Top 30 Most Popular, Authentic (and Strange) Mexican Foods

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Having lived around Mexico for over five years, I have tried pretty much all Mexican cuisine. Having a Mexican girlfriend and being invited to eat with her very large extended family has helped me get away from the tourist food and get a taste of the real Mexico (I actually even ate armadillo once)!

I decided to put this list together for the would-be foodies in Mexico to have some idea of what to expect when searching for food in the “pueblitos” and cities around the country.

A few things to note before we start. Each state will make food slightly differently, or it may even have a different name, so if you find a food you like, for instance, in Oaxaca, it’s probably going to taste a little different in Mexico City. I think this adds to the lure of Mexican food because it can vary from place to place.

Avoid overly cheap places for food, I have mentioned it in the blog, but I also want to put it here to avoid anyone missing it. Most places will have food priced similarly. If you come across somewhere that has a large price undercut, BEWARE! They probably aren’t selling meat that you would eat voluntarily. 

Most Mexican food isn’t that spicy; it’s the sauces that contain the spice, so take it easy on the sauce.

Picante means spicy in Mexico. You can ask for “sin picante” and they should leave the spice out. It has taken me a long time to build up my resistance to spicy foods. 

Don’t be intimidated by the bustling market eateries, you will be shouted at by each one (telling you what’s on the menu). In my experience, these places are the best places to eat.

If you’re considering a visit to Mexico, check out our blog post “5 Irresistible Reasons To Choose Mexico” for compelling insights that will solidify your decision.

1. Cochinita

Cochinita pibil

This is one of my absolute favourite foods in Mexico that has gone under the radar abroad. Cochinita pibil is a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatán Peninsula. It is prepared by marinating the meat in citrus juice, various spices, and adding ground annatto seeds. The seeds give the cochinita its distinctive orange colour. Traditionally cooked in a fire pit, a whole sucking pig is wrapped in banana leaves and slow roasted until tender. It is traditionally eaten in a torta with pickled red onion and habanero.

Good news if you aren’t a fan of spicy food: cochinita is not a spicy dish at all, so you can enjoy the intense flavour without the risk of running for the milk.

2. Cecina


The runner up to cochinita, this is a solid second on my list of favourite Mexican foods.

Cecina is thinly sliced, salted and partially dried sheets or strips of beef or pork. It is like bacon on steroids. I first tried cecina while visiting my girlfriend’s family in enchanting little mountain town of Cuetzalan. I instantly fell in love with the flavour and asked for more, after being given I think six more plates of it I had my fill (a small tip) if you are eating in a Mexican house and you tell the host you really like something, be prepared to eat that food until you get mal de puerco (the pigs’ sickness, a saying in Mexico when you have eaten too much and want to sleep).

In Mexico, after cecina is sliced, it is salted and dried by means of air, sun, or smoke, the best is smoked. You can buy beef cecina from most butchers in Mexico, but the pork version is a little harder to find. It is pretty quick and easy to cook but always tastes better from a local taqueria.

3. Barbacoa


This is probably the worst food to eat if you are on a diet as just one taco of barbacoa is 300 calories, is it worth it though? of course it is!

Traditionally, barbacoa is meat (usually sheep, goat, or beef) that is steam cooked in an underground oven until very tender and succulent. The meat is placed in an underground oven after being wrapped in agave leaves and placed on a grill in a large pot with a little water, herbs and vegetables. The oven is then covered and left overnight for the meat to cook. 

Upon opening the oven again the mean is perfectly cooked and in the bottom of the pot is the juices left behind form the meat, this is called consomé and you should defiantly try this when eating barbacoa, it is usually eaten at the start of the meal. Organs are also cooked with the barbacoa and can be enjoyed as part of the meal although I don’t tend to partake myself.


4. Lechon


Lechón is a Spanish word referring to a roasted baby pig. The name lechón comes from the Spanish word for milk, leche, because the piglets have not yet been weaned from their mother’s milk. It is not as common as other Mexican foods, but it isn’t too difficult to find, and it’s worth the search.

Lechón has a unique flavour and texture due to the age of the meat. It is usually eaten with tortillas or in a torta. If you like roasted pork, then you will love Lechón. I mean, who doesn’t love suckling pig?

5. Molotes


A molote is a filled, corn-based pastry, depending on your location, the size and the fillings of your molotes will vary. Here I will mainly talk about molotes from Puebla as this is where they originate from.

A molote is made by forming flour into a large circle, adding filling, and folding the molote into a half-moon shape before deep frying it to golden perfection.Typical fillings are quesillo (Oaxaca cheese), tinga de pollo, potatoes, mushrooms, flor de calabaza (pumpkin flower) and minced beef. In Puebla, most places will serve it with shredded lettuce, queso fresco, cream, and salsa rojo or salsa verde (red or green sauce).

My favourite is molote with quesillo, as it’s usually chock full of cheese. I prefer salsa rojo (this tends to be the spicier) with most dishes in Mexico.

6. Chilaquiles

Chilaquiles Verdes

Chilaquiles are lightly fired corn torillas covered in a green or red sauce, topped with cream, cheese, chopped onions, and chicken, eggs, or meat. It’s mostly eaten for breakfast and usually accompanied by beans. There are quite a few variations that you can find around Mexico, and my advice would be to try as many as you can. 

Chilaquiles come from humble origins, as people used leftover tortillas and deep fried them; this way, they didn’t waste food. You can find them in most restaurants in Mexico, I have seen a restaurant that did duck chilaquiles and they were amazing, so always keep an eye out for new combinations as well as the more traditional plates.

7. Enchiladas

Enchiladas suizas

An enchilada is a corn tortilla (this is a recurring theme in Mexican cuisine) rolled around a filling and covered with a savoury sauce. Originally from Mexico, enchiladas can be filled with various ingredients, including meats, cheese, beans, potatoes, vegetables, or combinations thereof. Enchilada sauces include chili-based sauces, such as red or green sauce, various types of moles, or cheese-based sauces, such as chile con queso.If I were to recommend which kind of enchilada you should make, without even thinking, I would say enchiladas con mole poblano, which is a sauce that typically has 13 different kinds of chocolate in it but somehow still remains a savoury sauce. I have never tasted anything quite like mole poblano in my life. It has quite a strong and unique flavour that keeps you going back for more.

8. Memelas

A Memela

A Memela is sort of like a Huarache’s little brother. It is a round piece of masa dough with frijoles in the centre. It is slightly smaller than a Huarache and typically has fewer toppings, usually coming with salsa rojo or verde and quesco fresco.

They do make great street food snacks as you can eat them on the go as they don’t tend to come with mountains of toppings. They are usually pretty cheap too.

9. Tamales


A tamale is a Mesoamerican dish made from, you guessed it…..corn. A thick corn dough is spread on a corn husk, a small amount of filling is added, and the whole is wrapped into a package and tied with a strip of husk. The tamales are steamed until cooked through.

Fillings can include meat, cheese, chilis, herbs, fish, chocolate, fruit, or vegetables in savoury or sweet combinations. Some tamales are even cooked “blind,” with no filling. You can even enjoy, and I use that word lightly, a tamale taco or torta. I have to admit, this is one of the few Mexican foods that I do not like. For me, it’s the texture of the tamale that puts me off a little.

10. Pastel Azteca

Pastel Azteca

Pastel azteca is a Mexican dish found across the country. The traditional dish is made by alternating layers of gently fried corn tortillas (who’d have thought) with layers of salsa de tomato, chile poblano strips, corn grains, onion strips, cream, and Oaxaca cheese or Chihuahua cheese. It is common to also add meat. It is sort of like a lasagne with tortillas instead of pasta.

I was surprised at how much I actually liked this one. The flavour is pretty similar to that of chilaquiles due to the sauce soaked corn torillas. 

11. Chiles en Nogada

Chile en Nogada

Chiles en Nogada are a seasonal Mexican dish originating in Puebla. It is a large Poblano chilli stuffed with picadillo (a mixture usually containing shredded meat, aromatics, fruits, and spices) and covered with a walnut based cream sauce (nogada). Finally, pomegranate seeds and parsley are added as a garnish. It has a much different flavour to other Mexican dishes, and I think that is why it is so popular. It does, however tend to be on the more expensive end of the menu. 

If you want to try this dish, you will have to be in Puebla between August and September, as this is when pomegranates appear in the markets of the region and the national independence festivities begin. The colour of the dish ties in with the flag of Mexico; green chilis, white sauce, and red pomegranate.

The traditional chile en nogada is from Puebla, it is said to be tied to the independence of this country since they were prepared for the first time to entertain the future emperor Agustín de Iturbide when he came to the city after the signing of the Treaty of Córdoba. So if you are around Puebla at the right time, grab yourself a piece of history to fill your stomach.

You may also be interested in: Mexico’s Hidden Ruins That You Need To See

12. Tacos Dorados

Tacos Dorados

Tacos dorados are small corn tortillas rolled up and filled with various items, most commonly shredded chicken, beef, or cheese. The filled tortilla is then fried. The dish is often topped with condiments such as those found on mollotes.

There is another variation of tacos dorados called flautas, which are the same thing just made with either corn or flour tortillas, and they tend to be bigger. I couldn’t get enough of these when I first moved to Mexico, as I couldn’t touch anything spicy.

13. Huaraches


The name “Huarache” is derived from the shape of the maise, which is similar to the popular sandals of the same name. It is a popular dish that comes from Mexico City. The Huarache is a large oval-shaped piece of masa dough with frijoles stuffed in the centre. After cooked toppings such as cecina, chicken, beef, potatoes, cheese, and onion are added, as well as the usual red or green sauce, it is then finished with quesco fesco (homemade crunchy cheese).

I have found that many Mexican dishes are very similar and only differ in size or shape, yet they have completely different names. For example, a Huarache is very similar to a memèla, just bigger and usually with more toppings. Just remember that huarache also means sandal in Spanish, so if you see a shoe store selling huaraches, it probably won’t be the ones that you can eat.

14. Picadillo


Picadillo is a dish made from minced beef, tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, peas, and of course, chiles and other ingredients that vary by region. It is popular across Latin America as well as in The Philippines. Think of a dry Mexican bolognese  and you are halfway there.

Usually served with rice, beans, and tortillas, it is a homely dish and very filling. This is a great food to eat if the levels of grease in some of the other Mexican food have upset your stomach.

15. Pozole

Pozole rojo

Pozole is a traditional Mexican stew. As with most foods in Mexico, there are many different varieties. The usual pozole will contain hominy (dry maize), meat (usually chicken), shredded lettuce or cabbage, chile, onion, garlic, and radishes. Pozole is commonly served accompanied by a wide variety of condiments such as chopped onion, shredded cabbage, sliced radish, avocado, limes, oregano, tostadas, and chiles.

The main three types of pozole you will find are blanco, verde, and rojo. White is just your usual pozole without any extras. Green, funnily enough, is green. Other ingredients are combined, such as tomatillos, epazote, cilantro, and jalapenos, to give the colour and richness. Red pozole, you guessed it, is red. This tends to be the spiciest of the three, with more chiles added to give it its red colour.

16. Mixiotes


A mixiote is a traditional pit-barbecued meat dish in central Mexico. It can also be prepared in an oven. It is usually made with mutton or rabbit, but chicken, lamb, and pork are also used. The meat is cubed with the bone and seasoned with pasilla and guajillo chilli peppers, cumin, thyme, marjoram, bay leaves, cloves, and garlic.

It is then wrapped in small packages made of the tough, semi-transparent outer skin of the leaves of the maguey, or century plant, which gives it a unique flavor. Diced nopales are often included with the meat before wrapping.

I usually buy mixiotes on the weekend from a small stall just around the corner from my house. The meat is so soft and tender and the sauce is delicious, but be warned, it is quite greasy.

17. Tinga de pollo

Tinga de pollo is shredded chicken in a sauce made from tomatoes, chipotle chilis in adobo, and sliced onions. It is often served on a tostada and accompanied by a layer of refried beans. It can be topped with avocado slices, crumbled cheese, Mexican crema, and salsa. It originated in Puebla, Mexico. You can also find it combined with a variety of dishes such as mollotes, tacos, tortas, and many more.

18. Guajolota


If you would like a carb overload, then a Guajolota may be what you are looking for. Simply put, it’s a tamal in a torta. There isn’t really much to say about this one. I have always been a fan of chip butties, and I suppose these aren’t really all that dissimilar.

19. Burritos

Of course, one of the most well-known Mexican dishes worldwide is the burrito, consisting of a flour tortilla wrapped into a sealed cylindrical shape around various ingredients. There are many variations around Mexico as well as the rest of the world. Considering how well-known they are in other countries, they are not as common as you might think in Mexico. That being said, the burritos I have found are huge and I always struggle to finish them.

20. Chalupas

Chalupas are one of my favourite snack foods in Mexico. It is common to order a portion of Chalupas (they usually come in sets of five) while deciding what you want to order from a menu. One of the greasier foods you will find. 

They are small, thin tortillas that are pan fried with oil and garlic, then salsa rojo or verde is added, topped with meat or cheese.

21. Arrachera


Simply put, arrachera is skirt steak. It tends to be the more expensive thing on the menu, but it is definitely worth the extra cash! It can be the topping or filling for many Mexican dishes, such as burritos, huaraches, and chilaquiles.

22. Poc Choc

Poc chuc is grilled pork that has been marinated in citrus juices. Poc chuc is often served with a side of rice, pickled onion, refried beans, and avocado. Poc chuc is one of the signature dishes of the Yucatán peninsula; it is comparable to a pork chop. It isn’t very common around central Mexico, but if you ask around or do a quick Google search, then it will be easy enough to find somewhere that sells it.

23. Tacos

Tacos de Guisado
Tacos el Pastor

The most famous Mexican food is, of course, the taco, found on every street corner in Mexico. It is the most popular and commonly eaten food in the country. Never, however, ask for a hard-shell taco in Mexico. It is the ultimate sacrilege of Mexican food and culture, like putting pineapple on pizza.

There are so many different combinations around Mexico, including beef, chicken, pork, seafood, arrachera, quesillo, mushrooms, chorizo, and many more. I have even seen pizza tacos. Do be careful where you choose to eat. However, if you see a street vendor selling 3 tacos for 10 pesos, the meat that they serve is likely not one that you would eat willingly.

There is a dish called tacos de guisado, which is a variety of different small dishes such as picadillo, rice with vegetables, tinga de pollo, cochinita, eggs with dried meat, and many, many more. It is usually a street food where you tell the vendor what you would like in your tacos, and it is a great way to try a few different dishes in one meal.

Unless you want some very funny looks, always eat tacos with your hands. I have never actually seen anyone in five years of living in Mexico eating tacos with a knife and fork. In many villages in Mexico, the tortillas actually function as a knife and fork, with all food being sandwiched between and eaten as a makeshift taco.

The thing I love most about the humble taco is its versatility. Literally anything can be a taco. 

24. Empanada

In some parts of Mexico, an empanada is sort of like a Cornish pasty. They’re usually fried or baked (baked is better) and filled with different savoury fillings like meat, cheese, and vegetables.

Just to confuse you again, in other parts of Mexico they are made from… you guessed it, maize. I would say they are sort of like a mini molote. Still delicious and with similar fillings.

25. Cemitas Poblanas

The Gigantic Cemita Poblana

The Cemita Poblano originates from the city of Puebla. Think of a torta on steroids and you are on the right track. Don’t ever say, however, that a cemita poblano is just like a torta to someone from Puebla unless you want to hear the full spiel on how the two differ. I once made this mistake.

It is typically served on a thick bread roll covered with sesame seeds. Many places will remove some of the soft bread inside to make way for more filling. The ingredients are usually restricted to sliced avocado, meat, white cheese, onions, the herb pápalo, and chipotle adobado, or jalapeo. If you want a gigantic cemita with literally everything in the shop, ask for a Cuba, as these are normally the biggest on most menus.

26. Tortas

The Simple Torta

Mexico’s answer to the sandwich is served on one of two types of white sandwich rolls. The first, which is similar to a small baguette, is called a bolillo. The second is a flat, oblong, and soft roll called a telera. Tortas can be eaten cold or hot, and grilled or toasted in a press.

As with all Mexican foods, there is a long list of variations on the humble torta. Second to the taco, this dish is popular throughout Mexico. Anywhere you go in Mexico, you can find restaurants or street vendors selling tortas.

27. Tortas ahogadas & Pambazos

Torta ahogada

Tortas ahogada and Pambazos are very similar, coming from Guadalajara and Toluca, respectively. You will find both sandwiches saturated with spicy red sauce that will blow your head off if you don’t usually eat spicy food, so have a bottle of cold milk ready to go. 

Both are dipped in red sauce made from either chile de árbol (torta ahogada) or red guajillo (Pambazos). The torta ahogada is definitely the spicier of the two. The bread differs between the two, and as with other tortas, you can put pretty much anything inside.

They are both a must try, although they can be a little messy, so watch that white t-shirt while eating them.

As with all Mexican foods, there is a long list of variations on the humble torta. Second to the taco, this dish is popular throughout Mexico. Anywhere you go in Mexico, you can find restaurants or street vendors selling tortas.

28. Sope & Picadita

A sope consists of a fried masa base with savoury toppings, whereas a picadita is baked, not fried. Sopes originate in the central and southern parts of Mexico. Asking around, no one can definitely say where the picadita actually comes from. Both are antojitos (street food). They are small and thick and usually come chock full of toppings.

For the sope, a masa base is fried with pinched sides to stop the topping from falling off. It is then topped with refried beans, queso fresco, lettuce, onions, salsa roja or verde, cream, and some form of meat.

For the picadita, the masa base is baked with pork fat added for flavour. It is then topped with salsa Roja, salsa verde, quesillo or queso fresco and chopped onion.

Both are great snacks while exploring the markets in Mexico, as each one is only a couple of mouthfuls.

29. Mole de Panza

For the braver foodies, we have Mole de Panza. It is a traditional Mexican soup, made with a cow’s stomach in a broth with a red chilli pepper base, seasoned with hominy, lime, onions, and oregano.

I honestly can’t give a review on this as I have never tried it. I can’t do the texture, but my father-in-law loves it. Many people believe it to be a hangover cure. I will, however, stick with my electrolyte and a full English.

30. Tacos (for the brave)

I wanted to give a special mention to the more adventurous tacos that I have come across in Mexico, some of which are not that bad at all, while others I would never try again.

So, to kick this off, we will start with tacos de ojo, or “eye tacos.” You can also find tacos filled with chapulines (grasshoppers). In fact, these are a popular garnish for many dishes. Then we have tacos de escamoles (ant larve), tacos de huitlacoche (a fungus that grows on corn), you can buy packets of these in the supermarket and they are actually more expensive than the corn itself, tacos de lengue (tongue tacos), tacos de sesos (brain tacos), tacos de criadillas, or Machitos (testicle tacos). I know what you are thinking, especially after that last taco, but at least nothing goes to waste, unlike in other parts of the world.

As you can see, all parts of the animals are utilised, and some of the flavours might surprise you. I always live by the philosophy of “try everything once” (within reason) and I would urge you to do the same. Of course, there are a few I definitely would never try again.

Some pictures sourced from pixabay, freepik and pexels.

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