Let’s face it, Mexican food is so ubiquitous, it has become part of the standard diet in countries all over the world. Of course, as with most cuisines, the food is very often altered to suit local tastes. This means that few people have actually tried the real authentic Mexican fare!
In this article we want to give you a glimpse of the most common, traditional dishes that the country has to offer. Before getting started on the list, there are a few things to note about Mexican cuisine.
Most Popular Mexican Dishes
Like many other national cuisines, Mexican food weaves a tale of history and national pride. Even today, Aztec and Mayan dishes continue to be served as regular fare. The Spanish conquest of Mexico added even more diversity to the food.
What’s truly impressive about Mexican cuisine is that most new dishes that sprung from settlements were a result of hard work and imagination. Families, cooks, and even nuns actively worked to infuse the new flavors with the old.
Now, without further ado, let’s take a look at the top dishes locals eat in Mexico.
Chilaquiles is a rather common breakfast in Mexico, probably because it is the perfect way to start your day. Chilaquiles consist of corn tortillas that have been quartered and fried. They are topped off with salsa, either red or green will do.
You will often find that eggs, pulled chicken, cream, cheese, and refried beans (frijoles) are doused on top as well.
Chiles en Nogada
Chiles en Nogada isn’t just a traditional dish, it is also a rather patriotic one. There are a few different versions of how the dish came to be. As local legend has it, nuns created Chiles en Nogada to celebrate Mexico’s independence.
They say that the colors of the dish; the green of the stuffed poblano peppers, white of the walnut cream, and the red of the pomegranate seeds represent the Mexican flag.
Other historians have a slightly different take on the dish’s origins. Regardless, chiles en Nogada continue to serve as the ultimate symbol of freedom. Although it can be enjoyed at any time of the year, it is particularly popular when Mexican Independence Day rolls around.
If you’ve ever felt that enchiladas were missing a little something, then Enmoladas are for you. Enmoladas consist of shredded chicken and cotija cheese wrapped in corn tortillas. It is then doused with black mole sauce and topped off with sesame seeds and more cheese. The dark mole sauce consists of Mexican chocolate, adding complexity and depth to the whole dish.
The best way to describe pozole would be to think of it as an intersection between a stew and a soup. This dish has ancient roots, dating back to the Aztecs. One of the hallmarks of pozole is the hominy – hulled corn kernels that are also referred to as maize.
Other ingredients in the dish include pork, tomatoes, red chiles, and other spices. It is typically enjoyed at major events or large family gatherings.
Considering the popularity of Torta Ahogada – it is practically a symbol of Guadalajara – it is surprising to learn that its inception was accidental. It was a happy accident, though, that spawned decades of delicious sandwiches.
In essence, Torta Ahogadas are “drowned” sandwiches. Crusty bread is filled with pork marinated in citrus and garlic and then fried. The sandwich is then doused in spicy, flavorful pasta as well as a tomato-based sauce. The result is an explosion of flavors that are perfectly balanced with one another.
Tacos Al Pastor
Now, tacos are about as Mexican as a food can get. Tacos al Pastor, though, has more of an international influence than many people realize. For the most part, they look like regular tacos – however, there is a hitch.
These corn tortillas are filled with pork that has been stacked on a long spit. In fact, in many ways, this is quite similar to shawarma. This is because Tacos al Pastor was introduced by Lebanese and Syrian immigrants that came to Mexico in the 1920s and 30s.
The meat is traditionally topped off with some onions, cilantro, and pineapple. Some modern versions may glob on some salsa on top as well.
A burrito consists of a flour tortilla filled with many ingredients including meat (most often beef, chicken, or pork), rice, cooked beans, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese. It is typically topped with condiments such as salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, or crema.
This is popular street food in Mexico and can be found virtually everywhere. It is corn on the cob, with a whole new take.
Here, the boiled corn can be seasoned with salt, chili powder, butter, lime, cheese, mayonnaise, and sour cream. The corn is typically served on a stick, but the kernels are sometimes sliced off the cob and served in a cup.
Torta Cubana is one of the meatiest sandwiches you will ever try. While there are variations on the recipe, it is generally accepted that it contains meat, cheeses and vegetables.
If you thought tortillas were already amazing and delish, they are about to be upgraded with tostadas. Initially, tostadas were a way of breathing new life into stale tortillas. These days, though, they are common fare.
Here, stale corn tortillas are deep-fried in oil until they turn golden and crispy. The most common toppings for tostadas are refried beans and guacamole. In various regions, however, you may also find meat, veggies, cilantro, salsa, cheese, and cilantro being piled on as well.
Gorditas can be found on the menus of Western fast food restaurants. Nevertheless, the real-deal can be a bit different. It is a small, Mexican cake made from masa dough. It can be filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables. This causes the cake to puff up, making it look chubby, hence the name.
Sincronizada is a flour tortilla-based sandwich which is prepared using ham, vegetables (such as tomatoes, lettuce and onion) and Oaxaca cheese. The ingredients are placed in between the two flour tortillas and grilled or lightly fried until the cheese tends to melt and the tortillas are a little crispy.
Tripas Tacos are made from cow’s intestines (tripe) and are certainly one of the weirder dishes to try in Mexico. Now you might be a little reluctant to try tacos made with intestines, but trust us they are surprisingly delicious.
Camarones a la Diabla
Camarones a la Diabla is a spicy shrimp dish where the shrimp is first sauteed briefly before being simmered in a spicy tomato chili sauce. The sauce is referred to as the diablo sauce, made from several types of hot peppers including different varieties of chili peppers like arbol and guajillo.
One of the first things that you will notice about tlacoyo is the bluish tint of its outer pastry. It is made from blue corn masa. These can be filled with pork crackling, cheese, veggies, or meat and are then cooked on open-air griddles. You can add sides like cheese, salsa, and nopales.
You could be forgiven for thinking that pambazo is just another sandwich. Take one bite, though, and you will quickly realize how unique it is. This sandwich is made from pambazo bread that has been dipped in Guajillo chili sauce and pan-fried.
The sandwich is usually filled with chorizo, potatoes, crema, and cheese. Of course, variations do exist so it isn’t uncommon to find meats, veggies, and cheese being added as well. Either way, this is an incredible dish.
If you ever find yourself in Mexico City, you will know that camote is nearby when you hear a steam-driven whistle. This is traditional Mexican street food – it’s roasted sweet potato that is often sweetened even more during the cooking process.
Camote is traditionally served with condensed milk, although various other sweet toppings may be added as well.
Gringas are a type of taco prepared using flour tortillas packed with al pastor-marinated pork meat, cheese and pineapple slices. The dish originated when two American students studying in Mexico in 1969 asked their local taco vendor to try using flour tacos instead of corn.
The dish became popular with both the students and the other local customers, resulting in the dish spreading throughout the rest of the country.
A more recent “traditional dish”, Tacos Gobernador are tacos filled with shrimp, cheese and chilli. The dish was named after the governor who enjoyed shrimp tacos and had a dish made specifically for him at a restaurant in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.
Mulitas consists of two corn tortillas filled with chunks of grilled meat and cheese. Other ingredients include lettuce, refried beans, tomatoes, chilli peppers and sautéed onions with salsa, guacamole or lime juice added on top.
Mulitas, not to be confused with quesadillas, are an on-the-go street food snack and are also popular throughout the US.
In case you are in the mood for a sweet treat, try concha – Mexico’s sweet bread. It is essentially sweet bread topped with a crusty, cookie in the shape of a shell. Conchas are available in various flavors, although vanilla and chocolate tend to be the most popular options. These are typically enjoyed by dipping into hot chocolate.
Ok so not technically a food but Pulque is far too good to not include! Made from the fermented agave plant, Pulque is an alcoholic drink that the natives have been drinking for over 2,000 years.
Calling it traditional would be underrated due to its deep history with the indigenous Mexican culture. In fact, you can read more about the history of Pulque and even try making it yourself with our favorite Pulque recipe.
Tamales are the answer to eco-friendly wrapping. Here, corn dough is filled with either sweet or savory fillings. This package is then wrapped in either corn husks or banana leaves and steamed. It is the ultimate street food as it comes with its own plate. What’s truly impressive about tamales, though, is that they have been eaten for over 9,000 years!
While there are several variations of this dish, it is a breakfast staple. It is technically a sou made from tripe, maize, and spices. Unless you grew up on the dish, though, it can be a bit of an acquired taste – and smell. Unlike many other Mexican dishes, this is certainly not one for the faint of heart.
Puchero is a Spanish-originating stew consisting of a wide range of local vegetables, the exact ingredients of which vary by region. The dish is also very popular in Yucatán, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, the Philippines, and the independent communities of Andalusia and the Canary Islands.
Chongos zamoranos is a cheesy-tasting dessert that is prepared with raw milk, sugar, rennet tablets and cinnamon. Despite being prepared in a similar way to cheese, it actually has quite a sweet taste.
It is typically eaten after the last meal of the day but it can also be bought from food stalls, restaurants or even in cans!
Criadillas (Bull Testicle Fries)
Ok so not technically a hugely popular dish in Mexico but Criadillas is in fact very authentic to Mexico and a few other Spanish speaking countries. Criadillas are essentially fries made from the testicles of a bull or a calf.
The reason for their popularity is to do with bullfighting, since successful matadors eat them as a sign of strength and victory.
Beef Tongue Tacos
Beef tongue tacos are made using the tongue of a cow, cooked into a sauce and added to a taco.
Widely known as Neat’s Tongue or Ox Tongue, Beef Tongue can be cooked in many ways. It can be boiled and seasoned, cooked in a sauce or can simply be roasted (if you prefer to eat your meat without spice).
Garnacha is a bite-sized snack consisting of a crispy tortilla topped with tomato sauce, meat and potatoes. Seasoned with spices to add depth of flavor, garnacha can be quite a versatile dish.
Tortillas de Maiz
Tortillas de Maiz are a type of flatbread made from corn which have a myriad of uses. They are used to make tacos, burritos, quesadillas and enchiladas. They can be sliced into triangles and fried to make corn chips or transformed into a dessert by adding sweet toppings.
Pejelagarto isn’t one of the most commonly eaten dishes in Mexico but it is certainly notable due to the fact that the species of fish, native to the rivers of Mexico, has existed unchanged for 100 million years!
When Pejelagarto (or Tropical Gar as it is also known) is eaten, it is most often fried or roasted.
Cabrito is a traditional delicacy made of roasted goat kid. Traditionally, the kid should be less than three weeks old and only have been fed milk in its lifetime. This is what gives the meat its mild, delicate flavor.
The goat meat may be soaked in a brine and/or seasoned with herbs and spices before roasting, although preparation varies significantly depending on the family recipe and area of Mexico.
Escamoles, also known as Mexican caviar or insect caviar, are the eatable larvae and pupae of ants found in Mexico. They generally have a bit nutty and buttery flavor (particularly when prepared in butter), but tend to become crunchy after frying.
Similar to cottage cheese in texture, escamoles are usually consumed unaccompanied but can often be seen added to tacos, omelets or salsa and served with guacamole and tortillas. They are typically eaten in Mexico City and neighboring areas.
Chicken mole is a dish prepared using chicken and mole sauce, which is made using cloves, cinnamon, anise, coriander, dried chiles and chocolate. Other ingredients include fruits, nuts, chilli peppers, and spices like black pepper, cinnamon, or cumin.
The dish is fairly spicy and bittersweet, with a hint of earthy flavour. One can accompany this dish with warm rice and beans. You can also add it to tortillas or spread it over tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, nachos, and veggies.
Ensalada de Pollo
Ensalada de pollo is a creamy chicken salad which is a popular, hearty dish to serve at parties and holidays. It is made with chicken, combines with chopped up vegetables and lettuce, and coated with a creamy mayonnaise-based dressing.
Cemita Poblana is an overstuffed sandwich filled with meat, avocados, oaxaca cheese and papalo. Other fillings include onions and peppers. A cemita is a large Mexican bread roll made with eggs and topped with sesame seeds.
The most common meats used are beef and chicken but veal and pork are also used. The meat is pounded thin, breaded then fried. In South America this method is called milanesa, which translates to breaded in English.
Pepito is a traditional sandwich made using beef, pork or chicken. It originates in Spain but is a popular street food in both Mexico and Venezuela as well as other parts of Latin America. Additional primary ingredients used to prepare this sandwich include refried beans, black beans or pinto beans. The bread can be a soft roll, bun or baguette.
Although the ingredients do vary by region and by people’s preferences, there are a large number of common ingredients that can be added to a Pepito including eggs, onions, cheese, lettuce and avocado.
Torrejas are a traditional dessert eaten in many Latin American countries such as including Spain and El Salvador, made from bread which is dipped in eggs before being fried and soaked in a sweet syrup. It is similar to French toast or eggy bread which is prepared in a similar fashion.