Thinking of international food, one of the first countries that come to mind is Mexico, thanks to all it has to offer in terms of culinary variety. Mexican cuisine is a world reference and its street food takes the Aztec country to almost unreachable levels of quality, flavor and popularity.
Street food is part of Mexico’s culture, and it is no coincidence that more than half of its inhabitants eat these delicious morsels at least once a week. So, if you happen to be traveling to this beautiful country, make sure you try some of the various snacks that can be found on every corner.
With a population of over 120 million people, the variations of local dishes perfectly reflect Mecixo’s diversity. Today I will show you some of the best and most popular street foods Mexico has to offer.
Tacos are considered Mexico’s street food par excellence, and because of their relevance, they are in the position of honor in this list. The variations have practically no limits, everything depends on the imagination and what can be wrapped in the corn tortilla roll, however, meat is one of the invariable ingredients of this dish.
Tacos al pastor, made with marinated and grilled pork is one of the most requested versions. They are dressed with hot sauce, fresh onion, cilantro and guacamole. By the end of the 19th century, the Lebanese introduced it to Mexico, hence its similarity to Shawarma, but the Mexican identity of tacos is undeniable.
There is a wide range of spicy options that adapt to the particular desires of each person. There are also the mild ones with guacamole, I usually go for a combination of both.
Vegetarians are certainly not exempt from eating tacos, as they can easily be filled with beans, avocado, cheese, potatoes, or mushrooms.
Tamales are one of the oldest foods of Aztec origin with more than 500 years of history. The tamale, which means wrapped in the Nahuatl language, originally consisted of a corn dough wrapped in banana or corn leaves, which was then steamed. Later, with the arrival of the Spaniards, ingredients such as pork and chicken, among others, were added.
There are also sweet versions made with cinnamon, raisins, and even pineapple chunks. This street food is a favorite in Oaxaca, although it can be found anywhere in the country. In addition to its flavor, one of the advantages of this snack is that it can be eaten without a plate; it is held by the banana leaf wrapper and that’s it.
Currently, it is estimated that in Mexico there are over 500 tamale recipes, from which thousands of preparations are made according to the different traditions of each region and family customs.
The day of La Candelaria, celebrated every February 2, is one of the traditional days on which tamales are consumed most in Mexico. It is a religious holiday introduced by the Catholic Church.
Tortas could be considered the Mexican version of sandwiches, but they have certain ingredients that make the difference. It is a food that abounds in the streets of Mexico, large in size and filled with cheese, meat, salad, and sauce, although it is possible to add whatever you want and create your own version.
Usually, one of the bread tops is spread with mayonnaise while the other one has bean paste. Sliced tomatoes, avocado, and jalapeños are essential in almost all Mexican regions.
Torta ahogada is very famous in Jalisco, where the locals say it is an excellent restorative for recovering from a hangover. For its preparation, baguette or birote bread is used, it is filled with pork and dipped in spicy tomato sauce, covered with cilantro and onions.
There must be very few people who have never eaten some kind of quesadilla. If you are one of them, there is still time to try this exquisite Mexican street food. It is a corn or wheat tortilla, folded with cheese filling in the center plus additional ingredients such as chicken, mushrooms, and squash blossom, among many others.
Despite its name, in Mexico City cheese is not added unless requested. There are several types of cheese used in these tortillas, but the most popular is called quesillo de Oaxaca. Its soft mozzarella-like texture makes it a favorite among diners.
Quesadillas made with huitlacoche, a corn mushroom, is a rarity due to its appearance, but it is consumed very often in Mexico, even though it can be more expensive than the one made with regular corn.
Elotes are an essential part of Mexico’s gastronomy. The global popularity of many of its recipes is based on corn on the cob, an element of Aztec cuisine as old as its history.
The preparation of elotes callejeros in Mexico consists of roasting the corn on the cob, then covering it with mayonnaise, chili powder and queso fresco. It is then served on a wooden plate. It is a snack that can be eaten almost any time of the day.
Esquites are a version of elotes, but sweet corn is used, shelled from the cob and served in a plastic cup. It has mayonnaise, layers of cream, chile and lime juice. They are essentially the same food, not very easy to eat without spilling a little, but perfect as a snack to share with family and friends.
Tlayudas come from Oaxaca, one of the most important street food centers in Mexico. They are huge, baked, crunchy tostadas with mole sauce, salad and meat. It is then topped with the famous Oaxacan cheese.
Many consider it the Mexican version of pizza to the point of rivaling the typical Italian dish. In spite of the variations, there are three types of tlayuda that are the most requested: the simple one made with chepiches, huajes, beans, quesillo, chile de agua and radishes; the carnivorous one with beef or chorizo and tasajo, and the one with grasshoppers and purslane for the most daring visitors.
Tlayuda is one of the dishes that most faithfully represents Mexican cuisine, as both the ingredients and the way it is prepared have been maintained since pre-Columbian times. This food, whose name means “corn shelled in abundance” in the Nahuatl language, was declared by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010.
It is the kind of dish that satisfies by its dimensions and, although it is possible to find it in a restaurant, the experience of eating it in the street, sitting on a bench, is incomparable.
Sopes & Gorditas
Sopes or pellizcas are small rounded corn doughs, but thicker than a tortilla. While cooking on a griddle, the edges are pinched to raise a kind of wall that keeps the ingredients inside.
After this process, some decide to fry it in a little oil and then the sope is covered with various ingredients. The region where sope is prepared determines the way it is topped, these include vegetarian and even vegan options. This snack can have mashed potatoes or beans at the base and then topped with shredded meats, nopales, carnitas or any other ingredient.
As well as the various toppings there are many options for garnishes including radishes, sour cream, jalapenos, tomatoes, avocado, and the sauce of your choice. In Veracruz they are known as picaditas, this is a larger and thinner version.
The gorditas, like sopes, are cooked on a griddle or comal, but are not skewered. They are sliced and then stuffed. However, the way they are prepared varies according to the Mexican region where they are made. For example, there are those who put the filling in the dough and shape it, cook it on the griddle, then open it again to fill it with the garnishes.
In Mexico there are lots of street vendors offering Sopes and Gorditas. These snacks are excellent to calm the appetite at any time.
Tostadas are a benchmark of Mexican street food on a global scale. There is no one right way to eat them, it is usually evident on your clothes when you enjoy a tostada at your favorite stand. This delicacy is made of crispy, fried corn tortilla topped with avocado, refried beans, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese, salsa, and lettuce slices.
Tostadas are similar to tacos in relation to the mess they cause, but they differ in that the tortilla is crispy, plus it is flat. The preparation is quite simple, the ingredients should be placed in separate pans on the table, the tortillas are distributed and the toppings are added according to taste, usually starting with the beans.
The refried beans are spread evenly on the tortilla, then the rest of the ingredients are added.
Light appetizers can be found in many places for those who are inclined to replace the fatty and protein dishes, which distinguish street food in Mexico. But meat lovers will find Mexico City the place to be, with plenty of beef and pork tostadas.
Pambazo is one of the most representative dishes of Mexican street food, characterized by huge amounts of fresh ingredients.
The bread is covered with red bell pepper sauce (guajillo), onion, and garlic which gives it the characteristic bright orange color. It is then fried in oil and stuffed with potatoes and chorizo. When it is ready, its texture should be crunchy, then it is garnished with cream, sauce, cheese and shredded lettuce.
Pambazo refers to the type of bread used in Mexico to prepare it as well as to the name of the dish per se. This bread, very popular in places like Puebla and Veracruz, comes from the peasant phrase pan bajo. In the old days it was made with a very low quality and old flour. The peasants soaked it in guajillo sauce to make the bread edible.
It is an inexpensive, but filling snack, excellent to eat with a café lechero as is the custom in Veracruz. A tip to make it better is to let it sit a little longer on the griddle until it becomes crunchy and the sauce penetrates reaching all the ingredients.
Once ready and warm, add lettuce, grated cheese and sour cream; the rest is up to your creativity.
Traditional Mexican street food is not only limited to corn cakes and meat preparations, there are also desserts, and among them are churros. They are long, thin sticks of fried dough sprinkled with sugar.
Sometimes you will find them sprinkled with cinnamon, or even filled with chocolate, dulce de leche, or sweet milk (cajeta). It is one of the cravings that is hard to resist, as there is a street vendor on every corner. With churros, the dietary regimen deserves a break.
When asked about the origin of churros, they come from Spain, but the technique for frying the dough originated in China. From Asia it was introduced to the Iberian Peninsula, thanks to the sailors of Portugal. Finally, churros arrived in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in America after the conquest.
Although the classic churro sprinkled with sugar is the most popular, nowadays there is a great variety of fillings. They range from vanilla pastry cream, condensed milk, jams, rompope to blackberry and guava.
Another of Mexico’s classic desserts are Marquesitas, especially popular in Yucatan where they originate. They are an elongated, sweet and crunchy wafer that is traditionally filled with bolo cheese, but nowadays toppings such as cajetas, chocolates, jams, cream cheese and even peanut or hazelnut cream are added.
History indicates that the creator of this dessert was a skilled ice cream seller, named Polito, who lived in Merida, in the Yucatan Peninsula. Unable to sell his products during the winter, he decided to fill the cones with Deisy and then Bolo cheese. It is believed that the daughters of a Marquis made this dessert their favorite and that is where it got its name.
It is practically impossible to visit Mérida and not eat some marquesitas. This iconic Mexican sweet is one of the most abundant in the city.
To shape these crunchy cones, the dough is poured into circular iron plates, about 20 centimeters in diameter, over a fire. For uniform cooking, it is turned over as many times as required. Finally, it is removed from the fire and the griddle is uncovered. The result is a thin tortilla with rhomboid cracks. Apply the desired filling, roll them up and they are ready to eat.
Chilaquiles are the most requested breakfast by Mexicans after a long night of partying, thanks to their reputation for being restorative. It is an easy meal to prepare and therefore also quite versatile. From a few simple indications, countless versions can be produced according to each person’s taste.
The corn tortillas are cooked in green or red hot sauce, and in some places they have shredded beef or chicken, chorizo, jerky, eggs, enchilada meat, manchego cheese, cream, fresh cheese, avocado and onion, among others.
Cilantro is often used as a flavoring. Beans serve as an accompaniment in most cases. Chilaquiles are preferably eaten at breakfast, although they are also appetizing at other times of the day. Its name derives from the Nahuatl language meaning herbs or vegetables in chili broth.
Flautas are classic snacks from Mexico City made of corn or wheat flour. They are cylindrical, thin and narrow, about 25 centimeters long, which honors their name. Chicken is the most common filling, although they are also served with other meat. This dish is often accompanied with lettuce, a touch of sauce, cheese and cream.
It is advisable to eat it right away, otherwise, the texture is unpleasant and the crunchiness is lost. Take-out orders are not very recommendable either, for the same reasons.
Flautas originated in the northern state of Sinaloa, Mexico. From there it spread throughout the Aztec country until it overcame its borders and expanded to the United States, where it enjoys great popularity.
The most common toppings for flautas are queso fresco, cream and salsa verde, as we have already mentioned, but the most daring add chopped jalapeños. As a recommendation, we must remain vigilant in relation to the cooking time of this snack, because it determines its final texture. If you want them soft or extra crunchy, you just have to keep an eye on the whole process to get them just the way you want them.
Enchilada is a corn tortilla dipped in a sauce, spicy or not depending on taste, which is filled with beef, turkey or chicken, cooked vegetables and cheese. As garnish, Mexicans usually add lettuce, fresh chopped onion, cheese and cream.
To prepare this traditional Mexican meal, curtido is the result of mixing parsley, beets, onion, thyme, garlic, carrots, chili peppers, peas, green beans, vinegar, oregano and medium cabbage.
There are many varieties of this Mexican dish, however, the following stand out:
Enchiladas verdes: these are prepared with tomatoes, cilantro or epazote. They can be filled with shredded beef or chicken.
Enchiladas rojas: they are the result of the mixture of a dry chile such as guajillo or ancho and a tomato. This version is filled with potato, cheese or picadillo and shredded chicken.
Enchilada suiza: it is a variety of the green one, but the difference is in the sauce that is prepared with cream and, in addition, it is gratinated with manchego cheese.
Enchilada minera: the corn tortilla is bathed in guajillo chili sauce. They are also fried in lard and filled with crumbled ranchero cheese, chopped onion, pickled chile strips, potatoes, carrots and lettuce.
As mentioned above, the list is extensive. There are the potosinas, norteñas, michoacanas, placeras del suelo, de nata and many others. Among so many, some of them will surely be your favorite.
In the north of Mexico no one has ever missed a burrito. It is one of the most emblematic dishes made with wheat tortillas. Its popularity has made it cross Mexican borders to be present in most of Latin America and the United States.
Burritos of chopped beef or pork, with refried beans and wrapped in a corn flour tortilla, are the typical ones found in Mexico’s borders. Sour cream, vegetables, cheese and guacamole can also be added.
Regarding beans, the most commonly used are black and pinto beans, especially refried. As for the meat, it can be substituted for a vegetable, thus opting for a burrito with less animal fat.
The sauce definitely takes the burrito to unsuspected levels. The spicy one is the most recommended. Grated cheese is an essential ingredient in the burrito, but the choice of the type of cheese depends on each person’s taste. The most common are Monterey Jack cheese, Cheddar or Mozzarella.
Nachos are basically corn tortilla chips (called totopos) heated and covered with melted cheese, served as an appetizer. The more elaborate ones have ingredients such as beef, guacamole and/or bacon.
Ignacio Anaya “Nacho” was the creator of nachos in the Mexican city of Piedras Negras in 1943 when he ran out of cooks at his restaurant. In a hurry, he devised the dish to serve it to the wives of some soldiers who were in his restaurant. He proceeded to fry some tortillas, added grated cheese and jalapeño peppers and served them hot. Not only did he save the day, but he created one of the most famous snacks in the world.
There is a variant called barbecue nachos. In this one, barbecue sauce replaces the cheese. There are also poutine nachos in which cheddar cheese is used instead of cheese curd and sauce. Although the ingredients are not the traditional ones, they are still considered nachos.
There is also another version that consists of cutting the tostadas in quarters and frying them. Then some types of meats are added, according to taste, or refried beans, grated cheese for nachos and finally, they are seasoned with habanero hot sauce.
Molletes are pieces of bread toasted and cut in half, like a sort of open sandwich, which are spread with refried beans, covered with melted cheese under the grill, add pico de gallo sauce and eat!
They are considered excellent breakfasts and are also served at lunch. They are ideal for parties and family gatherings, and can also be enjoyed as a snack while watching a sporting event.
This tasty Mexican snack has its origins in Andalusia, Spain. But the European country’s version is simpler, served with tomatoes, olive oil and garlic, while the Mexican muffin resembles the Italian bruschetta. The mollete is a snack spread throughout the geography of the Aztec country, found in restaurants, cafes and street stalls.
The sweet version of this dish is the one that predominates in the United States. It is made with sugar and honey, butter replacing the common salty ingredients. It is a quick and easy-to-make meal with ingredients that are usually found in any pantry and it also provides the necessary nutrients to start the day.
Sincronizadas is a Mexican dish that saves anyone when time is short and it is necessary to quickly prepare something for breakfast, dinner or simply to calm the appetite for a few hours. They are flour tortillas stuffed with manchego, chihuahua or Oaxaca cheese and ham.
There is a version similar to Sincronizadas one called gringa, which is prepared with meat and cheese al pastor. Like almost all Mexican street food recipes, the dishes are adapted to the taste of the diners. For this reason, some add refried beans and grilled onions among other fillings.
The basic version of Sincronizada is served with cream, guacamole, Pico de gallo salsa, and pickled jalapeños. It should be noted that the tortillas are not folded with the cheese inside, they are stacked with the filling in the center and cut into crescent or triangle shapes.
In some places in Mexico, it is customary to add a sour cream that helps to increase its flavor.
Mexican empalme is a sandwich for animal protein lovers. It is prepared with two corn tortillas spread with lard, refried beans, tomato sauce, spicy chili, chorizo and fresh cheese.
It is the favorite street food in the state of Nuevo León, to the point that its inhabitants compare it to Mexican pizza or the enchilada apilada. Because of the pork fat with which it is made, in addition to its indisputable flavor, it is one of the most popular street dishes in Mexico.
The difference between empalme and the traditional enchilada is that the former is not rolled up with the ingredients, they are simply added between two or more tortillas. Although a simple detail, it is a much more attractive presentation for those who want to hold the food in their hands and that connects better with the street style of the snack.
Street food is one of the roots of Mexico’s culinary culture; it is one of its most notorious aspects that has earned it worldwide recognition. The diversity of the offer is widely known and pleasing to an indeterminate number of tastes. In addition, with only a few pesos it guarantees total satisfaction.
The variety in the dishes is nothing more than an invitation to visit the different Mexican regions to taste those preparations that claim originality in the ingredients. Many of these dishes are available in countless establishments all over the world, but having the possibility of eating them on the street, from their place of origin, is an unbeatable experience.