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50 Best Yucatan Foods to Eat in the Yucatan in 2024: Local’s Guide

If you consider yourself something of a foodie traveler, then you will absolutely love sampling regional cuisine and some of the best Yucatan food dishes during your time in the Yucatan peninsula. 

You could argue that sampling local dishes, snacks, and beverages as is much a rewarding experience as seeing the sites and tourist attractions. Traditional Yucatecan cuisine (Comida Yucateca) is particularly special because it is only really found in this part of Southeastern Mexico and many of the recipes are pre-Hispanic and were created by the Ancient Mayans themselves thousands of years ago before the Spanish colonizers arrived.

You are in good hands here as I have been living in the Yucatan capital of Merida for the past few years. You can bet I have sampled as many regional dishes as physically possible during that time (much to the dismay of my waistline).

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

Yucatan Food 

You will have ample opportunities to sample Yucatecan food during your time in the region. It is served in restaurants all over the peninsula (the tri-state area of the Yucatan State, Campeche State, and Quintana Roo) 

Today, many restaurants across the peninsula still use the same traditional cooking methods that were used all those years ago. (For instance, they will often cook meats and other dishes in an underground oven known as a “pib”.) 

Many of the key ingredients that are used (like chaya and achiote) are native to this region and aren’t really found in cuisine elsewhere in Mexico. 

Most people think of things like burritos, fajitas, tacos, and nachos when they think of Mexican food. But the reality is that Comida Mexicana is far more diverse than people realize and each different state and region has its unique dishes and recipes. 

53 Best Yucatan Foods to Try in 2024  

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 Yucatan itinerary. 

Yucatan cuisine
Yucatan cuisine

Cochinita Pibil 

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, covered in banana leaves, and then slow-cooked overnight. 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 flour tortillas depending on your preference and whether you are watching your weight (corn tortillas are 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. 

Yucatan food: pollo pibil
Yucatan food: pollo pibil

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. 

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. 

Sikil Pak 

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

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. 

A cute selection of botanas served to us at El Porvenir, Merida
A cute selection of botanas served to us at El Porvenir, Merida

Yucatec botanas 

If you order a cerveza or a michelada at one of the old-fashioned cantinas of Merida, Celestun, or elsewhere in the Yucatan, you will often be presented with lots of free little botanas. Botanas are essentially the Yucatecan answer to Spanish tapas or Greek meze and consist of lots of little small plates.

Popular dishes are things like beetroot, sikil pak, empañadas, and higadillo entomatado (liver). 

In Merida, you can check out La Cantina El Porvenir, or Dzalbay Cantina. (Although the former are not free and they charge you around 20 pesos for bottomless botanas – worth it for the experience!)

Chicharra (Yucatecan Chiccharon)

Chiccharon is found and enjoyed all over Mexico. It is essentially fried pork belly or fried pork rinds but there are numerous different ways that it can be enjoyed. 

In its dehydrated, crunchy form, it is comparable to British pork scratching and is often sold in bags, like packets of potato chips, to be enjoyed with a generous topping of hot sauce. 

In restaurants and street food markets, you are likely to find it deep-fried in fat and served in a taco with salad and salsas. (It is honestly much more appealing than it sounds but arguably not the healthiest dinner choice in the world!) 

The Yucatecan version known as “Chicharra” is prepared slightly differently, and is renowned across the country for being particularly good. (People in this region tend to eat a lot of pork in their diets so it makes sense that chicharra would be popular.)

The pork belly is cooked in a marinade of orange rind and habanero chile before being placed in a taco and accompanied by tomatoes, onions, and cilantro). If you head to the Lucas de Galvez market in central Merida, you will often see locals queuing up to buy pork rinds from specific vendors so that they can prepare chicharra tacos at home. 

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

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.

Chaya 

Chaya is a distinctly Yucatecan ingredient that is only really found and utilized in this part of Southeastern Mexico. It is essentially the Yucatan answer to spinach and it is known for its inumerous health benefits. 

While chaya is sometimes used as a herb in various recipes or to make vegan versions of tamales, it is most commonly used to make aguas frescas and other Mexican drinks and cocktails. 

Agua frescas are drinks made by blending mineral water with freshly squeezed fruit juices, herbs, and a dash of sugar. Popular variations made with chaya include piña con chaya (pineapple with chaya) and lemon with chaya. It has a very “green” flavor – similar to taking a health shot of green juice in the morning. 

Mukbil pollo 

While most traditional Yucatan foods are eaten throughout the year in the peninsula, others are associated with certain holidays, traditions, and festivities. For instance, mukbil pollo is only really eaten in the lead-up to the Day of the Dead. (Dia de los Muertos – or Hanal Pixan as it is known in the Yucatan). 

Unnervingly, the name “mukbil” means “something that must be buried” so “mukbil chicken” then is “buried chicken”. Like other delicacies such as cochinita pibil and pollo pibil, mukbil chicken is cooked underground. 

It is essentially made as if it were one big tamale by blending corn dough, chicken, lard, onions, tomatoes, achiote paste, epazote, habanero peppers, and other condiments together and then wrapping them in a banana leaf. The delicacy is then slow-cooked using incandescent stones. 

During Hanal Pixan, plates of mukbil pollo are often placed on altars filled with offerings for the dead. 

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. 

Eating delicious scrambled eggs with chorizo longaniza from Valladolid

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 

One interesting thing that people in the Yucatan peninsula developed an affection for after the Spanish colonization is Dutch cheese. You will see a cheese known as “queso de bola” (“ball of cheese”) everywhere in Southeastern Mexico but what people are specifically referring to is Dutch Edam.

Queso Relleno is a beloved Yucatan dish that is made by hollowing out edam cheese wedges and then stuffing them with minced meat, hard-boiled eggs, olives, dried fruits, and spices. It is then cooked in a broth, soup, or sauce of flour and corn known in Mayan as “k’ool before fresh tomato sauce is added to the concoction.

Although it may sound questionable, this obscure blend of ingredients somehow just works. It is believed that this specific dish was invented around the 17th century. At this time when Dutch ships transported cheese to a Dutch colony in Curaçao, and locals started filling the cheese with chicken and shrimp.

While this specific queso relleno recipe is only really enjoyed in the Yucatan peninsula, similar variations of stuffed cheese dishes are enjoyed in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and other countries across Latin America.

X´catic Relleno

X´catic relleno is a modified twist on another Yucatecan delicacy known as queso relleno. To make it, a xcatic chili pepper is sliced vertically and then stuffed with meat, eggs, spices, and fruits, just like a hollowed-out cheese is prepared for queso relleno.

Frijol con puerco

Yucatecan frijol con puerco is quite simply,  beans served with pork. Pork shoulder is often used to create the dish and the meat is slow-cooked until it is tender and juicy and breaks apart on your fork, much like cochinita pibil. 

However, unlike cochinita pibil, the pork is served in large chunks and placed on a bed of pinto beans. It is something of a local tradition to go out for lunch with your friends and family on Mondays to eat the dish, and most Comida Yucatecas will only serve it at this time. 

Pol’kanes

Pol’kanes, meaning “serpent head” in Yucatec Mayan, are a type of deep-fried fritter that are often sold at mercados and street food carts late at night across the Yucatan peninsula. They were awarded their name based on their shape resembling the head of a snake. 

In Merida, you can find them sold around La Ermita, Parque Santa Lucia, and the Plaza Principal. The fritas are made by stuffing masa dough with pumpkin seeds, ibes white beans, and spring onions. 

The bite-sized eats likely date back to before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico, although the cooking methods have likely changed over time. In Valladolid, you will find a variation of pol’kanes known as “pibihuas” which are prepared slightly differently.

Salbutes and panuchos served at Katun Cocina Yucateca in Merida
Salbutes and panuchos served at Katun Cocina Yucateca in Merida

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.

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 that may seem relatively adventurous to you. Mondongo Kabic is one such example.

This thick broth is best enjoyed on a cooler day. It is 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. 

Crema de chaya

Crema de chaya (cream of chaya) is a very thick, creamy, indulgent soup that is made using the chaya plant and blending it with condensed milk, onions, butter, salt and pepper. It is particularly popular as a starter at Mayan weddings and you dont see it at an awful lot of restaurants, however you can try it tourist favourite La Chaya Maya in Central Merida.

Crema de chaya is best enjoyed with a side order of crusty French bread for dipping, which is known as “barras” in the Yucatan.

Best Yucatan Breakfast Dishes

Enjoying yummy huevos a la Campechana in Progreso
Enjoying yummy huevos a la Campechana in Progreso

Huevos a la Campechana 

As far as most Mexicans are concerned, a “good” breakfast constitutes a hearty egg-based dish that is usually served with a fresh fruit platter, a sweet bread like a concha, and a steaming cup of hot coffee or cafe de olla (cinnamon and pilloncillo infused coffee prepared in a clay pot). 

Huevos a la Campechana is an egg dish that hails from the state of Campeche. You don’t see it a ton elsewhere in the peninsula but it’s worth ordering if and when you do. 

Campechan eggs are made by deep frying a tortilla until it is crisped to perfection, slathering it with a healthy layer of refried beans (frijoles refritos), and then topped with two fried eggs before drenching the entire thing in a slightly spicy homemade tomato sauce. There should be so much salsa on the plate that the eggs are basically swimming in a river of it. 

This is often served with a basket of crusty bread so that you can break off little pieces and soak up all the sauce. Yum!  

Huevos con Longaniza 

Going out for desayuno (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.

Egg-based dishes (huevos) are particularly popular. Huevos con longaniza is made by scrambling eggs and serving them with finely chopped, fried pieces of longaniza – a local spiced chorizo that hails from the pueblo magico of Valladolid.

You will also see longaniza sold in various butchers, convenience stores, and supermarkets across the region if you fancy trying your hand at making it yourself.

Yucatan food: Huevos Motuleños
Yucatan food: Huevos Motuleños

Huevos Motuleños

Huevos motuleños are a popular Yucatecan egg dish that is said to have been invented in the small Yucatecan town of Motul, 44km east of Merida. Motul was designated as a “pueblo magico” in the summer of 2023 and if your schedule allows, it is worth coming here specifically to sample the dish in its birthplace.

Specifically, you should stop by Doña Evelias Huevo Motuleños in the Mercado 20 de Noviembre in the center of town.

The dish is made by serving two fried eggs sunny side up on top of a fried tortilla that is topped with black beans, cheese, and ham. Peas, cilantro, and plantains are placed on the top, as is a generous drizzling of lightly spiced, homemade tomato salsa.

You will find huevos motuleños on virtually every breakfast menu in the Yucatan. People are crazy about it and there is even an annual huevos motuleños festival that is hosted in Motul every July. (Yes, really!)

Different places place their own spin on it. In Motul, it is worth waiting for a table at Doña Evelias, even if there is a line. In Merida, try the dish at Senza Gastrobar in the ungentrified barrio of Itzimna.

Chilaquiles roja
Chilaquiles roja

Chilaquiles

If you don’t fancy eggs for breakfast, you can try a distinctly more Mexican alternative: chilaquiles. While this dish isn’t native to the Yucatan, it is worth including on this list because it is ultra-popular here and is served virtually everywhere.

To make chilaquiles, fresh, corn tortillas are cut into pieces and then lightly fried. They are then topped with eggs, cheeses, cream, refried beans (frijoles refritos), and a salsa of your choosing.

You can opt for 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!

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 and they are commonly enjoyed at breakfast times.

To prepare papadzules, fresh, warm tortillas are filled with eggs and then drenched in a sauce made with pumpkin seeds and epazote. You will see a lot of street vendors selling them from their carts in the squares and parks of Merida early in the mornings and they also grace the menu of several Merida restaurants that sell them as appetizers and entrees.

My personal favourite papadzules (I have tried a ton!) are the ones offered on the breakfast menu at Hacienda Teya, one of the most beautiful Yucatan haciendas that have been converted into a traditional Yucatecan restaurant.

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

Yucatecan fruit platters  

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. When Yucatecans go out for breakfast, they tend to order a main dish for each person, and a fruit platter for sharing in the center of the table.

Papaya, piña (pineapple), melons, and mango make popular inclusions. So too, do more regional Yucatecan fruits like sapotes and mamey sapote.

Traditional Yucatecan vaporcito tamales
Traditional Yucatecan vaporcito tamales

Yucatecan “vaporcito” tamales 

Tamales are a dietary staple all over Mexico, but they are prepared in very different ways from state to state. Tamales date back to pre-Hispanic times and are prepared by blending masa (corn dough) with different fillings. 

In Mexico City, Central, and Northern Mexico, pollo con mole (chicken with a spiced, chocolatey mole sauce from Puebla) and rajas con queso (chili with cheese) are popular tamale fillings. In these parts of the country, tamales are often prepared and then wrapped in a corn husk before being steamed. 

However, in the Yucatan, the process for making tamales, and the finished tamales are different. They are usually wrapped in a banana leaf and then steamed – a process known as “vaporcito”. 

Pork tamales are very popular here but so are turkey and chicken. Personally, I prefer tamales from other parts of Mexico as they are more flavorful but everyone is different. 

In the Yucatan, you will find Yucatecan “vaporcito” tamales sold by street vendors outside convenience stores and mercados. In cities like Merida, there are also several dedicated tamale stores. 

A store selling Yucatan tamales just off Paseo Montejo in Merida
A store selling Yucatan tamales just off Paseo Montejo in Merida

Brazo de Reina tamales

Brazo de Reina (“arm of the Queen” tamales are a great light bite option for vegetarians. These tamales are made with similar fillings and salsas to papadzules. 

(They are prepared by blending masa with chaya, hard-boiled eggs, pumpkin seeds, and tomato salsa. Although sometimes, queso de bola is also used). 

These tamales are particularly popular around Easter time (Semana Santa), although you will find them in some tamale tiendas all year round. 

Tamales de Maculan 

It is tricky to find vegan-friendly Yucatecan food because so much of the regional cuisine is meat-heavy and favors the use of pork. Fortunately, if you don’t eat meat or animal products, you will find a tasty option in tamales de maculan. 

These special tamales are filled with a type of white bean known as ibes beans, in addition to a rich, decadent tomato sauce, pumpkin seeds, and chives. They are then wrapped and steamed in a different type of leaf known as a “Holy leaf”. 

Like Brazo de Reina tamales, tamales de maculan are more common during Easter time but you can find some tamale stores that sell them all year round. 

Tamales Colados 

Tamales colados take their name from the specific process that is followed to create them. They are strained and not simply kneaded and rolled out like other types of tamales.

This is important because it gives them a much softer texture. Like tamales vaporcitos, tamales colados can be stuffed with various different meats and filling, but it is customary to eat them drenched in habanero chili sauce (if you can handle your spice), and tomato salsa. 

Best Yucatan Desserts and sweets 

If you have a sweet tooth, you will no doubt be delighted by all of the regional dessert options in the Mexican Yucatan. 

Manjar Blanco 

Manjar blanco is a typical Yucatecan dessert and you will find it everywhere in Southern Mexico during the summer months. It has a texture/consistency that could be compared to Italian panna cotta and is made by boiling milk with cinnamon, coconut pieces and cornstarch until the mixture thickens, pouring it into chilled glasses and allowing it to cool. 

Dulce de Papaya 

Papayas grow wild and in abundance all over the Yucatan so it is probably no surprise that a popular dessert would be made with them. Dulce de Papaya (“papaya candy”) is a simple dessert that is made by heating chunks of freshly chopped papaya in a pot along with water, sugar, cinnamon, and fig leaves. 

The result is a warm, sticky, caramelised version of the fruit that is somewhat similar to the popular guava roll candies (“rollo de guayaba”) that are found across Mexico. The dessert is usually served with chunks of Dutch Edam cheese (“queso de bola”) for an interesting sweet and savory contrast, with a cinnamon stick slotted inside.

A delicious Yucatan dessert flan served at Kinich restaurant, Izamal
A delicious Yucatan dessert flan served at Kinich restaurant, Izamal

Yucatecan Flan Neopolitano 

Flan is one of the most popular desserts in Mexico, and it is probably something that you have already tried in some form or another in your own country too. Different variations of the dessert exist all over Mexico. 

In the Yucatan, people often place a regional spin on the Mexican Flan Napolitano by preparing it with bananas, Queso de bola (Dutch Edam cheese), and elotes (corn). The texture and flavor are usually slightly different in Southeastern Mexico as here the standard recipe is modified to add a dash of condensed milk, caramel, and cream cheese that makes it altogether creamier than your average flan. 

Merengue 

Sit on any Yucatan beach long enough – from El Cuyo to Celestun, and you will eventually hear the yells of “meringue meringue meringue”. “Meringue” are regional sweets that you often see men selling on the beach as they balance trays precariously on the tops of their heads. 

These vendors usually offer a wide variety of candies “dulces” that include regional specialties and more universal favorites (like those giant circular multicolored lollipops that last aeons). 

In particular, look out for the little mazapanes (marzipan) shaped like pieces of fruit, the dulce de tamarindo, and the cocadas. Depending on where you are, these little candies can cost anywhere between 15 and 25 pesos a piece and are a great thing to try if you have a sweet tooth. 

Fresh coconut with chamoy and hot sauce 

On beaches all over the peninsula, you will find vendors selling coconuts for just 20-40 pesos. The vendor will start by cutting the top off the coconut and handing you a straw so that you can slurp up all the delicious coconut water inside. 

When you’re done, you can find the vendor again and he will hack the coconut up into small pieces for you so that you can eat the sweet, delicious flesh. It is customary to douse your coconut in salsas, chili, and hot sauce. 

Typically, this is Chamoy (a sort of tangy, fermented fruit salsa), Valentina hot sauce, and a sprinkling of chili powder. Some vendors also sprinkle candies and other treats on top of the coco. 

Along the Ruta Esmerelda, you can sample scrummy pay de coco
Along the Ruta Esmerelda, you can sample scrummy pay de coco

Pay de coco (and other coconut treats) 

As you drive along the Yucatan’s Emerald Coast (Ruta de Esmerelda), and drive past the gorgeous beach towns such as Chuburna, Chelem, San Bruno, and San Crisanto, you will see many adorable little tianguis (street food stands) at the side of the road. Many of these sell desserts (“postres”) made with fresh coconuts. 

Since many of these beach towns are surrounded by coconut groves, it makes sense that the locals would make use of the hundreds of free coconuts that drop to the floor each week. (San Crisanto even has an annual coconut festival where people enter competitions to see who can make the best coconut desserts!)

Pay de coco (coconut cake) is a particular favourite. You will also see people selling coco helado (coconut ice cream) and little coconut balls. 

Nieve (ice cream) 

Enjoying a pot of ice cream (“nieve”) and or an ice lolly (“paleta”) is one of the best ways to cool down on a hot, sticky humid day in the Yucatan. (Of which there are many!) 

In practically every town and city here, you will find “La Michoacana” ice cream stores. Although this is a chain that is found across Mexico, each store is independently owned and each one sells different flavored ice cream treats. 

Many Mexican ice creams are made with real fruit pieces and some of the tropical fruit ones are a treat. Along the Merida-Izamal carretera, you will find an old Mayan man that sets up shop every day in a humble palapa shack with a hand-painted sign out front that reads “nieves”. 

Keep your eyes peeled for it along the highway. You usually cant miss him because there are often plenty of cars parked up outside with tons of Yucatecans coming to buy ice creams. 

He usually prepares two cannisters of ice cream of different flavors each day. Some of them are really unique. (For example, he often sells sweet corn “elote” flavored ice cream cups!) 

Caballero Pobre 

Caballero pobre (translation: poor gentleman) is a dessert staple in the Yucatan that could be likened to French toast and another Mexican dessert known as “Torrejas”. To make it French-style bread is drenched in a mixture of condensed milk, vanilla, eggs, and cinnamon and then fried in oil. 

Serve with a dollop of cream, a scoop of ice cream, or maybe some maple syrup. Yum! 

Unfortunately, you don’t see it served in Comida Yucatecas all that often, but it does feature on the menu of some of the trendier brunch spots in North and 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  “marquesita”. 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 (a type of runny, caramel-like sauce), 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. 

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. 

Tacos to Try in the Mexican Yucatan

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

In the Yucatan, taquerias, and street food stands selling tacos exist on virtually every street corner. Some of the varieties that you will find here are native to the Yucatan.

(For instance, pok chuk tacos or cochinita pibil tacos and tortas). Others, like arrachera and tacos con bistec, can be found across Mexico.

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 have deals where you can get 3 tacos for 99 pesos or thereabouts. Once you are presented with your tacos, you can add salads (usually cilantro, tomato, and onion), and salsas as you desire.

If you don’t have much spice tolerance, there is usually a spectacular garlic ranch among the mouth-burning hot sauces. (Just look out for the white bottle).

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 slathered 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. 

Tucking into delicious cochinita tacos in Izamal
Tucking into delicious cochinita tacos in Izamal

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.

Yucatan food
Cochinita pibil is a Yucatan food delicacy

Where to Eat Yucatan Food in the Yucatan

Yucatecan and Mayan foods are so widely available in the Yucatan that you will find that the vast majority of restaurants, street food stalls, mercados, and cocina economicas that you stop by sell them. You don’t have to specifically try and seek it out. 

(If anything, you have to be more purposeful about seeking out more general Mexican dishes like tacos, chile en nogada, or carne asada!) 

Often you may find that even the most modest, unsuspecting little place may prepare the best version of a certain dish that you will encounter across your entire travels. There are some excellent restaurants in Merida serving traditional Yucatecan food and the city is quickly establishing itself as being quite the gourmand. 

In Merida, Izamal, and the Riviera Maya in particular, you will encounter several excellent eateries that place a contemporary twist on classic dishes. For instance, K’u’uk Merida serves elevated Yucatecan cuisine in a converted neoclassical mansion just off the Paseo Montejo. 

The dishes are works of art in themselves, presented in the most beautiful way, and this is a true contender for a Michelin star in the Yucatan if there ever was one. Elsewhere in Merida, Apoala serves Yucatecan-Oaxacan fusion dishes, while Sabor a Mango in Cholul blends Yucatecan ingredients with dishes from across the world. (For instance, they serve a Yucatan-style jerk chicken and a Thai curry prepared from regionally sourced fish).

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

Final thoughts on the best Yucatan foods to try

Do you have any additional questions about Yucatan food culture?

Yucatecans are very proud of their history and heritage. Many of their regional dishes predate the Spanish colonization 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.

I have been living in Merida for the last couple of years and I am always happy to assist with any questions or queries you may have. So dont hesitate to reach out if you need anything. 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 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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