Best known for its rich history, kind hospitality, and beautiful biodiversity, Mexico is most famous for its delicious food. While burritos and tacos are especially popular around the world, Mexican cuisine is wonderfully diverse and unique to the many different regions of the country.
To help you narrow down what to try while visiting, in no particular order, here are a dozen of the most famous foods in the beautiful country of Mexico:
It would be impossible to have a discussion about Mexican food and not mention the taco. Perhaps the most popular of all Mexican dishes, the taco can be enjoyed in various ways. It’s a small tortilla, usually made of corn, that is filled with various types of meat and toppings.
There are several popular versions of the taco, such as tacos al pastor, which contains pork that is spiced with adobo and then roasted on a vertical rotisserie that slowly spins and is cooked by an open flame for a delicious chargrilled flavor. Another well-loved version of the taco is tacos de carne asada, which is a corn tortilla filled with beef that is spiced with cilantro, garlic, cumin, and lime juice.
Tacos come in many different styles but will often be topped with cilantro, diced onion, salsa, and guacamole in addition to the filling. There are endless varieties and while everyone has their favorite, if you’re eating an authentic Mexican taco, you really can’t go wrong.
The history behind tacos is somewhat uncertain as some claim that the taco has been around since the times of the indigenous peoples who would eat fish with something similar to a small tortilla. Others believe its invention was during the 18th century when Mexican miners often used an explosive charge made of gunpowder, wrapped in paper, to help in excavation.
These charges were referred to as “tacos” and it’s thought that the similarly shaped food went on to become the much more famous and well-known version of the taco today. Whatever the origin, we are all grateful that the taco has survived down to our day.
Burritos are another example of a well-known Mexican food that’s made it’s way around the world. Typically made with a large flour tortilla that’s filled with meat and ingredients such as rice, beans, onions, or cilantro, the style and preparation will vary by area. In Mexico, burritos are typically consumed in the northern part of the country in places like Chihuahua and Sonora.
Crossing the border, burritos have become a staple in California’s food scene, particularly in cities like San Diego and Los Angeles. However, if you find yourself in central or southern regions of the country in places like Mexico City or the Yucatan, you’ll find that they’re not popularly consumed. Similar to the taco, the origin of the burrito is widely debated.
One theory is that a man named Juan Méndez sold tacos in Ciudad Juarez in the 1910s using a donkey to transport him and his food to his patrons. Méndez would often wrap the food in a large handmade flour tortilla to keep it warm. As his business grew in popularity, these large tacos then came to be known as burritos as the word burrito actually translates to “little donkey.”
A favorite of cheese lovers, the quesadilla is another popular and much-loved member of the Mexican food family. Depending on where you are in Mexico, you might be surprised to see what you’re served when you order one.
In northern Mexico and the southwestern US, quesadillas are often made with a flour tortilla that is stuffed with a variety of meats and cheeses that are cooked on a comal, a flat griddle that is typically made from cast iron. It’s then served with toppings such as salsa, guacamole, and onions.
In central and southern Mexico a quesadilla is more likely to be made with a corn tortilla and filled with Oaxaca cheese and either vegetables or spiced meats, such as chorizo. They also tend to be a bit smaller than their northern cousins.
Peculiarly, in Mexico City, a quesadilla does not come with cheese unless it’s specifically requested. This is especially interesting when you remember that the first part of the name quesadilla comes from the Spanish word for cheese, “queso.”
While the food called a torta can describe many different things, in Mexico, it refers to a sandwich made with a long baguette-like piece of white bread called a bolillo or a long, flat, oval-shaped bread called a telera.
There are many versions of the torta, some of the most popular include the torta de jamón, or ham torta, and the torta de milanesa, which features a pounded and breaded cutlet of meat similar to a schnitzel. Often these sandwiches are topped with avocado, lettuce, tomato, chili peppers, and mayonnaise.
In Guadalajara, torta ahogada is an especially popular. Meaning “drowned” in Spanish, the name of this dish comes from the practice of drowning the sandwich. Often filled with fried pork, into a red spicy sauce of vinegar, garlic, chilies, and oregano before serving, it can be ordered “half drowned” meaning it’s only partially dipped, or “well drowned” meaning fully immersed.
Coming from the Aztec word meaning sauce, there are multiple varieties of mole’s that are served over a protein such as chicken and often accompanied by rice or tortillas. The most popular moles include mole negro (black mole), mole rojo (red mole), mole verde (green mole), and mole poblano.
The preparation of a mole begins with the choice of chili pepper which might include ancho, chipotle, mulato, or pasilla peppers. Depending on the mole you are making, up to 20 ingredients might be added. Some of these ingredients include cumin, clove, anise, tomatoes, garlic, black pepper, herbs, and even chocolate.
The elaborate ingredient list results in a complex and amazingly delicious flavor to each mole that is unique to the particular dish. Originating in the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Puebla, mole is an essential part of Mexican cuisine and is truly an adventure in a sauce.
One of the most popular options for the first meal of the day in Mexico, chilaquiles might be likened to breakfast nachos. Corn tortilla chips are topped with crema, queso fresco, onion, avocado, and eggs and then smothered with red or green salsa.
The crunch of the tortilla chips contrasts beautifully with the soft scrambled eggs and queso fresco. The spice of the salsa brings a heat that is cooled nicely with the addition of the crema. Salsa is usually added just before serving to maintain the perfect consistency. A wonderfully balanced dish, there are a few better ways to start your day.
With origins in the 16th century, pozole is one of Mexico’s oldest and most-loved foods. A stew made from hominy, a dried maize that’s treated with an alkali, and a protein such as chicken or pork, there are 3 varieties of pozole: white, green, and red. Green pozole contains ingredients such as jalapenos, tomatillos, or cilantro, which gives it its color.
Red pozole is made with guajillo or ancho chilies, meanwhile, white pozole is a stew that lacks the above ingredients resulting in a clearer broth. Often served with a variety of condiments such as onion, radish, avocado, lime, chiles, or cabbage, pozole is a hearty dish that can satisfy even the biggest of appetites.
With origins before 1000 CE, tamales are a creation of the Aztec and Maya civilizations that inhabited pre-Colombian Mexico. Made of masa, a hominy dough, that’s filled with meats, cheeses, or vegetables and then wrapped in a banana leaf or corn husk, the filled dough is then steamed until cooked through. After unwrapping the husk or banana leaf, a tamale is eaten hot.
The three most popular versions of tamales are green, red, and sweet. Green tamales are made with tomatillos and green chilies. Red tomatoes contain a sauce of guajillo chilies. Sweet tamales have sugar added to the dough and spices or fruit are added to make a delicious dessert. Tamales are enjoyed any time of the day and are often used in the observance of holidays and festivals.
Corn is an essential part of Mexican food culture and nowhere is that more evident than the famous Mexican street food known as elote. Grilled over an open flame, the corn is then slathered with mayo, crema, chili powder, garlic, cotija cheese, and a squeeze of lime.
First-time eaters might be skeptical of the combination, but anyone who has ever tried elote will be the first to vouch for its deliciousness and beautiful balance of flavors.
Avocado is a staple of Mexican cuisine and the delicious fruit (it’s actually a large berry) is the main ingredient of guacamole. Often prepared with cilantro, lime juice, jalapenos, and onions, guacamole is used as a dip and condiment throughout Mexican cuisine.
It’s often consumed with crispy fried tortilla chips that complement the buttery avocado perfectly. While everyone will have their own version of guacamole they enjoy, no one can deny the perfect pairing that is chips and guac.
With origins in Spain and Portugal, churros were brought to Mexico and became a hit. A dessert made of dough that is fried and then covered in sugar, this sweet treat is truly irresistible.
In Mexico City, there are entire shops dedicated to the selling of churros called churrerías that will often serve hot chocolate as an accompaniment. Some customers enjoy dipping their churro into the hot chocolate because, well, adding chocolate to anything has never been a bad idea.
Also known as crème caramel, flan is another imported dessert that has become extremely popular in Mexico. Flan is a custard, often flavored with vanilla or cinnamon, that is topped with a layer of caramelized sugar and a caramel sauce. Although it has origins in Spain, flan has become a huge part of Mexican cuisine and is often made at home, eaten at restaurants, and even sold on the streets.
Yes, Mexico is rightfully known as one of the best food countries in the world. With every region offering something different, there’s no end to the famous culinary delights that can be found throughout the country. With a beautiful array of ingredients and masterful preparations, Mexico is truly a food lover’s paradise.