja, salsa verde, guacamole sauce, and chipotle all make common appearances.

If you do not have much spice tolerance, you can ask your server which of the salsas are spicy (¨picante¨). If you are completely spice averse, you may be pleased to find that a delightful garlic ranch is also usually available. 

Papas con chorizo taco

A variety of different Yucatecan breakfast tacos are served at cafes and breakfast restaurants throughout the towns and villages of the Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and Campeche. When you are in Merida, don’t miss the opportunity to have breakfast tacos at Wayan´E in Itzimna (Calle 15 X 18A y 20, Itzimná).

This charming little eatery is beloved by locals and tourists alike. It is so popular that there is virtually always a queue to be served.

Don’t let that put you off though. Some things are well worth the wait.

You will find many varieties of egg tacos here (the egg and spinach varieties are particularly good). However, for the best of the best, order some papas con chorizo tacos.These are slightly spiced sauteed potatoes and longaniza from Valladolid tacos served with frijoles (beans)

Castacán taco

Castacán is a distinctly Yucatecan ingredient that could be defined as being somewhere between a carnita and a pork rind. It is created using the belly of the Yucatecan bald pig, an endemic local creature.

It is cooked in such a way that the meat is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Then, it is stuffed inside a taco and lathered in hot sauce.

Tacos de Carne Salada con Chaya

Tacos de carne salada con chaya are native to the Yucatan region of Mexico. They are made with picadillo, cecina, or machaca – all different variations of ground/dried meat that you will find in Latin America.

They are then filled with bananas and chaya. Chaya is a spinach-like plant found in Mexico that is believed to have originated in the Yucatan part of the country. It is somewhat stronger in taste and contains more iron than your typical spinach.

Tikin xic taco

Tikin xic tacos are traditional Yucatecan tacos prepared using grouper fish. They are most commonly found in taquerias and seafront restaurants of coastal towns.

In inland towns and cities, they are less common and most taqueria menus tend to focus on meat. Regardless, you should add this to your Yucatan food list and order it if you see it.

The fish is beautifully marinated in a sauce of beer, xcatic chilies, achiote, orange juice, oregano, tomatoes, onions, and peppers. This gives it a distinctive flavor like no other, and a vibrant red-orange color as a result of combining the orange juice with the achiote. 

Poc chuc taco

Poc chuc tacos are made by grilling pork in an orange and citrus marinade. They are often served with rice, pickled onion, refried beans, and avocado.

Poc chuc tacos originated in the Yucatan state and are very popular in this part of Mexico. You will notice them on virtually every taco menu.

Venison tzic taco

The Ancient Maya would incorporate a lot of wild animal meat into their diets. One way in which this is honored today is through the existence of venison tzic tacos.

These are less commonly found on the menus of Yucatan taquerias so you may have to do a little Google search to see where you can sample them in your area. Venison has a strong, gamey taste that may not be for everyone.

The venison is stuffed in a homemade tortilla made with flour or maize. It is commonly topped with radish, onions, and garlic. 

Cochinita taco

Cochinita tacos are, quite simply, that sumptuous slow-cooked marinated pork that you find in cochinita pibil, made into tacos. This is a favorite dish among Yucatecans.  Pickled red onions and habanero sauce should be your go-to toppings if you want to try and eat this the local way.

Carne Asada taco

Mexicans love their meat (carne) tacos and you will generally find that taquerias showcase a lot of beef items on their menus. Carne asada tacos are particularly popular and among the most common that you will see.

Carne asada tacos are made using flank or skirt steak. They are topped with fried onions and the salsa of your choosing.

Arrachera Taco

Arrachera tacos are similar to carne asada tacos. These are flank steak tacos where the meat is marinated for a long time (typically overnight) in a blend of soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil.

This is one of the most popular cuts of beef in Mexico, it was invented in Mexico, and it actually wasn’t even invented until the 1970s! Arrachera is usually cheaper than other cuts of beef but it is still very flavourful and tender.

Al Pastor Taco

Al Pastor tacos are made by cooking boneless pork shoulder on a vertical spit. The spits are similar to those that you would expect to see in a Greek gyro place or a Turkish kebab house.

The cooking method is actually based on lamb shawarmas and the concept of cooking on spits was brought into Mexico by Lebanese immigrants. When you order an al pastor taco, adobada seasoned meat will be carved from the spit and served on flour or maize tortillas. 

Bistec Taco

Sirloin tacos with queso and potatoes
Sirloin tacos with queso and potatoes

Bistec and sirloin tacos are great choices if you love beef and you want to ensure that you have a flavourful, quality cut. You will find both varieties are extremely common and readily available across the Yucatan. Top with salsa verde, salsa Roja, or guacamole, a generous sprinkling of fried onions, and a squeeze of lime.

Tacos de Carne Salada con Chaya

Tacos de carne salada con chaya are native to the Yucatan region of Mexico. They are made with picadillo, cecina, or machaca – all different variations of ground/dried meat that you will find in Latin America.

They are then filled with bananas and chaya. Chaya is a spinach-like plant found in Mexico that is believed to have originated in the Yucatan part of the country. It is somewhat stronger in taste and contains more iron than your typical spinach. 

Parting Words

Yucatan food: contemporary elotes at Kuuk Merida
Yucatan food: contemporary elotes at Kuuk Merida

Do you have any additional questions about Yucatan food culture? Alternatively, have you discovered any great Yucatan dishes that you want to recommend to other travelers?

If you are traveling to Mexico for the first time, you may enjoy reading these Mexico travel tips. Safe travels! Melissa xo


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer based in Merida, Mexico. She has produced written content for several high-profile publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, the Huffington Post, Rough Guides, and Matador Network.

Leave a Comment