Prone to Wander

Top 10 Real Mexican Dishes

Think you know Mexican food? If you’re from Mexico, you certainly do!  If you’ve visited Mexico, maybe you do. But if you’re from Texas (like me) and you’re only thinking of tasty fajitas, burritos and margaritas… you probably only know Tex-Mex. And if you’re from anywhere else, you probably don’t even really know Tex-Mex, either. (Sorry guys!)

So, especially for the gringos, here is our list of the top 10 Mexican dishes/foods that you MUST find and try if you ever come to visit us in Mexico City. These are some of my personal favorites, out of everything I have tried here so far.  That said, I’ll go ahead and apologize to my Mexican friends who might be reading this post:  I am sorry – I know that this isn’t a comprehensive list, and I know that I’ve missed a LOT of great things, especially many of the regional dishes around Mexico. However, please post a comment with your favorite dishes to share with everyone!

10) Chilaquiles. Tex-Mex fans, this is probably your equivalent to “nachos.” Only without the beans and American cheese and pretty much everything you’re used to. You’ve got toasted tortillas covered in green or red salsa, shredded chicken, and a little crema (kind-of like sour cream). Mmmm!

9. Esquites/Elotes. When you’re strolling through a quaint Mexican plaza at dusk, craving a snack, there are almost too many street-food options to pick from.    Everywhere you look someone is selling something delicious, and you definitely must try them all!  My go-to street food snack, however, is usually something called “esquites,” a piping hot cup of maiz (a lot like corn, but chewier here) with epazote spice, salt, mayonaise, lots of lime, and chile – eaten with a spoon.  Elote is similar – it looks a lot like corn on-the-cob but it will be a little tougher than the summer sweet-corn from the States that you might be familiar with. It’s almost always topped with a messy but delicious mixture of chile, lime and mayo.

8. Tacos Arabes. The city of Puebla about an hour away from Mexico City is especially famous for it’s “Arab Tacos.”  Much like shawarma, the meat is heavily seasoned, cooked on a spit and shaved off to order. These are some of the only tacos I’ve found that are typically served in a pita or a flour tortilla (corn tortillas are the standard for almost everything else). The seasonings on the meat and the delicious middle-eastern inspired toppings are what I go to Puebla for!  Well, that, and the next dish…

7. Mole.  Mole comes in many different flavors and varieties depending on where you are in Mexico.  It’s famously difficult to make and contains a complex mixture of more than 20 ingredients from chili peppers to chocolate.  The black and green moles are most common here in Mexico City, but they are all different – and they all taste different too! For example, when you find a great Mole Poblano, a popular version originating from the city of Puebla that is black in color, it will taste a little bit like a deliciously spicy chocolate barbeque sauce.  The city of Oaxaca in southern Mexico is also famous for their many different moles, which is not surprising since Oaxaca is also famous for their handmade chocolate and diverse spices.

6. Tamales. There are many, many different varieties of tamales.  Most commonly, they come wrapped inside corn husks or banana leaves, depending on where they originate.  (Tropical states like Veracruz traditionally made them in banana leaves, but many central, southern, and northern Mexican traditions use corn husks.) Here in Mexico City the calls of the “Tamales Oaxaceños” man traveling through the neighborhoods on his bike with a huge pot of tamales can be heard all over the city. When you buy one from him, the corn masa mixture is usually wrapped inside large corn husks.  Depending on your mood, you may choose one that is meaty, spicy, or even sweet. There are tamales that taste like pineapples, green salsa with chicken, chorizo (sausage), and some that are sweet and pink, like desserts.  When you buy a tamale off of the street, you might also want to try washing it down with “atole,” a thick hot chocolate-flavored drink made from watery cornstarch, the by-product of tamale-making.

5. Torta Cubana. Let me begin by saying that nearly ALL tortas are delicious.  There’s something very special about spreading beans, avocados, onions and mayo on a soft warm bread and layering just about anything inside. However, the Torta Cubana is the supreme “everything sandwich” in my opinion – just add every kind of meat and cheese along with some crunchy thick pickles, and viola! Very very good, but only for people with a big appetite!

4. Tacos Campechanos. This is a “country style” taco.  If Torta Cubanas are the “everything sandwich” then Tacos Campechanos are the “everything taco”.  At the place we went to regularly outside Mexico City, you could walk up and essentially build your own tacos campechanos, as if it were some kind of salad bar.  You can mix your meats – including Mexican chorizo (sausage) and add many different veggies, including nopales, or cactus) – even mashed potatoes and salsa.  Whenever we go, I usually save a lot of room for the grilled cebollitas (little onions) that many places will grill for you. Give them a sprinkling of salt and a squeeze of lime… Mmmmmmm!!!

3. Enchiladas Verdes. My mind was blown recently when I realized that in English, you can essentially translate the word “enchilada” into something like “chillified.”   That is, if we had that word in English.  But that’s essentially what an “enchilada” is meant to be: something covered in chile. Green enchiladas are corn tortillas stuffed with shredded chicken and smothered in green salsa with a little crema and a sprinkling of white cheese. Sounds pretty simple, but they are delicious. If you come visit, we’ll take you to a place that is popular with students where you can get a big plate of green enchiladas for $2.50.

2. Pozole. This is one of my favorite dishes in all of Mexico, and I have promised myself that I will to learn how to make it before I leave. It’s actually a very very old dish passed down from Pre-Columbian and Aztec tradition. It’s made from hominy corn, and is stewed for hours typically with chicken, pork, or veggies. It is typically cooked and simmered for hours – often overnight – so that the hominy has had a chance to soften up and the meat can really start to flavor the broth.  Different herbs and spices are added to change the flavors and it usually means that it comes in various colors and levels of spice – white, green, or red.  But don’t fill that bowl up all the way when you serve it!  Leave a lot of room for fresh toppings, which is one of the things that makes pozole so special.  Typical toppings include big handfuls of lettuce, radish and onion. Don’t forget the lime, oregano, and chile!

1. Tacos al Pastor. In my opinion, tacos al pastor, roughly translated as “shepherd tacos” are, hands down, the best tacos that you can possibly get in Mexico City.  It’s not really important what the meat is, so don’t worry about it (but it’s usually pork).  What is important is that it is seasoned and marinated well, and layered onto a large spit where it is cooked and kept warm.  Thin slices will be shaved off into small round corn tortillas (usually no bigger than your hand) when you order it, and it absolutely must be topped with fine shavings of pineapple, onion, and cilantro.  Add a squeeze of fresh lime and maybe a little salsa to the mix and WOW – the taste is incredible. If you come to visit us, we will make you will try one!

Finally, the thing that seems to bring almost every Mexican dish and drink together is lime. Here’s a rule of thumb: if you don’t have the urge to squeeze a little bit of lime on it, it might not be from Mexico!

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62 comments

  1. BenE

    Pretty good list, but you can’t forget Menudo or my fave (which I must eat at least once everytime I go to Mexico) Pollo al carbon, like from Pollo Feliz. Plus that’s just the land fare, a Vuelve a la Vida or Coctel de Camarones is great on a hot day. Wow, now I’m hungry. Oh, you should probably do one of these list on Mexican candy. There are lot’s!

  2. sean and missy

    Hey you guys–
    this list made me hungry..those are my favorite are chilaquiles!! YUM! I do remember that our family made us pozole one night and i spilled it all over the table..nice! i would love to come to Mexico again, even if it was just to eat!! Hope you guys are doing well!

  3. moms

    Amazing I remembered so much about several of these dishes from our trip to see you..You did a great job sharing all the special things with us!…

  4. Oh, yummy.

    However, you left off my personal Mexico City fav…Gorditas! Especially the ones they sell on the UNAM campus. Ooo… So. Yummy. I even like the ones with chicharrones. It grosses Peter out. Heh.

    And I second the request for a post on Mexican candy. You can’t forget Obleas!

  5. CorvusBellator

    I stumbled on this article looking for pictures of pastor meat.

    As a mexican i take off my hat for the respect and fondness placed on this entry’s descriptions.

    You even mentioned green pozole, which is not as common as the red and white types. Thanks for appreciating our food on it’s right merits.

    For all other people reading this article: look for the real thing. Don’t settle for Taco Bell (yuck!). Thanks and good luck to you.

  6. Sandra

    my grandaughter and I were traveling around the Puebla area and in one of the zocalos a woman was selling roasted grasshoppers (chapulines)by the bagful with salt and lime as the condiments. We tried one and, it’s true, lime and salt will make anything taste wondrous, even a chapulin, though it definately was not a favorite.

  7. Roman

    You miss the “barbacoa”, with a delicious “consome”. Also the “tacos de suadero”. And the “cochinita pibil”, so steamy and delicious, you can also eat them with “tostadas” fried tortillas with smashed beans cream, lettuce and cheese.

    Sorry if you dont understand very good this comments. is because im from mexico.

  8. This is the problem ! People think they know what’s mexican food when they eat fajitas or nachos and tomato salsa.. WRONG ! This was very good post and it really gives the idea about the real mexican food.
    Im in mexico for exchange (from Finland) and everybody from my country always ask me about the food. Now i can show them this page. Thank you !! :)

  9. Lotte

    Hey,
    I have lived in mexico, and I loveee the food, I was just looking up some dishes, and I found your top ten, and mine pretty much looks the same. I hate it to go to mexican restaurants in Holland couse its just NOT mexican!
    Wow tacos al pastor are the BEST

  10. Alejandra

    This is great! I believe that these are Mexico’s top ten. Most mexicans would agree. We would make slight changes, like switching Tacos Arabes (from Puebla) for Tacos de carne Asada (from Northern Mexico). Or Torta Cubana for Torta Ahogada (from Jalisco). But the basics are there.

    Congratulations! You know what we like and you like it too!

  11. Raul

    Hey body, you must include some other great dishes from the Mexican Couisine like “chiles en Nogada”, “Cochinita Pibil” and of course the cure for a real hang over: “Menudo” of course with some lime and a cold beer…..
    Be shure not always need squeeze lime on them ( like mole, tamales, enchiladas a other more). Buen provecho !!

  12. oscar

    Hello, I am Oscar, I am mexican, I have many favorite dishes, the ones that I wonder how can not be in your list is:
    1) tinga de pollo
    2) Barbacoa!!!!
    3) Carnitas
    4) Tacos dorados
    5) etc, etc
    For drinkig:
    1) agua de tamarindo
    2) agua de horchata,
    3) tepache
    4) Licuado de mamey
    5) etc, etc.

    you can check them in google images, but you have to try to understand.

  13. Liz

    Wow!! I wish I could eat all of these foods right now,- tacos arabes y tacos al pastor… classics! Theses are foods I ate and loved when I lived in Puebla. Great list!

  14. Michael

    Dude, I’ve been here for a year. I came to learn about food and Spanish. I agree with you 100% on your list. All your missing for mi is Indio, which a as college student I often substitute for meals! ;)

  15. Tommi

    Paisano del Amigo, Xochimilco (D.F), home of the best tacos al pastor. There’s a wee place nearby that does them at 3.5 pesos a go but a Paisano taco is a wonderful thing at 5 pesos. I’ve genuinely craved them every day since I moved away from Mexico.

  16. sarita

    Im from Texas… but im also mexican so I know both mexican and texas mex. Our tex-mex equivalent to chilaquiles is not nachos. There are called migas…and they are really good. try them. Oh yes and I feel like ceviche should be somewhere on the list.

  17. Jason

    I come from a Mexican family and I have to say, chicken en molè is one of my favorite things in the entire world. It tends to polarize people: some people don’t like it, but to those of us who do, there is almost nothing better.

    Anyway, you did a good job of covering the basics! A couple things I would add, though:

    1. Chilè verdè: cubed pork stewed in tomatillo and chile puree. Wonderful by itself or with soft corn tortillas.
    2. Albondigas: Mexican meatball soup, absolutely one of my favorite things from grandma’s kitchen.
    3. Chilè rellenos: Whole mild chiles, seeded and stuffed with various things (usually cheese), fried with a light batter.

  18. Mehmet

    Tacos al pastor looks like Turkish doner. Actually our kitchen is really similar with mexicans in some sense. Mexicans like Turkish food and Turks like Mexican food.

  19. sopadefideo

    I was looking for a picture of esquites and saw your blog. I’m Mexican and I love your list. The comment about lime juice is so true. My boyfriend is English and thinks I’m mental when I say that lime juice is wonderful.
    Of course you can’t put everything here but I loved you for adding pozole and enchiladas, two of my favourite things!

  20. Goldernie

    Kudos for rating tacos al pastor #1, proudly the best chilango dish, buy tou forgot one of the best dishes in the country, and in my opinion in the whole world: Cochinita Pibil! done the right way, once you eat it you’ll never forget!

  21. rodolfo

    good list, but definitely, tacos al pastor it shouldnt be in first place, maybe in 8 or 9.
    And theres one realy important one missing. COCHINITA PIBIL (for me almost without chile habanero )

  22. armando

    Congratulations on your list. An applause for promoting our beloved food. Even though you missed Menudo (breakfast of champions) and ceviche I still consider you did a great job, hope readers will open up their mind and try (at least once) our delicacies, like mole,chiles en nogada and capirotada.
    have a good one. best regards

  23. God, it’s hard to pick just 10 dishes, but you pick a really really good ones.
    If you ever go to Mexico City… Try the food they sell outside of a school, it’s cheaper and really good.
    Did you try Pulque??? I know, not everybody likes it but it’s good. A real mexican drink.
    Hope you had a good time in Mexico and that you had the chance to enjoy all those wonderful things we have. Yummy :)

    Merengues, nieves de milpa alta, frutas cristalizadas, cajeta quemada, chapulines, cesina, romeritos, carnitas, flautas, tocos de canasta ….. The list is endless.

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  25. Shelley

    Hi guys! So nice to read your list … of course 10 items doesn’t do justice to the enormous number of great dishes in Mexico, but if you’d made it 20, no-one would bother reading it. And your list does tend to reflect the fact that you lived in Mexico City and visited central Mexican states … cos as others have pointed out, there’s the coastal, northern and Yucatán dishes to start with, not to mention Christmas fare! I was also looking for Chiles en Nogada, which for me are the height of Mexican delicacies. But I’m 100% with you on Tacos al Pastor being the #1 – why can’t you get them anywhere else in the world? Do they realise what they’re missing out on??
    Saludos de México!
    Shelley

  26. Albert

    The only thing I didn’t like about your list was Arab Tacos, and Tortas Cubanas, I mean, you could have listed.
    Tacos, and Tortas in general because when you specify Arab, or Cubano, it means that it comes from another country, and even though it is cooked by mexicans in Mexico, it still is food from another country, so it is not REAL (or Traditional) Mexican Food, so when you say tacos, tacos al pastor are automatically embedded to that category, and you can put another one.

    But definetely, Mole is the best thing in the world, I always try to explain to my friends what mole is, it is kinda complicated because I don’t really know what the recipe is, and they usually think about it like something sweet because I mention chocolate, but is not the same chocolate american people use to eat, traditional mole doesn’t use chocolate at all, it uses cocoa (which in a broader sense is the same thing).

    Your list is a good one, I just strongly disagree with Arab Tacos, and Cuban Tortas.

  27. cory woolsey

    not a bad diverse selection of delicious spanish dishes. i am doing a project for spanish class and i need a good idea for a spanish food thats not to easy peazy and not to complicated. so any ideas please!

  28. Al

    10.longaniza 9.pozole 8.menudo rojo 7.burritos 6. Tacos de lengua 5. Tacos al pastor 4. Birria 3. Tortas ahoghadas (chiuahua style) 2. Tamales (sinaloa style) 1. Chiles rellenos

  29. Sandy

    Hey, I am a mexican native and I like your list but if you are still in Mexico City (that’s where I was born), you must go to Mixcoac on a Sunday morning. They have the best real tacos de barbacoa. These tacos are sold fried or soft and you get the broth on the side, delicious! My mouth waters just to think about it. They also have gorditas de chicharron, and really good fish tacos.
    If you really want to try a good pozole, you should go Pozoleria Aqui es Guerrero. (Calle Unidad # 27 Col. Ejidos de Huipulco) this is a block away from the Mexico-Xochimilco road (the light train station Xomali). This is Tlalpan and it is after the station of the Estadio Azteca.
    There are many different types of pozole depending on the state, this one is delicious and I truly recommend it. They also have cecina, a salty thin meat with mole or green enchiladas. Yum!
    Then there are also pambazos, these are some sort of torta but it gets fried on a red sauce and it is filled with potatoes, chorizo, lettuce, sour cream and queso fresco. I haven’t got those in years!!

  30. manny

    1.red beef tamales
    2.beans and rice
    3.shredded beef tacos
    4.menudo
    5.enchiladas with red sauce chicken or beef.
    6.canela
    7.orchata rice and milk yummy

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  32. Girl

    I’m from Texas and I eat everything on this list almost every day…you can be from Texas and eat real mexican food! My whole city is filled with Mexicans so everything is authentic. And then my parents have recipes passed down from there grandmas etc. for mexican dishes since we are mexican. I have been to Mexico before and the food is exactly the same there as it is in south Texas. Maybe north Texas is different though. You forgot some other great dishes though. Menudo! My mom loves to make menudo and its delicious! Also fajita is real mexican food, as long is its not prepared the gringo way lmao..

  33. Jesus

    Tex mex I don’t like it at all especially when they put yellow she’s on the enchiladas I like it with asadero chees :) love Mexican food ceviche is really good my favorite dish is has to be mole but all the dishes are good

    • Jesus

      And I’m from Texas 2 I eat Mexican food every single day in proud to be Mexican I have been in Mexico puerto peñasco ,cancun ,Juarez ,mazatlan, Mexico df and other places that most of the people should go and vist

  34. La lista la deberían hacer Mexicanos que viven y radican México. Mi razón es esta: dónde estás los “chiles en nogada”, “la barbacoa de borrego”, “las carnitas” y muchos otros platos mexicanos ricos? Sí preparamos todo rico, hasta la comida italiana; pero hay cosas más ricas antes que la torta cubana o los tacos arabes. O a ver mis tapatios donde están las tortas ahogadas?? y que me dicen de la comida regional de Yucatán por ejemplo??

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  36. GCAgraz

    If you’re still in México City, it is highly recommended to try delicious Tacos al Pastor from El Charco de las Ranas (The frogs’ puddle. Pretty funny name, huh?)
    We’re talking here about the Rolls Royce of Tacos al Pastor. Each one is about US $ 2.00, but they’re really worth it. You can try them with their spectacular Agua de Horchata. (I will have mine without cinnamon, please…)
    When you come to Guadalajara, you cannot leave until you have tried a Torta Ahogada or Carne en su Jugo.

  37. Pingback: A Closer Look at Hispanic Foods - Cheap Online Grocery Shopping » Cheap Online Grocery Shopping

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