Mexican cuisine includes so much more than just the tacos, burritos, and quesadillas we see every day at Mexican restaurants in the US. It holds a special place in the world of gastronomy, renowned for its incredible diversity and richness. This beloved culinary tradition has evolved over the centuries, drawing from a fascinating blend of indigenous and European influences.
Delving into the historical background of Mexican cuisine, we find its roots in pre-Hispanic times, with the Aztecs and Mayans leaving an indelible mark on its development. Key indigenous ingredients like corn, beans, and chilies have shaped the foundation of this vibrant culinary landscape. When the Spanish arrived, they introduced new ingredients and techniques, further enriching the cuisine through the fusion of the two.
The cultural significance of Mexican food cannot be overstated. Food plays an essential role in Mexican customs, celebrations, and daily life. In 2010, UNESCO recognized traditional Mexican cuisine as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, highlighting the preservation and evolution of traditional recipes and techniques throughout the country.
One of the most captivating aspects of Mexican cuisine is its regional diversity. From the coastal flavors of Veracruz to the smoky spices of Oaxaca, each region boasts its own unique specialties, shaped by local ingredients and culinary traditions.
Mexican street food culture is another gem to be discovered, with bustling street markets showcasing the very essence of local cooking. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Mexico, experiencing its street food is an absolute must.
Now, let’s embark on a tasty journey as we explore the most popular foods in Mexico, capturing the essence of this deep culinary heritage. From well-known classics to lesser-known regional delights, these dishes provide a delicious glimpse into the vibrant world of Mexican cuisine.
Most Popular Foods in Mexico You Need in Your Life:
Ah, the legendary taco! Often, this iconic dish springs to mind at the mere mention of Mexican cuisine. With roots tracing back to the indigenous people of Mexico, these irresistible, easy-to-hold delights have held a cherished place in Mexican culinary traditions for countless years. Intriguingly, the al pastor variation has triumphed as “Mexico’s best taco” in a multitude of surveys and contests.
They’re incredibly versatile, and you can find countless variations worldwide. Some popular favorites include tacos de carnitas (braised or roasted pork) and tacos de pescado (fish tacos). No matter which type you choose, remember to scoop on some guac for an extra kick of flavor!
Chilaquiles are the ultimate Mexican comfort food, perfect for breakfast or brunch. This dish has become a beloved staple in Mexican households and restaurants dating back to the Aztec empire.
In its simplest form, chilaquiles consist of fried corn tortilla chips smothered in a spicy tomato or tomatillo sauce. Toppings vary, but common additions include shredded chicken, fried eggs, avocado, and a generous sprinkle of crumbled queso fresco.
3. Pozole (Hominy Soup)
Pozole, a traditional Mexican soup made from hominy (dried maize kernels), is a dish steeped in history and cultural significance. Originally prepared for special occasions and religious ceremonies, it has become a beloved comfort food enjoyed by Mexicans everywhere.
Pozole presents itself in three distinct forms: red, white, and green, each boasting a unique aroma. No matter the variety, this remarkable dish is customarily adorned with crisp cabbage, succulent radishes, piquant onions, and a tangy lime squeeze to impart a vivid, zesty flair.
Tamales are a classic Mexican dish with roots dating back thousands of years to the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica. Today, they remain a popular and beloved food, often enjoyed during festive occasions and holidays.
Making tamales involves spreading a dough made from corn masa (maize flour) onto a corn husk or banana leaf, filling it with a savory or sweet filling, and then steaming the whole package to perfection. Fillings can range from slow-cooked meats to sweet fruits, and there’s a tamale out there for everyone’s taste buds!
Let’s consider another eminent dish: the enchilada, crafted by enclosing a filling within a corn tortilla and drizzling it with a zesty sauce. The origins of enchiladas can be traced to the Aztecs, who ingeniously used tortillas to envelop fish and assorted ingredients, creating a portable meal.
An exquisite enchilada hinges on the sauce, which varies from a piquant, tomatillo-infused green sauce to a deep, smoky red sauce derived from dried chilis. Be it cheese, chicken, or beef, the dish’s irresistible allure can’t be denied. To elevate your enchilada experience, top them with molten cheese, some sour cream, and a sprinkling of verdant cilantro.
6. Elote (Grilled Corn)
Elote, or Mexican street corn, is a popular snack found at street vendors and food markets throughout Mexico. It’s a simple yet incredibly wonderful way to enjoy corn on the cob.
Grilled to perfection, the corn is slathered with a mixture of mayonnaise, crema, and spices before being rolled into crumbled cotija cheese. A lime squeeze and a chili powder sprinkle complete this iconic dish. The combination of smoky, creamy, and tangy flavors makes elote an irresistible treat perfect for a summer barbecue or a delightful summer salad.
7. Chiles en Nogada
Chiles en nogada is a traditional Mexican dish that perfectly embodies the colors of the Mexican flag. It consists of a poblano chili pepper stuffed with a savory mixture of ground meat, fruits, and spices. It is then smothered in a creamy walnut sauce (nogada) and sprinkled with vibrant pomegranate seeds.
This dish is typically served during September to celebrate Mexican Independence Day. Its complex profile and stunning presentation make it a true showstopper on any dinner table.
8. Carnitas (Confit Pork Meat)
Carnitas, meaning “little meats” in Spanish, are tender, slow-cooked pork pieces that are a staple in Mexican cuisine. Traditionally made by simmering pork in lard for hours, they develop a crispy exterior while remaining juicy and tender.
Commonly served in tacos, burritos, or alongside rice and beans, their richness and savoriness are perfectly complemented by a squeeze of fresh lime and a spoonful of zesty pico de Gallo.
Sopes are a popular Mexican street food made from thick, fried corn masa “boats” capped with various ingredients. The base is similar to a thick tortilla with raised edges, perfect for holding an array of tasty toppings.
Commonly, one puts in refried beans, shredded meat, lettuce, tomatoes, crumbled cheese, and a dollop of sour cream. The combination of crispy masa, creamy beans, and fresh toppings make sopes an irresistible, handheld delight.
A list of popular Mexican foods would only be complete if mentioning churros, the beloved deep-fried pastry dusted with cinnamon and sugar. They are often enjoyed as a dessert or snack and can be found at street vendors and bakeries throughout Mexico.
These crispy golden treats are usually served with warm chocolate sauce for dipping, making them the perfect indulgence to satisfy any sweet tooth.
This simple yet satisfying Mexican dish has roots dating back to Spanish colonial times. They are an adaptation of the Spanish “tosta,” an open-faced sandwich. They have become a popular breakfast or snack option in Mexico, reflecting the fusion of Spanish and indigenous culinary traditions.
Molletes are made by slicing a bolillo (Mexican bread roll) in half and topping it with refried beans, cheese, and sometimes, cooked chorizo. The assembled sandwich is then broiled until the cheese is melted and bubbly. It’s often served with pico de gallo or fresh salsa.
Ceviche is a refreshing seafood dish that originated in the coastal regions of Latin America, including Mexico. The indigenous people of these regions have enjoyed it for centuries, who marinated their fish in acidic fruit juices to preserve and season it.
In its Mexican rendition, this dish primarily features uncooked fish immersed in a bath of lime juice. This citrus marinade induces denaturation, a chemical process that effectively “cooks” the protein. Subsequently, the seafood mix is combined with a medley of diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and fiery chilis.
13. Huevos Rancheros
Huevos rancheros, which translates to “rancher’s eggs,” is a delicious Mexican breakfast dish with a history rooted in the rural, agricultural communities of Mexico. It was originally a hearty meal enjoyed by farmworkers to fuel them for a long day of labor.
Although traditionally made for breakfast, you can enjoy huevos rancheros at any time of day. They consist of fried eggs served on warm corn tortillas and topped with spicy tomato-based salsa. Sides of refried beans, avocado, and fried potatoes often accompany the dish.
Quesadillas, a staple in Mexican cuisine, have a history that dates back to the Aztecs, who would fill corn tortillas with pumpkin and squash. Today, they’re made with various fillings and are popular in Mexico and internationally.
A quesadilla is made by filling a tortilla (either corn or flour) with cheese and other ingredients like cooked meat, beans, or vegetables. The filled tortilla is then folded in half and cooked on a griddle or skillet until the cheese melts and the tortilla is crispy, and then served with a side of sour cream, guacamole, or salsa for dipping.
Menudo, a traditional Mexican soup made with beef tripe and a spicy red chili broth, has been enjoyed for centuries in Mexico. It is believed to have originated with the indigenous people of the region, who utilized every part of the animals they raised for sustenance.
Menudo is often enjoyed as a weekend or special occasion dish and has therapeutic properties, making it a popular remedy for hangovers. The soup is typically garnished with chopped onions, cilantro, and lime, and served with warm tortillas or bread for dipping.
Flautas, or taquitos, are a popular Mexican snack or appetizer with roots in the northern regions of Mexico. The name “flauta” means “flute” in Spanish, referring to the rolled shape of this crispy, deep-fried treat.
They are made by filling a corn or flour tortilla with a savory filling (such as shredded chicken, beef, or cheese) and then rolling it tightly into a cylindrical shape. The rolled tortilla is then deep-fried until golden and crispy. Flautas are often served with sour cream, guacamole, or salsa for dipping and can be topped with shredded lettuce, crumbled cheese, or a drizzle of crema.
Barbacoa is a traditional Mexican slow-cooking method that originates in Mesoamerica’s indigenous cultures. The word derives from the Arawak word “barabicu,” meaning “sacred fire pit.” This ancient technique involves slow-cooking meats, usually lamb, goat, or beef, in a pit dug into the ground and covered with maguey (agave) leaves.
Modern barbacoa is often prepared in a more accessible manner by slow-cooking meats in a pot or oven, but the rich smokiness and tender texture remain. It’s typically served with warm tortillas, diced onions, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.
Gorditas, meaning “little fat ones” in Spanish, are a popular Mexican dish made from thick, fried corn masa pockets filled with various ingredients. The dish’s name refers to the plump appearance of the filled masa pocket.
Gordita fillings include everything from shredded meats and refried beans to cheese and vegetables. The crispy exterior and soft, savory interior make gorditas a satisfying snack or meal. They are often served with a side of salsa or hot sauce for an extra kick. As a dessert version, gorditas de nata are made with a sweet, clotted cream (nata) and sprinkled with sugar or cinnamon, making them a delightful treat to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Tostadas are made from crispy, flat corn tortillas topped with various ingredients. They have been enjoyed in Mexico since pre-Columbian times when the indigenous people would dry leftover tortillas in the sun to extend their shelf life.
They can be topped with a wide range of ingredients, from refried beans and shredded meat to seafood and fresh vegetables, and are typically garnished with crumbled cheese, sour cream, and fresh herbs like cilantro. Tostadas are a versatile and customizable dish that can be enjoyed as a snack, appetizer, or main course.
20. Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita pibil is a traditional Yucatecan dish made from slow-roasted pork marinated in a tangy mix of citrus juice, achiote (annatto) paste, and spices. The dish’s name comes from the Mayan words “pib,” meaning “buried,” and “cochinita,” meaning “baby pig.”
Historically, it was prepared by marinating a whole suckling pig and cooking it in a pit lined with banana leaves. Today, the dish is often made with pork shoulder or other cuts of meat, and you can cook it in an oven or slow cooker. It’s typically served with pickled onions and warm tortillas for a delicious, melt-in-your-mouth meal.
Guacamole, a creamy avocado-based dip, is essential to Mexican cuisine. It is believed to have originated with the Aztecs, who valued the avocado for its rich, butteriness and high nutritional content.
Traditional guacamole is made by mashing ripe avocados and mixing them with lime juice, salt, and other ingredients like diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and spicy chilies. It can be enjoyed as a dip with tortilla chips, a topping for tacos and other dishes, or even spread on a slice of toast for a delicious and healthy snack. The creamy avocado and bright, fresh flavors make it an irresistible and versatile addition to any meal.
Mole is a rich, complex sauce that is an essential component of Mexican cuisine. Originating from pre-Columbian times, it has evolved over the centuries to encompass a wide range of ingredients.
There are many different types, but the most famous is mole poblano, which originates from the state of Puebla. This dark, velvety sauce is made from a blend of dried chilies, spices, chocolate, and other ingredients that give it a unique and unforgettable character. It’s often served with poultry, such as chicken or turkey, and is a popular dish during special occasions and celebrations.
23. Machaca (Shredded Dried Beef)
Machaca is a dried, shredded beef that has been a staple of Mexican cuisine for centuries. It is typically seasoned with chili powder, garlic, and other spices before being cooked and shredded. It was initially developed as a way to preserve meat in regions with limited access to refrigeration.
In Mexico, it is often used as a filling for burritos, tacos, and breakfast dishes such as machaca con huevo, where it’s combined with eggs. Another popular preparation is to serve it with beans and rice, or to make machaca con chile colorado, a spicy stew made with beef, chili peppers, and other seasonings.
24. Discada (Plow Disc BBQ)
Discada is a type of barbecue that originated in northern Mexico and is named after the cooking vessel, a plow disc (disco de arado in Spanish). This cooking method involves heating the disc over an open flame and searing meats, vegetables, and spices on its flat surface.
It can be made with a variety of meats, including beef, pork, and chorizo, as well as onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes. Once cooked, the ingredients are often served on tortillas with a squeeze of fresh lime and a sprinkle of cilantro.
25. Chiles Rellenos
Chiles Rellenos is a classic with an incredible combination of spiciness and savoriness. This dish dates back to the colonial era and is a testament to the fusion of indigenous Mexican and Spanish culinary traditions.
It consists of large, mild chili peppers, such as poblano or Anaheim chilies, stuffed with a filling that often includes cheese, ground meat, or a combination of both. The stuffed peppers are then coated in a fluffy egg batter and fried to a golden brown. They are typically served with a tomato-based sauce, rice, and beans, making them a satisfying and delicious meal that appeals to a wide range of palates.
Esquites is an awesome Mexican street food made from cooked corn kernels, which are typically served in a cup. Originating from the ancient Aztec cuisine, this beloved snack has become a staple in markets and street food stands across Mexico.
To make Esquites, corn kernels are first boiled in water with salt and epazote, a pungent Mexican herb, until tender. The cooked corn is then sautéed with butter, onion, garlic, and chopped chili peppers, creating a aromatic and spicy experience. The dish is finished off with a generous garnish of crumbled cotija cheese, lime juice, and a dollop of mayonnaise or Mexican crema. Esquites can be enjoyed with a spoon or used as a topping for tacos, salads, or other dishes, adding a burst of savory goodness to any meal.
27. Birria Tacos
We know we already mentioned tacos, but birria tacos deserve their own mention! They are a popular Mexican street food that originated in the state of Jalisco, made by slow-cooking goat or beef in a broth with spices and chiles, then shredding the meat and using it to fill corn tortillas. Birria tacos have gained popularity in recent years, becoming a favorite both in Mexico and abroad.
The tacos are often served with a side of the cooking broth (called “consomé”) for dipping. Toppings like onions, cilantro, and lime wedges are also provided, making these guys irresistible.
Huaraches, named after the shape of traditional Mexican sandals, are a popular street food made from masa dough. These oblong bases are topped with various ingredients, making them a satisfying and customizable meal that illustrates the versatility of masa.
To make huaraches, masa dough is shaped into form, then cooked on a griddle or fried until crispy. The cooked huarache is typically topped with a layer of refried beans, followed by meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and salsas. Popular meat options include carnitas, barbacoa, or even nopales (cacti) for a vegetarian alternative.
29. Caldo De Queso (Cheese Soup)
Caldo de Queso is a traditional Mexican soup hailing from the state of Sonora. This comforting, cheese-filled dish is perfect for chilly evenings and demonstrates the use of simple, wholesome ingredients in Mexican cuisine.
This comforting soup is made by simmering a broth with potatoes, tomatoes, onion, and garlic. Chiles, such as Anaheim or poblano peppers, are added for a touch of heat. Once the vegetables are tender, cubes of semi-firm cheese, like queso fresco or panela, are added to the soup, where they soften but retain their shape. The soup is then garnished with cilantro and served with warm tortillas for dipping.
Tlacoyos are a pre-Hispanic Mexican dish that has been enjoyed for centuries. These oval-shaped, stuffed masa cakes are similar to gorditas, but with a thinner and elongated shape. They can be found at street food stalls and markets throughout Mexico, offering a delicious, portable meal.
To make tlacoyos, masa dough is shaped into small, oval forms and filled with ingredients like refried beans, cheese, or fava beans. The filled masa cakes are then sealed and cooked on a griddle until golden brown and crispy. Before serving, they are often topped with salsa, nopales (cactus), and crumbled cheese.
31. Rajas con Crema
Rajas con Crema, a creamy and smoky Mexican dish, highlights the versatile poblano pepper. This comforting dish has roots in Central Mexico and is often enjoyed as a side dish or a filling for tacos and gorditas.
Rajas con Crema is made by roasting and peeling poblano peppers, then slicing them into thin strips. The pepper strips are sautéed with onions and garlic and then simmered in a velvety cream sauce. The dish can be made with or without the addition of corn and is typically served with warm tortillas.
This traditional Mexican vegetable dish reveals the fresh summer squash’s simple yet delicious flavors. Humble and nutritious, it’s popular throughout Mexico and can be found in various preparations.
Calabacitas is typically made by sautéing diced summer squash with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and corn. Some versions also include poblano peppers for added heat. The dish is often seasoned with fresh herbs like cilantro or epazote and can be finished with a sprinkling of crumbled cheese. It can be enjoyed as a side dish or a filling for tacos and gorditas.
33. Pollo Asado
Pollo Asado, or marinated grilled chicken, is a popular Mexican dish showcasing adobo marinades’ seared flavors. This dish can be found throughout Mexico, with regional variations in the marinade ingredients and cooking techniques.
Pollo Asado begins with marinating chicken pieces in adobo sauce, typically made with a blend of chiles, garlic, vinegar, and spices. The marinated chicken is grilled or roasted until tender and juicy, with a slightly charred exterior. Pollo Asado is often served with rice, beans, and tortillas, as well as a variety of salsas and accompaniments for a complete and satisfying meal.
Emerging from the vibrant city of Puebla, the Cemita is a delectable sandwich that has garnered attention across Mexico and beyond. It owes its name to the sesame-seed-speckled, round roll it nestles within, and boasts a medley of tastes and textures that make it unforgettable.
A typical Cemita brims with an array of ingredients, encompassing milanesa (breaded and fried meat), avocado, Oaxacan cheese, smoky chipotle peppers, and the aromatic Mexican herb, papalo. The bread is mildly sweet and fluffy, harmonizing perfectly with the zesty fillings. The Cemita’s customizable nature, with a plethora of meat, cheese, and topping options, means it’s perfect for any meal.
Hailing from the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, Chilorio is a succulent pork dish celebrated for its spicy, robust sauce. Revered throughout Mexico, it has become a cornerstone of Sinaloan cuisine.
To create Chilorio, pork is slow-cooked until tender, shredded, and cooked once more in a bold sauce derived from dried chiles, garlic, and spices such as cumin and oregano. As the pork soaks up the sauce’s essence, the result is a mouthwateringly seasoned, satisfying dish. Typically served with warm tortillas and a side of beans, Chilorio makes for a hearty, convivial meal.
Originating in the Yucatán Peninsula, Marquesitas are a cherished Mexican street food resembling thin, crispy crepes.
A slim batter is poured onto a sizzling griddle, cooked until it achieves a crisp texture, and filled with an assortment of sweet and savory delights. The most sought-after filling comprises Nutella and crumbled queso de bola, a Dutch Edam cheese. The Marquesita is then rolled up and savored as a portable, scrumptious snack.
A fusion of a taco and a quesadilla, Mulitas are a well-loved Mexican street food from Northern Mexico. Their unique blend of flavors and textures has attracted a loyal following.
Mulitas are crafted with meat, cheese, and other ingredients between two corn tortillas. The tortillas are grilled until crisp, and the cheese melts, culminating in a gooey, delicious experience. Fillings may include meats like carne asada or al pastor, with guacamole and salsa often provided for dipping.
Drawing from both Spanish and indigenous culinary traditions, Cocadas, or coconut balls, are a time-honored Mexican dessert enjoyed across the nation in various forms.
The process of creating Cocadas involves blending grated coconut with sugar, sometimes incorporating condensed milk or alternative sweeteners. This mixture is shaped into petite balls or patties and baked until they attain a golden, slightly crisp exterior. Flavors like cinnamon, vanilla, and cocoa powder may be added, with some versions incorporating nuts, dried fruits, or chocolate chips for an extra dimension of taste and texture. Cocadas are the perfect indulgence for those with a penchant for sweets and make a decadent addition to any dessert array.
As a native Mexican plant akin to broccoli or quinoa, Huauzontles have graced Mexican cuisine since pre-colonial times. Their uniqueness and nutritional benefits have made them a staple in central Mexico’s traditional dishes.
To prepare Huauzontles, the greens are blanched to eliminate bitterness before being sauteed with onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Alternatively, they can be battered and fried, resulting in a scrumptious, crispy dish known as “tortas de huauzontle.” Huauzontles are commonly accompanied by a tomato or chile sauce, and occasionally, crumbled or melted cheese is added for an extra layer of richness. This versatile ingredient brings a fantastic touch of tradition to any dish.
What are 5 traditional foods in Mexico?
Some of the most traditional foods in Mexico include tacos, tamales, pozole, chiles en nogada, and mole.
What are the 2 most popular foods in Mexico?
Tacos and tamales are arguably the two most popular foods in Mexico, enjoyed by locals and visitors for their incredible tastes and countless styles. But everyone’s tastes are different, and they will vary drastically depending on the region you’re in, so it’s tough to say definitively.
What is typical Mexican food?
Typical Mexican food often consists of indigenous ingredients like corn, beans, and chilies, combined with Spanish influences like meats and cheeses. Some examples include tacos, enchiladas, and tamales.
What is a typical Mexican dinner?
A typical Mexican dinner might include a main dish like enchiladas or carnitas, served alongside rice, beans, and fresh tortillas. A light soup or salad could also be part of the meal, with churros or flan for dessert.
What are 3 typical foods from Mexico?
Three typical foods from Mexico include pozole, a hominy soup often made with pork; elote, grilled corn on the cob with a creamy, spicy topping; and chiles en nogada, stuffed poblano peppers with a walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds.
What is the most famous Mexican meal?
Tacos are likely the most famous Mexican meal, known and loved worldwide for the variety of flavors and portability.
What is the most common Mexican street food?
Tacos and elotes are among the most common Mexican street foods, with vendors offering a variety of fillings and toppings to suit every taste.
What are the 4 meals in Mexico?
In Mexico, the four main meals of the day are desayuno (breakfast), comida (lunch), merienda (a light snack or tea time), and cena (dinner).
What is America’s favorite Mexican dish?
While it’s difficult to pinpoint one specific dish, tacos, burritos, and guacamole are among America’s favorite Mexican dishes, often adapted and reinvented in various ways across the country.