There’s a running joke about popular food from Mexico and Mexican dishes. On any visit to Mexico, everywhere you go locals will implore you to try the local delicacy:
“You must try the tostadas.”
“Ok, cool. What are they?”
“Tortillas with meat, cheese and salsa. Then try the enchiladas!”
“Great – what’s that?”
“Tortillas with meat, cheese and salsa. Then the quesadillas!”
“And that is…?”
“Tortillas with meat, cheese and salsa. But don’t forget the tacos!”
“Let me guess – tortillas with meat, cheese and salsa?”
Though don’t let the joke put you off – food from Mexico and Mexican cuisine is one of the world’s most beloved cuisines for a reason – every dish is so delicious! After all, if the combination of tortillas, meat, cheese, and salsa isn’t broke… why fix it?
Below is a guide to the most popular food from Mexico and Mexican foods you need to try during your trip to Mexico, from traditional Mexican dishes to famous Mexican favorites that aren’t actually Mexican at all (hello, Tex-Mex). Either way, you’re sure to be salivating by the end of this post – so be warned, don’t read if you’re hungry!
The best part about traveling is trying all the different local cuisines, like traditional food in Italy, Austrian food, and top dishes to eat when in Paris. It is all about experiencing the local cuisine in every destination. The food from Mexico is delicious and worth exploring.
Desayunos (Breakfasts) Food From Mexico
What better way to start your day than with chilaquiles – a quintessential Mexican breakfast dish made of corn tortillas cut into squares or strips and fried. This is then served with green or red salsa (sauce), cheese, refried beans, scrambled eggs and often meat, such as pulled chicken, though variations vary.
Translating as “Farmer’s Eggs” this ranch-style breakfast was first created as a hearty mid-morning meal on Mexican farms. The fried eggs are served on corn or flour tortillas with salsa fresca, which is made up of tomatoes, peppers, onion and cilantro – sometimes refried beans or rice is added too.
Platos Principales (Main Courses) Food From Mexico
This spicy soup is comprised of hominy (dried maize kernels), meat (usually pork or chicken), peppers, and plenty of spices. Often, you’ll be served with seasoning yourself, so make sure you know how much Mexican heat you can take!
Mole literally translates as “sauce” but typically refers to a traditional dark sauce served with meat and rice. Ingredients include fruit, chili peppers, nuts, spices (black pepper, cinnamon, cumin), and often chocolate. The result is rich, thick, and moreish – making this one of the national dishes of Mexico, best tried in the southern state of Oaxaca. This is a must food from Mexico to try.
Birria is a spicy meat stew, often featuring goat meat or mutton, which originated in the state of Jalisco. The stew is served with corn tortillas, onion and lime, so you can scoop the meat up and dress it how you like. The meat is super-soft and melts in your mouth.
Chiles en Nogada
This special dish showcases the colors of the Mexican flag: red, white and green, and is therefore advertised everywhere during September, which is the month that Independence Day takes place. Ingredients include stuffed chiles, walnut-based cream sauce and pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top.
The Tortillas with Meat, Cheese, and Salsa Section Food From Mexico
Surely the most popular food in Mexico and Mexican dishes of all time are tacos are served up in restaurants and by street food vendors all over Mexico, with many different filling variations.
One of the most popular is tacos al pastor (shepherd’s tacos), which are made from spit-grilled pork (not lamb, as the name would suggest, though the spit is typical of the Lebanese lamb shawarma, which is how the dish derives its name) and sometimes pineapple as well for a sweet kick.
The name means “toasted” and refers to the toasted corn tortilla used as a base. Toppings vary.
Soft tortillas filled with various vegetables and meat, plus cheese, then cooked on a griddle so that the cheese melts the ingredients together.
Soft tortillas rolled around a filling of meat and sometimes vegetables, beans, and cheese, then covered in a savory sauce, such as red or green salsa, or mole.
Postres (Desserts) Food From Mexico
Though churros originated in Spain and Portugal, they are also served up in Mexico. One of the best places to enjoy these fried dough wonders is at San Augustin Chocolates & Churros in San Miguel de Allende, where you can dip your churros in thick, spiced hot chocolate or dulce de leche.
Dulce de Leche
Speaking of which – dulce de leche! This Latin American “sweet milk” has a flavor similar to caramel, and is made by heating sweetened milk. It can take the form of candy, sauce, or as a flavor of other desserts.
A mention for the weirdest Mexican dessert has to go to the Marquesita, a “guilty pleasure” crepe with a filling of queso (cheese) and Nutella spread. Yes, it sounds weird, but if cheese and chocolate is wrong, I don’t want to be right. You’ll find them served on the street in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Helados (ice-cream) is a popular dessert found all over Mexico. But, although the word may look linguistically similar to the Italian gelato, Mexico’s taste is more sugar-forward than cream-forward gelati and (personal opinion only alert) can be a little too icy and sweet for my taste.
Bebidas (Drinks) Food From Mexico
You’ll spot cauldron-like barrels of iced aguas frescas all over Mexico, especially on the streets or in convenience stores. These “cool waters” are non-alcoholic drinks made from various fruits, cereals, or flowers, mixed with sugar and water.
Again, the taste can be overbearingly sweet, just how the Mexicans like it, so you may want extra ice and to wait for it to melt a little to dilute the flavor. Popular flavors include tamarindo (tamarind), jamaica (pronounced ham-eye-ka: this is made with the hibiscus flower) and horchata.
Variants of horchata can be found all over the world, from southern Europe, to Latin America, to West Africa. It’s a sweet, plant-based milk drink and the Latin American version is often made with white rice and cinnamon.
Possibly the most well-known Mexican drink, tequila is named for the town of Tequila in Jalisco, where the beverage was first cultivated from the blue agave plants grown in the area. Although shots of tequila are often served with salt and lime/lemon elsewhere around the world, in Mexico the shots should be taken neat – lemon/lime and salt indicated that the tequila is of bad quality.
Like tequila, mezcal is a distilled alcoholic drink made from the agave plant. Unlike tequila, mezcal can be made from different types of agave, not only the blue kind. The taste is smoky and strong, and is also often consumed neat in Mexico.
This viscous, yeasty beverage is a traditional Mexican alcoholic drink that dates back as far as the Mesoamerican period (i.e. pre-colonialization), when it was considered sacred. Pulque is made from the fermented sap of the agave plant and can be quite an acquired taste!
Cervezas e Micheladas
Mesoamerican cultures were making beer from barley long before the Spanish conquest, though today Mexico’s most famous beers are Sol and Corona, but there are many brands and names to choose from.
Beers (cervezas) in Mexico differ in the way they are served, often with lime and sometimes with salt. You can also ask for your beer as a Michelada, which converts it into a kind of beery Bloody Mary with the addition of lime juice, salt, chili powder, Worcestershire or soy sauce, and tomato or even clamato (tomato and clam) juice.
Mayan Hot Chocolate
If there’s one food we have to thank Mexico for it is chocolate. The Mayans were the inventors of chocolate, though their version was much different to what we can buy from a convenience store in bar form today. To get a taste of the real Mayan-style hot chocolate that became the predecessor of a global phenomenon, head to the Yucatan where Mayan traditions are still alive today.
Traditional Mayan hot chocolate was made from cocoa seeds, pound into a paste and mixed with water, cornmeal, chili peppers and other ingredients. It was poured back and forth until it became thick and foamy.
Snacks & Side Dishes Food From Mexico
Elote is corn, sometimes served on the cob, and is a popular snack all around Mexico. It’s also commonly served shaved off the cob, with butter, mayonnaise, cheese, chile powder, lime juice, and salt.
Frutas con Chile
Mexicans have cracked the code on how to squeeze in five portions of fruit and veg a day by sprinkling theirs with chile, salt, and lime. My personal favorite is pomegranate seeds with this topping. Make sure you pick up some tajin seasoning (chile powder, salt, and dehydrated lime) to shake onto your fruit salad once you’re back home.
This creamy avocado-based dip actually dates back to the Aztecs, as avocados were first cultivated in Mexico 10,000 years ago. Today, guac is made with salt and lime juice (often, sour cream, tomatoes, cilantro, and jalapenos are added too), and served with tortilla chips – the perfect Super Bowl Sunday snack. One of the most delicious food from Mexico.
Another Mesoamerican dish that is still prevalent in Mexico in modern times, tamales are made of corn maize dough, steamed in a corn husk or a banana leaf, with fillings ranging from meat, cheese, fruit, veggies, or chilies. Peal back the wrapper for a hot and tasty snack.
Chips with Hot Sauce
Chips (or crisps) are pretty yummy on their own, but Mexico takes things to a new level by adding hot sauce (Valentina is a popular choice) and a squeeze of lime into the bag – perfection! Warning: your hands will be crazy sticky. Food from Mexico can be spicy so be cautious.
A list of the most popular and traditional Mexican delicacies wouldn’t be complete without some insects. A more environmentally-friendly source of protein than meat and historically consumed around various regions of Mexico, one of the best to try is chapulines (grasshoppers). Seasoned with chile and salt, fried until crunchy, this is really tasty if you can get past the squeam factor. This is one food from Mexico I did not try.
Popular Mexican Foods That Aren’t Mexican
You may be wondering why some of your favorite Mexican dishes don’t appear on this list. Well, as Mexican food has migrated over to the United States, the Tex-Mex scene has developed its own take on Mexican dishes. Here are a few plates that fall under this category:
Like the section listed above, the fajita certainly falls into the “tortilla with meat, cheese, and salsa” category, though the meat is often served on a hot plate with onions and bell peppers. The plate sizzles as diners serve themselves with different condiments into soft tortillas.
Guess what, it’s another tortilla! The burrito has variations for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The premise is a large filling of meat, beans, cheese, rice, lettuce, guacamole, salsa, and sour cream, rolled into a cylinder using a flour tortilla to wrap up the contents. Burritos can also be served “wet” with a savory, spicy sauce poured over, but of course, you’ll need a knife and fork to tackle that.
The final tortilla-based dish on our list is the chimichanga; a deep-fried burrito that is much like the entry above, but with that extra bit of deep-fried golden goodness that things up a notch. Typically served with sauce on top and eaten with a knife and fork.
What better way to finish this guide to the most popular Mexican dishes than with a firm favorite – nachos! Tortilla chips covered in melted cheese, jalapeno peppers, guacamole, salsa, and sour cream, as well as other toppings.
More Popular Food From Mexico
As a large and varied country, it’s difficult to condense the nation’s traditional cuisine into just one shortlist. Therefore, we’ve tried our best to include the best of the best food from Mexico and include some of Mexico’s most famous dishes.
Did any of the entries above surprise you? Were you disappointed to learn that some of the most well-known Mexican foods are actually Tex-Mex? Or is there a specific Mexican delicacy that you believe deserves a place on this list that we haven’t already mentioned? Let us know your recommendations and tips in the comments below, and keep an open mind (and mouth!) while traveling around Mexico. What is your favorite food from Mexico that you tried?