Mexican cuisine: 87+ iconic Mexican food dishes you need to try

Are you ready for a yummy breakdown of everything Mexican cuisine has to offer?

Everyone knows (and loves!) Mexican food for its tacos, salsa, and guacamole, but have you ever wondered what its origins are and how this magical fusion of flavors came to be?

Mexican fare is as complex and diverse as Mexican culture, reflecting the richness of hundreds of indigenous cultures as well as the influence of three centuries of Spanish occupation. This blend is evident in the way Mexican cuisine integrates pre-Hispanic ingredients like corn, chilies, and tomatoes with ingredients introduced from Europe, like sugar, flour, and cinnamon.

As you can probably imagine, we have an entire buffet of yummy dishes to cover, so let’s get right to it!

History of Mexican food

Mexican cuisine is a testament to the fusion of indigenous traditions and Spanish colonial influence. Not only did pre-Hispanic Mexican food contribute tremendously to the global culinary scene (thanks for giving us tomatoes, corn, and chocolate!) but the arrival of European products created an incredibly unique combination of flavors and textures — something truly never seen before.

Ancient roots of Mexican cuisine

The foundation of Mexican food dates back to the great civilizations of the Aztecs, Mayas, and Olmecs, who cultivated a deep relationship with their land. They developed sophisticated agricultural techniques to grow staples such as maíz (corn), beans, squash, avocados, tomatoes, and chili peppers, all central to Mexican cuisine today.

Spanish culinary influence

The Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century introduced new ingredients and cooking methods that would forever change the landscape of food in Mexico. The Spaniards brought livestock such as pigs, cattle, chickens, dairy products, rice, wheat, and spices like cinnamon and cloves.

The Spaniards also introduced sugarcane, which led to the development of sweet confections and desserts in Mexican cuisine. Introducing European techniques, such as frying and baking, combined with indigenous ingredients and know-how, gave rise to an innovative and diverse culinary culture. Over the centuries, this melding of cultures and flavors has continued to evolve, making Mexican cuisine one of the most beloved and celebrated worldwide.

Flavorful staples of Mexican food dishes

Mexican dishes are rich in distinctive staples like corn, beans, and chile peppers that make it so outstanding. Some of those ingredients are pre-Columbian, while the Spaniards introduced others in the 16th century.

Significance of corn in Mexico

Corn, or maíz, isn’t just a crop in Mexico; it’s the lifeblood of cuisine. Originating in Mexico over 9,000 years ago, maíz is deeply embedded in Mexico’s culinary and cultural identity, from ancient times to the present.

Corn is the lifeblood of cuisine in Mexico.


This witchcraft-sounding word is just the process of soaking and cooking corn in an alkaline solution — usually limewater — and then hulling it. Thanks to this, the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica were able to extract the full nutritional value of corn, making niacin (vitamin B3) available for absorption, thus improving the protein quality. It transforms the corn into masa, a dough that is the foundation for making tortillas, tamales, and many other Mexican staples.


Derived from masa, atoles are traditional corn-based beverages, thickened and often flavored with fruits, chocolate, or nuts. This comforting drink dates back to pre-Columbian times, serving as both a daily staple and a ceremonial offering.


Tamales, another profound use of masa, are a quintessential Mexican dish with pre-Columbian roots. Corn dough is filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, or chilies, then wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed. This ancient dish is an emblem of Mexican food tradition, embodying the importance of corn.

Chile as an essential ingredient

Chile peppers are an essential part of Mexican dishes, infusing dishes with depth, flavor, and heat. Originating from Mexico, chiles are celebrated for their diverse varieties, each offering unique tastes ranging from mild to intensely spicy.

They’re utilized in various forms — fresh, dried, ground, and smoked — to create salsas, moles, marinades, and sauces foundational to Mexican cooking. Their incorporation into nearly every aspect of Mexican cuisine reflects the country’s rich biodiversity and the integral role of spice in expressing Mexico’s complex culinary identity.

Chile peppers are an essential part of Mexican dishes.

Other essential ingredients

Besides chile, Mexican fare depends on a few key ingredients, like:


Native to Mexico, cacao holds profound cultural and culinary significance. Ancient Mexican civilizations revered it both as a divine beverage and a currency. In modern Mexican dishes, cacao is essential in desserts and mole and is still popularly consumed as a beverage.


Beans are a cornerstone of Mexican fare, providing a great source of protein and nutrition — which also makes Mexican food very vegan-friendly, but more on that later. They’ve been a staple of Mexico since ancient times, cultivated by pre-Columbian civilizations along with corn and squash using a technique called Tres Hermanas (three sisters).

Mexico’s national dish

Mexico doesn’t have an official national dish, but if you ask Mexicans what they think the most emblematic Mexican dish is, you’ll likely get three answers: tacos, chile en nogada, and mole poblano. Tacos are — by far — the most iconic Mexican dish, so we’ve dedicated an entire section to them in this article. For now, let’s explore the other two dishes and why they’re so emblematic.

Chile en nogada.

Chile en nogada

This dish is deeply rooted in Mexican history and is traditionally only eaten during the weeks leading up to Mexico’s Independence Day, September 16. It was created in Puebla around 1821 to honor Agustín de Iturbide, featuring poblano chiles stuffed with minced meat, draped in a walnut-based cream sauce, and garnished with pomegranate seeds, mirroring the colors of the Mexican flag.

Mole Poblano

Mole poblano is often considered the national dish because it blends pre-Columbian and European culinary traditions, representing Mexico’s blended cultural heritage. Originating in Puebla, this dish consists of a complex sauce that blends chile peppers and chocolate to create a rich, savory flavor. It’s traditionally served over chicken or turkey, although it’s also commonly used in enchiladas. Mole sauce is then topped generously with sesame seeds, giving the dish a nutty and crunchy element.

Traditional regional dishes in Mexican culture

Mexican cuisine is incredibly diverse, but there are a few iconic dishes that everyone should know about (and taste!). Here are 20 traditional regional dishes in Mexican culture:

Chile relleno.

Chile relleno

This dish consists of a stuffed Poblano pepper that is battered and fried. The filling almost always includes cheese, ground beef, or vegetables. The fried chile is then covered in a mildly spicy salsa. You heard that right: it’s a pepper covered in a sauce made from more peppers! But don’t worry, though. Poblano chiles aren’t typically very spicy, and the cheese in the filling helps break up the spice for a well-balanced flavor.


This isn’t a dish, but a cooking method that’s become extremely popular nationwide and has an incredible story. This pre-Hispanic cooking method uses agave leaves to cook meats like armadillos, rabbits, and deer in holes in the ground, with other meats like lamb, goat, and beef introduced during the colonial era. This slow-cooking method produces tender and smokey meat, making it a popular dish nationwide.


This hearty soup mixes pork, corn, and a red sauce to create a filling and nutritious meal. It is garnished with lettuce, radishes, onions, and lime, giving it a fresh crunch that perfectly complements the warm broth of the soup. This soup is traditionally served during Mexican holidays, especially around Mexican Independence Day in September.


Another hearty soup, menudo, is made with beef stomach (tripe) in a broth with a red chili pepper base. You typically garnish menudo with fresh cilantro, lime juice, and onions. This spicy and nutritious soup is known as a hangover cure, so you can expect your friends to invite you for some menudo the morning after a big party!


This dish originally comes from Jalisco, although it can now be found anywhere in Mexico due to its massive popularity. Birria is a spicy stew made from goat or beef that is served with an adobo sauce and topped with onions, cilantro, and lime. It can be enjoyed alone or in a tortilla to make birria tacos. You can also add cheese to your birria tacos to turn them into a quesabirria – a birria quesadilla!

This dish is usually accompanied by birria consomé, either along with the birria as a stew or in a separate bowl for dipping your tacos into!


These corn dishes are named after Mexican sandals because of their shape. The corn is turned into a dough, shaped into a flat oval, and topped with beans, meat, cheese, and salsa. This iconic street food originates from Mexico City and can be easily found in many of the city’s street vendors, perfect for a quick meal.


If you were wondering if Mexican food had an equivalent of a pizza, then this might be it. Tlayudas are round, flat, toasted tortillas used as a base for beans, cheese, lettuce, avocado, and meat. They are traditionally eaten in Oaxaca, although they can now be found around the country.


These are some of the most diverse Mexican dishes, and they’ve been around since pre-Columbian times. They are made with corn dough and stuffed with meats, vegetables, sauces, and other ingredients. Tamales are typically wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed, resulting in a soft corn paste that blends perfectly with the filling. They are typically savory, although some tamales in Oaxaca are sweet, with fruit fillings like guayaba, pineapple, and raspberry.


These are some of the most popular Mexican dishes worldwide, known for their comforting flavor and slight spice kick. In short, enchiladas are rolled tortillas filled with meat, cheese, beans, or veggies, covered in cheese and salsa, and then baked. Not only are they delicious, but they’re also extremely versatile, as they can be stuffed with:

  • Meat: Shredded chicken and ground beef are the most common meat stuffings
  • Cheese: Sturdier cheeses like queso cotija and queso fresco are popular
  • Beans: Refried beans are popular, but other whole beans like pinto or black beans can be used
  • Vegetables: They can be made vegetarian or vegan by using sautéed veggies

The best part? You have almost complete freedom over what salsa to use! You can use salsa roja, salsa verde, or even mole, a Pueblan specialty sauce made with chocolate. One of the most popular varieties of enchiladas is enchiladas suizas, which mixes cream with salsa verde to create a very rich and creamy sauce.


Every country has a quick and easy meal that people rely on when they’re short on time or don’t feel like cooking. In Mexico, it’s quesadillas. This simple meal only requires two ingredients and a stovetop. You can choose between a corn or a flour tortilla, and then use your favorite cheese as filling. Caution, though: not all cheeses in Mexico melt, so you’ll want to use something like Oaxaca, Chihuahua, mozzarella, or manchego cheese.

Optionally, you can also add your favorite filling to your quesadilla, including grilled chicken, beans, beef, mushrooms, or vegetables. Some common quesadilla fillings in Mexico include huitlacoche, which is corn fungus (much more delicious than it sounds!) and flor de calabaza, which is a pumpkin flower.

Note that even though the word quesadilla implies that it comes with cheese (queso), you must specifically request queso in your quesadilla in Mexico City. So, if you want a chicken quesadilla with cheese, you must ask for a “quesadilla de pollo con queso.” This only applies to Mexico City, as the rest of the country understands that the word quesadilla means it comes with cheese — a source of ridicule for all chilangos (people from Mexico City).


Ceviche is one of the most colorful and flavorful Mexican dishes. It is cubed raw fish marinated in lime juice and spiced with chili peppers. Other seafood like shrimp, scallops, octopus, and clams may also be used — or a combination of them all! Fresh diced onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and cucumbers are also mixed in, resulting in an extremely fresh dish that is a perfect way to cool down on a day at the beach. You can eat ceviche with totopos (corn chips), tostadas or saltines.


Tostadas are crispy fried, toasted, or baked corn tortillas that are topped with many ingredients. Depending on where you are, you’ll find two very different types of tostadas: meat tostadas and seafood tostadas.

Inland tostadas:

If you happen to be inland, then you’ll almost invariably find meat tostadas. These are topped with a base layer of refried beans, then a layer of ground or shredded beef, and finally, a layer of fresh chopped lettuce, tomato, fresh cheese, sour cream, avocado, and salsa. In some cases, these may also be covered in a tomato-based salsa to make them tostadas ahogadas.

Coastal tostadas:

These tostadas rely on the freshness of seafood and the creaminess of mayonnaise to create a beautiful combination of flavors. These tostadas start with a mayonnaise base, often a spicy chipotle mayo. You can find this at any supermarket in Mexico, or you can make your own by blending some chipotles into regular mayonnaise.

Slabs of fresh seafood like tuna, tilapia, shrimp, or scallops are added, along with fresh veggies like cucumbers, red onion, and avocado. Finally, the whole thing is bathed in plenty of salsas negras, which is a spicy and tangy combination of soy sauce, Maggi sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, Valentina sauce, lime juice, and sliced serrano peppers. This sauce will help cure the raw seafood and give these tostadas an explosive flavor.

Cochinita pibil

This dish is a staple of Mayan cuisine in the Yucatán Peninsula. It consists of slow-roasted pork marinated in citrus juice and achiote peppers, wrapped in banana leaves, and cooked in an underground oven known as a píib. The result is tender meat with a complex, smokey, and citrusy flavor. It’s then topped with pickled red onion and habanero sauce and is commonly eaten in a corn tortilla as a taco.

Rajas con crema

This dish consists of sliced poblano peppers sautéed with onions and cream. The cream helps break down the peppers' spiciness, creating a complex flavor with simple ingredients. This dish is usually eaten in a tortilla as a corn or flour taco.


If you’ve been to a Mexican restaurant before, then you already know about fajitas. These are strips of grilled meat and sautéed red bell peppers, green bell peppers, and onions. This is a very easy and healthy recipe to make, and it is commonly eaten with flour tortillas and toppings like guacamole and pico de gallo. Want to make it vegetarian or vegan? Simply swap out the meat for some extra-firm stir-fried tofu!


Known as “taquitos” in the United States, flautas are rolled, and fried corn tortillas filled with chicken, beef, potatoes, or cheese. They’re crispy on the outside and tender on the inside and are usually topped with chopped lettuce, diced tomatoes, sour cream, fresh cheese, and salsa. They can also be fully submerged in tomato-based salsa to make flautas ahogadas.


These sandwiches are a classic example of the blend between Mexican and Spanish cuisine. They’re named after the “pan bazo,” a type of round, salty bread created in Spain and brought to Mexico during the colonial era. It has since virtually disappeared from Spain’s cuisine but is still prevalent in Mexico thanks to this sandwich. It is filled with chorizo and potatoes, submerged in guajillo chili sauce, and lightly fried on a griddle.


Although empanadas are much more popular in other Hispanic countries like Spain, Argentina, and Colombia, Mexico has its own distinct types of traditional empanadas. Known as pastes, these traditional empanadas from Hidalgo are typically filled with ground beef and potatoes. Some coastal states also make seafood empanadas stuffed with tuna, marlin, shrimp, or lobster.


A molcajete typically refers to the Mexican version of the mortar and pestle. It is large and made from basalt rock, used to crush ingredients to make a paste, namely crushing avocado to make guacamole and crushing chili peppers to make salsa.

However, in the context of a restaurant, a molcajete is a hearty meal that includes a sizzling salsa base with grilled beef, shrimp, sausages, and other meats on top, along with grilled vegetables like nopales (cactus) and mushrooms and grilled slabs of cheese. You can eat directly from the molcajete or make some tacos with fresh, warm tortillas.

Sopa de lima

This soup is one of the most common dishes of Yucatán. It is made from a turkey or chicken broth base and includes plenty of lime — the star of the show. It also includes lightly sautéed onions, tomatoes, tortilla strips, and habanero sauce.


Tacos are such an important part of Mexico’s food culture that they deserve their own article and perhaps even an entire university course to cover the vastness of their world. However, the best way to learn about tacos is to travel through Mexico to experience them, as each city has its own way of making tacos, resulting in hundreds or even thousands of unique tacos. That’s why shows like Netflix’s The Taco Chronicles focus on exploring Mexico to taste all the different types of tacos.

To get you started, here are 15 of the most common types of tacos in Mexico:

Taco al pastor.

Taco al pastor

These are some of the most iconic types of tacos in Mexico, native to Puebla. They were created by Lebanese immigrants in the 1930s as a variation of the classic shawarma. They’re made with slow-cooked marinated pork on a vertical split — much like a shawarma. Thin pork slices are then served on small corn tortillas with pineapple and topped with fresh onion, cilantro, lime juice, and salsa.

Taco de suadero

Suadero tacos feature tender, slow-cooked brisket. Cooked until it’s melt-in-your-mouth tender, suadero is chopped and served on soft corn tortillas with a simple garnish of onion and cilantro. If you’re in Mexico City, you can expect to find these tacos anywhere, 24/7. From formal restaurants to street vendors, these are some of the most common tacos in Mexico — excellent news because they’re delicious!

Taco de carnitas

Originally from Michoacán, these tacos are made with fried shredded pork and topped with fresh onion and cilantro. Legend has it that Hernán Cortés was the first person to try these tacos back in the 16th century, as he wanted fried pork with bread but was offered tortillas instead as they had run out of bread.

Taco de barbacoa

If you read the section above, then you already know that barbacoa is made by slow-braising meat in an underground oven. This cooking method creates the most tender, juicy meat with a smokey taste.

Taco de birria

Originating from Jalisco, birria tacos are made with goat or beef stewed in a rich, spicy sauce. They are typically served with consommé, where you dip your tacos to enjoy the juiciest bite ever.

Taco de bistec

Bistec tacos consist of grilled or pan-fried beef steak, usually thinly sliced or chopped, and served on corn tortillas. They’re typically garnished with onion and cilantro, offering a simple yet satisfying taco that can be found in taco stands all over the country.

Taco de chorizo

These tacos are filled with spicy chorizo sausage that’s been minced and cooked until crisp. They’re typically served on soft corn tortillas and left on the skillet for a little while, so the chorizo grease cooks the tortillas a little bit. They’re served with potatoes, onions, and cilantro, as well as some fresh salsa, of course.

Taco de cabeza

These delicacies are made with the slow-cooked head of a cow, including most of the meat in the cheeks and lips. Cooking them slowly results in tender and flavorful meat served on corn tortillas with — you guessed it — onions, cilantro, and salsa.

Taco de pescado

Fish tacos, which are very popular in the United States, come from the seaside town of Ensenada. This town, which famously invented the margarita as we know it, also invented the famous Baja-style fish taco. These tacos consist of strips of battered fish served on a soft corn tortilla and topped with chopped cabbage and creamy chipotle sauce.

Taco de carne asada

These tacos are especially popular in Northern Mexico, where the art of grilling meat is almost a sacred social activity. Beef cuts like arrachera (skirt steak), rib eye, and diezmillo (sirloin) are some of the most popular. They are grilled on a barbecue and then chopped into bite-sized pieces before being placed on a flour tortilla that’s also been slightly grilled on the same barbecue as the meat. They are topped with guacamole, pico de gallo, and salsa.

Taco de canasta

These tacos are very versatile, very tasty, and very inexpensive. They are soft corn tortilla tacos with fillings like potatoes, refried beans, chicharrón, and adobo steamed inside baskets, resulting in soft and juicy tacos. They are topped with pickled onions and a mild green salsa. Originally from Tlaxcala, you can now find street vendors in most cities in Central Mexico.

Tacos dorados

These are crispy rolled tacos filled with chicken, beef, potatoes, refried beans, or pork. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because they’re very similar to flautas, which we covered earlier. The main difference is that tacos dorados are made with regular-sized corn tortillas, while flautas are made with much bigger tortillas. Tacos dorados are also typically eaten as an appetizer or snack, while flautas tend to be a whole meal.

Tacos gobernador

From the coastal state of Sinaloa, these tacos combine grilled shrimp or another grilled seafood with melted cheese in a corn tortilla. Once the taco is assembled, it’s cooked on a stove for a crunchy texture and a tender filling. They’re typically garnished with fresh lime juice and a creamy chipotle sauce.

Tacos de cochinita

Cochinita pibil is one of the most iconic dishes of Yucatán cuisine, and tacos de cochinita are popular all over the country. These tacos are made with slow-roasted pork marinated in citrus and achiote. They’re served in soft corn tortillas and topped with pickled red onions and habanero sauce.


A recent trend in Mexican street food, quesatacos are just tacos with melted cheese. The cheese is grilled until crispy and folded into the tortilla, adding a complex layer of flavor to an already delicious taco.

Mexican appetizers and sides

If there’s something Mexico is fantastic at, it’s snacks and appetizers. According to Forbes, Mexico is the country with the highest rate of snack consumption in the world. That means Mexicans are all about snacks, side dishes, and appetizers! Here are some of the most common:

Guacamole is an avocado based dip loved all over the world and is a staple in Mexican cuisine.


Loved all over the world, this avocado-based dip combines mashed avocado with lime juice, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and chili peppers. Guacamole is a staple in Mexican cuisine that can be eaten with chips as a snack or added as a topping to tacos, enchiladas, flautas, and a multitude of dishes.

Arroz rojo (Spanish rice)

Although known as Spanish rice in the United States, this classic side dish is originally from Mexico. It’s made by simmering tomatoes, garlic, onions, and broth until fluffy and flavorful. It’s eaten as a side dish to various dishes, particularly those with plenty of sauce, like mole, enchiladas, and stews. It’s normally accompanied by refried beans.

Frijoles refritos (refried beans)

This side dish involves cooked and mashed beans, often pinto or black, refried with onions and spices in lard. They’re a creamy staple of Mexican meals, serving both as a filling or base to many dishes and as a side dish

Totopos (corn chips)

If you’ve been to a Mexican restaurant before, then you’ve probably been welcomed by a basket of totopos (corn chips) and various salsas or dips. You can expect most Mexican restaurants to offer this as a complimentary appetizer, served right as you eat.

Papas preparadas (prepared potato chips)

When you visit Mexico, you’ll notice that Mexicans have a very particular way of eating potato chips. Not only do chips come in spicy flavors already, but they’re almost invariably put in a bowl and mixed with different hot sauces, Maggi sauce, lime juice, powdered chili, and more. This creates an explosive flavor that is certainly not for the faint of heart. You can make these at home or find them at concerts and sporting events across the country.

Queso fundido (cheese dip)

This cheese dip is often flavored with chorizo, mushrooms, or poblano peppers and is always served bubbling hot. Queso fundido is a communal appetizer, enjoyed with tortilla chips or soft tortillas to maximize the gooey texture of melted cheese.

Chicharrones (pork rinds)

Although chicharrones are originally from Spain and eaten all throughout Latin America, Mexico has a few unique ways of eating chicharrones:

  • First is in a chicharrón stew, where the pork rinds are cooked in a mild green salsa until soft and typically eaten in a soft corn tortilla as a taco.
  • Chicharrones can also be eaten as a snack with lime and hot sauce, which is common in sporting events.
  • Chicharrón prensado is a popular way of cooking pork by pressing the bits of meat that come off as the chicharrón is fried. This is then used as a topping for sopes, gorditas, and more.

Nopalitos (nopal salad)

Made from diced nopal cactus pads, this fresh and nutritious salad is mixed with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and lime juice. The salad can be eaten on its own, on a corn tortilla, with totopos, or as a topping for a variety of dishes, like tlacoyos and huaraches.

Sopa de tortilla (tortilla soup)

This is a flavorful broth made with tomatoes, garlic, onion, and chili peppers and garnished with crispy tortilla strips, avocado, cheese, and sour cream. The combination of the rich broth with the sour cream creates a deliciously creamy soup that is beautifully complimented by the crunchiness of the crispy tortilla strips.

Frijoles charros (bean stew)

Also known as “cowboy beans,” this hearty stew is made with pinto beans, bacon, chorizo, and sometimes beer, simmered down with onions, garlic, and chili peppers. This is a rustic, flavorful dish, often served as an appetizer but also hearty enough to be enjoyed as a meal on its own, especially when topped with avocado, cheese, and sour cream.

Mexican breakfast dishes

Breakfast in Mexico is no joke. As far as hearty meals go, Mexican breakfast dishes spare no calories, generally including pastries, fruit, juices, a hearty main, and some delicious Mexican coffee. Here are some of the most common Mexican breakfast dishes:



My personal favorite, chilaquiles, are some of Mexico’s most iconic breakfast dishes. They are made with corn tortillas cut into small pieces, lightly fried, and cooked in a spicy green or red salsa. They are garnished with sour cream, cheese, onions, and avocado and can be served with shredded chicken or fried eggs.


These are open-faced sandwiches that consist of bolillo or telera bread cut in half and topped with refried beans, cheese, and sometimes pico de gallo, chorizo, fried eggs, or avocado. Baked until the cheese melts, molletes offer a very satisfying, delicious, and easy-to-make breakfast option to start the day.


Mexican smoothies, known as licuados, are a very common way to start the day. You’ll find licuado stands on busy sidewalks, making fresh smoothies with fruits, vegetables, milk, flaxseed, chia seeds, and other healthy ingredients. A perfect way to start the day with plenty of energy and fiber!

Huevos rancheros

A classic and hearty breakfast plate, “cowboy eggs” are another fan favorite. They consist of fried corn tortillas topped with fried eggs and bathed in tomato and chili salsa. They are typically accompanied by refried beans, guacamole, and pico de gallo.

Huevos divorciados

They’re very similar to huevos rancheros, except they use two different sauces: green and red. The sauce separates the eggs, hence “divorced” eggs. They’re served with refried beans and tortillas, offering a delicious contrast of flavors in one dish.


Enmoladas are tortillas dipped in mole sauce, filled with chicken or cheese, and then rolled up. They’re so versatile that they’re served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and their simplicity lets you enjoy the complex flavors of mole. They’re typically garnished with sesame seeds, onions, and sour cream.


If you’re not from Mexico City, you might find this one of the more bizarre Mexican breakfasts. Guajolotas consist of a tamal stuffed inside a bolillo (a bread roll) with green salsa. This carb-heavy dish is a popular and super cheap breakfast you can find on almost any street corner on a busy morning in Mexico City.

Huevos a la mexicana

Huevos a la mexicana, or Mexican scrambled eggs, include veggies that resemble the colors of the Mexican flag: tomatoes, onions, green chili pepper, and sometimes ham or chorizo. They're typically eaten with soft corn tortillas and fresh salsa.

Huevos motuleños

This is a traditional breakfast of Yucatán cuisine, consisting of fried eggs on tortillas topped with black beans, cheese, ham, peas, and plantains. Everything is then covered in a tomato sauce, offering a rich blend of flavors perfect for starting your day.

Tacos de carnitas

One of the most beautiful things about Mexican cuisine is that you’re fully able to start your day with some delicious tacos. Tacos de carnitas are common breakfast meals, made of slow-cooked pork served on corn tortillas with onions, cilantro, and salsa.

Mexican breads and pastries

Mexican pastries, known as pan dulce (sweet bread), are massive parts of Mexican food culture and traditions. Not only does a traditional Mexican breakfast always start with a basket of pan dulce, but panaderías (bakeries) sell fresh bread all day to make perfect snacks or accompaniments to a cup of coffee.

Special holiday Mexican breads and pastry traditions

If you’re familiar with Mexican traditions and festivals, then you know that we never skip a chance to celebrate. Among the many traditions and rites, some festivals involve special holiday Mexican bread that is only consumed during the festival or in the weeks leading up to it. Here are some of the most common:

Pan de muerto.

Pan de muerto

This round Mexican sweet bread is consumed in October and November, leading up to Día de los Muertos. It’s characterized by its soft, brioche-like texture and is topped with sugar. It also includes bone-shaped bread fixtures that symbolize the deceased. This bread is a key element of the ofrendas (altars) laid out to celebrate deceased loved ones, but they can also be enjoyed with hot chocolate.

Rosca de Reyes

This wreath-shaped bread is eaten on January 6th to celebrate Epiphany, right after Christmas and New Year's Day. It symbolizes the crowns of the Three Wise Men and has a small plastic baby figurine hidden inside, representing Baby Jesus. This bread is meant to be shared with friends, coworkers, classmates, and family, and whoever finds the Baby Jesus figurine in their slice is responsible for bringing tamales for everyone on Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas) in February.

Pan de feria

Pan de feria, which translates to “fair bread,” is a variety of artisanal bread that is commonly sold during local fairs and festivals across Mexico. These breads can range from sweet to savory, often featuring unique shapes and flavors that reflect the region’s culinary specialties and local ingredients. You can generally only find these breads at these special events, so you’ll have to attend to get a taste!


These crispy, thin, fried dough wafers are typically enjoyed during Mexico's Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. They’re drizzled with syrup made with piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar) and cinnamon and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Buñuelos are known for their light, crunchy texture, offering a sweet end to festive meals.


A traditional Mexican confection, yemitas are made from egg yolks and sugar and resemble a small marzipan. They’re often brightly colored and are popular snacks during Easter celebrations, symbolizing a decadent treat rooted in Spanish traditions.

Everyday Mexican breads and pastries

Besides special occasions, pan dulce is also abundantly popular in everyday life. These are 10 of the most popular Mexican pan dulce:



These popular pan dulce are round and brioche-like, with a crunchy sugar shell that resembles a seashell, hence the name. They’re staples in Mexican bakeries and are perfect for dipping in your coffee or hot chocolate.


Named for their ear-like shapes, orejas are flaky, crispy pastries that are similar to a French palmier. Orejas taste buttery and sweet and come with a satisfying crunch, making them popular choices in bakeries all over Mexico.


These upside-down cupcakes are named after the Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi, as they were invented by the Italian family that founded the iconic bakery El Globo. Garibaldis are coated with apricot jam and nonpareil seeds, creating a unique texture with a crunchy exterior, soft interior, and delicious taste.


Translating to “kiss,” these are small, round pastries made by joining two pieces of puff pastry with a sweet filling. Most besos are filled with jam or dulce de leche in the middle, symbolizing a kiss between the two pastries.


This pan dulce is proof that pastries don’t need to be overly complicated to be effective. In essence, rebanadas are essentially slices of sweet bread with butter and sugar. This simple yet effective combo makes them a great option for a comforting snack.


Also known as Mexican wedding cookies, these crumbly shortbread-like cookies are made with flour, butter and powdered sugar. They typically come in three colors — pink, brown, and yellow — and sometimes have crushed walnuts on top.


These “bow-tie” pastries are made from puff pastry, shaped like a bow, and coated with sugar. Moños are known for their light, airy texture and sweet, crisp bite, making them a perfect companion for tea or coffee.


These soft, molasses-flavored cookies are called puerquitos (little pigs) because, well, they’re shaped like little pigs! Not only are they adorable, but they are also tasty and comforting, reminiscent of a gingerbread cookie.


These flaky, golden pastries are topped with a sugary glaze, making for a crunchy and delicious bite. They are prized for their crisp texture and sweet taste, making them popular snacks among bakeries.

Pan de elote

A moist, sweet bread made from fresh corn. This loaf is similar to cornbread but much sweeter and denser, often enjoyed as a dessert rather than as a savory side or appetizer.

Mexican street food

You’ve probably already heard about Mexico’s legendary street food culture. Not only is this a fast and convenient way to find food, but some of the most delicious meals you’ll ever have will be from informal street food stands in Mexico.

Most stands sell garnachas, which a type of food that involves fried corn dough, and are almost invariably sold as street food. Meals like gorditas, huaraches, sopes, tostadas, tlacoyos, and more are called garnachas and are usually grouped together, since they involve almost the exact same ingredients but in different presentations.

In fact, Mexican comedian Sofía Niño de Rivera famously made fun of the repetitiveness of Mexican food on her Netflix special Expuesta. Here’s a snippet of the joke about it, but check out the entire Netflix special for lots of hilarious content on Mexican culture!

Mexican street food you must try

In addition to garnachas, the streets of Mexico are packed with countless treasures. Here are some of the most iconic Mexican street foods that you should look for next time you visit the country:


We’ve already dug deep into Mexico’s taco culture, but it bears repeating: tacos are phenomenal! Not only is there no such thing as “too many tacos,” but there’s also an almost endless supply of different taco types. So, as the quintessential Mexican street food, prepare to enjoy

Elotes and esquites

Elotes, or grilled corn on the cob, are some of the most popular street foods — which should be no surprise here, as you now know just how important corn is in Mexican food. They’re slathered with mayonnaise, rolled in cotija cheese, and sprinkled with chili powder and lime juice, creating a beautifully tangy and mildly spicy taste.

The same stands that sell elotes usually also sell esquites, which are made from corn kernels sautéed in butter and cooked with onions, chili pepper, and epazote, then served in a cup and topped with the same toppings as elotes. Think of them as getting your ice cream on a cone versus in a cup!


These sandwiches are a staple of Mexico’s street food, particularly in Mexico City, where the emblematic hand-painted art on torta stands has become a pop culture phenomenon. Just like tacos, these sandwiches are incredibly versatile, and some of the most common are:

  • Cemita: A Pueblan specialty, these sesame-seeded sandwiches are filled with meat, avocado, Oaxaca cheese, and papalo.
  • Guacamaya: A unique torta from León, these sandwiches are filled with crunchy pork rinds, salsa, and avocado.
  • Guajolota: Also known as “torta de tamal,” these tortas are stuffed with a whole tamal.
  • Ahogada: A “drowned” torta from Jalisco, featuring pork on crusty bread drenched in mild chili sauce.
  • Cubana: A hearty, loaded torta with various meats, eggs, cheese, and sometimes hot dogs or ham.
  • Torta de albañil: A “bricklayer’s torta,” filled with beef steak, beans, cheese, and avocado.

Ricas tortas calientes.

Fruit with chili

A healthy and refreshing street food option, this consists of various fruits like mango, pineapple, watermelon, oranges, and cucumber cut into pieces and sprinkled with chili powder, salt, and lime juice. You can also find whole peeled mangos on skewers, cut skillfully to resemble a beautiful flower when mangos are in season!

Baked sweet potatoes

Known as “camotes,” these are sweet potatoes baked in a wood-fired oven and served as a warm, comforting snack. Often drizzled with condensed milk or sprinkled with cinnamon, they’re a sweet treat that highlights the natural flavors of the sweet potato. In Mexico City, you’ll hear these from a deep, distinctive whistle that the salespeople blow to let residents know that a warm, gooey sweet potato is near!


Tlacoyos are thick corn dough patties filled with beans, cheese, chorizo, or other ingredients and grilled on a comal. They’re topped with salsa, cheese, and nopalitos and are very commonly sold by street vendors.


This word means “stews,” and what you’ll find is salespeople with several large bowls of different stews, including meat, vegetables, and spices. You’ll pick your favorites and have them on soft tortillas as simple tacos, providing a varied and colorful meal.

Chicharrón preparado

Unlike the fried pork rinds we’ve talked about, this “chicharrón” is actually made from flour. Its large, flat, and rectangular shape makes it the perfect vessel for toppings like mayonnaise, sour cream, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and many spices, creating a delicious street snack.


Originating from Puebla, chalupas are small corn tortillas lightly fried and topped with salsa, shredded meat, chopped onion, and cheese. They’re a delicious snack known for the tortilla's crispy crunch and the toppings' freshness.


Sopes are thick corn tortillas with pinched sides to hold their toppings, such as beans, cheese, lettuce, and salsa. This street food is a staple thanks to its soft yet crispy texture and the ability to customize the toppings.

Mexican salsas and sauces

Salsa roja.

Salsa roja

One of the most common questions you’ll get asked when you order a Mexican dish is: ¿Salsa verde o roja? (red salsa or green salsa?). Salsa roja is made from tomatoes, chili peppers, onions, and garlic. It varies in spiciness level, but salsa roja is typically slightly spicier than salsa verde.

Salsa verde

Salsa verde has a milder and tangier taste than ralsa roja. It is made with tomatillos (green tomatoes) and chili peppers. It’s used as a dip for chips, a topping for meat, a sauce for enchiladas, and so on. Pretty much anything that can go with salsa roja can also go with salsa verde, it’s up to your preference!


Mole, as discussed at the beginning of this article, is a rich sauce made with chili peppers, spices, fruits, nuts, and chocolate. However, mole is also incredibly versatile, as it comes in many variations, including:

  • Mole verde
  • Mole amarillo
  • Mole rosa
  • Mole almendrado
  • Mole encacahuatado
  • Mole de manzana


Adobos are rich, reddish marinades made of chili peppers, vinegar, herbs, and spices. They have a smokey and spicy flavor, making them an excellent condiment for all kinds of meats, fish, and vegetables.

Pico de gallo

This fresh, uncooked salsa combines chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro, fresh chili peppers like serrano or jalapeño, and lime juice. Some variations may also include avocado, cucumber, mango, or other fresh fruits or vegetables. This versatile salsa is a perfect topping for seafood, tacos, and grilled meats, adding a refreshing and crunchy texture to the dish. Or, you can just eat it by itself with some chips!

Salsa taquera

As implied by its name, you’ll be able to find this salsa in most taquerías (taco shops) in Mexico. It blends chili peppers, garlic, and vinegar. It is smooth and spicy, making it a favorite for tacos as it offers a fiery kick that perfectly compliments the meat's flavor. Just go easy on it, as it tends to be quite spicy!

Salsa ranchera

This cooked tomato-based salsa features chili peppers, onions, and garlic. It’s thicker than salsa roja and is often very well seasoned with spices, giving it an earthy and multidimensional taste. Its complexity makes it a perfect salsa for simple dishes, like scrambled or fried eggs, bean burritos, or… anything you’d like, really!

Salsa de habanero

Ask any Mexican what the spiciest salsa is, and they’ll surely agree: la salsa de habanero. This yellow-orange salsa is made from the small-yet-mighty chile habanero, which is known for its potent flavor and harsh kick. You should definitely give it a try, but start with just a couple of drops!


A pipián is a variation of mole made with pumpkin seeds that give it a distinctive green or orange color and nutty flavor. They’re used in sauces for chicken or vegetables, giving the dish a creamy and rich consistency.

Salsa borracha

Translating to “drunken salsa,” this salsa includes beer, chili peppers, onions, and cilantro. The beer gives this salsa a light and airy taste, making it perfect for chips or to balance out heartier tacos, like barbacoa tacos.

Contemporary Mexican food

Contemporary Mexican cuisine is a vibrant fusion of traditional flavors with modern culinary techniques. Chefs nationwide and abroad are reinterpreting classic dishes, and experimenting with local and international ingredients to create innovative menus. This modern approach maintains the essence of Mexican gastronomy at its core yet expands the horizons of Mexican fare.

Fusion Mexican dishes

In a globalized world, it's no surprise that we’ve found unlikely combinations of two cuisines, resulting in beautiful combinations of flavors and cultures. These are just a few of the most popular fusion Mexican dishes.

Tacos al pastor

Tacos al pastor are the perfect blend of Lebanese and Mexican culture, featuring marinated pork roasted vertically like a shawarma. This is known as a trompo in Mexico, from which the meat is thinly sliced and served on corn tortillas. This fusion highlights the rich history of Middle Eastern immigrants in Mexico, especially in Puebla.


Birriamen — or birria ramen — is the combination of Mexico’s birria stew and Japan’s ramen noodle soup. Just as the creamy pork tonkatsu broth adds a rich layer of flavor to the Japanese ramen we all know and love, the juicy and

Spicy Mexican sushi

Sushi in Mexico is in a world of its own. While you may expect a fresh fatty tuna roll or maybe a beautiful salmon nigiri, Mexican sushi involves ingredients you would expect to find at a sports bar. Most sushi rolls in Mexico are deep-fried, include cream cheese, and contain jalapeños or hot sauce. You also shouldn’t be surprised if you find grilled chicken, steak, or even bacon in some of these rolls. Definitely not authentic, but something worth trying if you’re a fan of Mexican and Japanese cuisine!


Mexico City has a significant Korean diaspora population, with a section of the Zona Rosa neighborhood known as Pequeño Seúl (Little Seoul). This has led to all kinds of fun Mexi-Korean fusion dishes, with Kimchiladas becoming one of the most popular. This is a mix between kimchi and the michelada, which is an alcoholic beverage including beer, lime juice, and spices, creating a tangy and spicy drink reminiscent of both Korean and Mexican traditional dishes.

Arab tacos

We’ve already covered that tacos al pastor use meat inspired by Lebanese shawarma, but what about the vessel? These “tacos” use pita bread instead of tortillas to hold the meat, which is topped with cucumber, yogurt, and chipotle sauce, showcasing another case of seamless integration between Mexican and Arabic cuisine.

International versions of tacos

Mexican cuisine has integrated well into the global world, with Mexican restaurants in countries all over the world. This sometimes results in tacos that are… less than authentic, let’s say. While most Mexicans would find these tacos questionable, they do have some redeeming qualities, and some of the best dishes out there are fusions of two cuisines, like tacos al pastor.

Here are some of the most common international versions of tacos:

American tacos

By far the most popular non-Mexican version of tacos, American tacos are hard shell tacos with ground beef. These U-shaped hard shells are the standard in the United States, although Mexico doesn’t have anything similar.

The closest would be a tostada, although this is completely flat and the ingredients are layered on top. These types of tacos are so alien to Mexico that an “American-style taco shop” recently opened up in Mexico City and made national headlines, as most people were shocked to see American-style tacos on Mexican soil. However, these tacos are popular all over the world, so people clearly enjoy them!

French tacos

French tacos are perhaps the furthest thing away from an authentic taco on this list. They’re folded flour tortillas filled with various types of meat, including chicken, turkey or beef. They’re also stuffed with french fries, cheese, sauces or relish, and vegetables. They are then grilled like a panini and served warm.

Norwegian tacos

They’re a unique twist on the Mexican classic, having become a beloved Friday night ritual known as “Taco Fredag.” People all over Norway — and Scandinavia — buy taco kits from the grocery store that include hard taco shells and taco seasoning. They then cook ground beef with the taco seasoning and dice vegetables like lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber, and avocado, placing each vegetable into its own bowl. Then, each person grabs a shell and assembles their own tacos.

Chinese tacos

Tacos in China take a clever solution to the hard shell versus soft tortilla debate: they use both. On the outside, you’ll have a hard shell tortilla followed by a layer of cheese sauce or refried beans. Then, you’ll have a soft corn or flour tortilla with the meat and the rest of the fillings. Fried chicken tacos are also extremely popular in China, especially due to the popularity of chains like KFC and Dico’s.

Malaysian tacos

Going against the grain, Malaysia has adopted the birria taco as the most popular taco. Particularly in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Petaling Jaya, this dish has become extremely popular, with plenty of taquerías selling birria tacos with consommé. It’s also become a popular late-night snack, with many birria taco trucks popping up in areas with plenty of nightlife.

Mexican desserts

Mexicans love to eat, and dessert is no exception. Lunches and dinners, in particular, are susceptible to “la sobremesa,” which refers to the time spent after the main course just enjoying a drink, some dessert, and the company of those you’re sharing a meal with. There’s an abundance of delicious Mexican desserts to enjoy, but some of the most common are:

Mexican flan dessert.


This is a creamy caramel custard dessert, popular all over Mexico for its rich flavor and creamy texture. Mexico pioneered the chocoflan, which is a layered dessert that includes a chocolate cake base topped with creamy caramel flan.

Arroz con leche

This creamy Mexican rice pudding is made with milk, cinnamon, and sugar and is often garnished with raisins and cinnamon sticks. This traditional dessert is a favorite for its creamy texture and warmth, making it an excellent choice for a rainy winter day.


This is a traditional Mexican bread pudding that layers bolillo (bread) with cheese, banana, raisins, nuts, guayaba, peanuts, and syrup. It’s spiced with cloves, cinnamon, and other spices to create a warm and comforting flavor.


The crispy, deep-fried dough pastries you surely already know and love have a special Mexican version you don’t want to miss. Although churros originally come from the Iberian Peninsula, Mexico has added a yummy layer to this dessert: hot chocolate. You’ll get your regular churros with cinnamon, sugar, and a cup of thick hot chocolate. You can dip your churros into the chocolate and drink the rest once you’re done!

Helado and paletas

Mexican helado (ice cream) and paletas (popsicles) come in dozens and dozens of flavors. You can find them at a nevería (ice cream shop) or even on the street from a paletero (paleta man). Flavors include local fruits like mamey, garambullo, tamarindo, aguacate, and other creative flavors like leche quemada (burnt milk), cajeta, and beso de ángel (mamey with cherries and nuts). You should also keep an eye out for nieve de garrafa, which is often referred to as Mexican sorbet, as it’s a lighter, hand-made ice cream – delicious!

Pastel de tres leches

This moist cake is soaked in a mixture of three kinds of milk: evaporated, condensed, and heavy cream. This dessert is beloved for its rich, creamy texture and is often topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit. It’s also a common birthday cake in Mexico — most of my birthday cakes were tres leches growing up!


This thick, warm beverage is made from mashed corn, dark chocolate, water, and cinnamon. It’s a type of atole, a pre-Hispanic beverage made of corn. Champurrado is sweetened with piloncillo (unrefined sugar) and comes in many flavors, including strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, pineapple, mango, and more.


This is a thick caramel sauce made from sweetened caramelized goat’s milk. It’s a versatile dessert topping and a common flavor of ice cream, cookies, and cakes. Alternatively, you can simply enjoy it on its own with a spoon.


This is a traditional jelly-like Mexican candy made from fruit, usually guava, tamarind, pear, mango, and apple. It is often paired with a salty spread or cheese to create a delicious sweet and savory combo.


These are coconut-based confections that usually have a crunchy exterior and soft interior. They’re very sweet and versatile, often with nuts or dried fruit. They’re also very patriotic, as the white coconut is often dyed red and green to symbolize the Mexican flag, which is called banderitas.

Vegetarian and vegan Mexican dishes

Mexican food, in general, is very vegetarian-friendly, as meat tends to be just one ingredient in a complex combination of vegetables, grains, and spices. Many dishes are de-facto vegetarian-friendly, such as quesadillas, rajas con crema, queso fundido, elotes and esquites, guacamole, and more.

Others come in vegetarian versions, like tamales, tlacoyos, flautas, enchiladas, and more. And, in most cases, removing the meat can easily make a dish vegetarian-friendly without majorly compromising the flavor profile.

Finding vegan Mexican food dishes can be a little trickier, especially since almost every dish uses at least a bit of cheese. Other ingredients like refried beans are often fried in lard, making it difficult to guarantee that a dish has no animal products, even if it isn’t apparent.

Fortunately, there is a strong vegan movement in Mexico, and most people understand what it means for something to be vegan or otherwise. So, you can always ask if something is vegan-friendly, and they’ll let you know if there is a vegan alternative. You can also find all kinds of strictly vegan restaurants in Mexico now, from formal restaurants to taco stands on the street to bakeries.

And if you’re cooking at home, there are plenty of ways to veganize or vegetarianize your meal.

Common vegetarian and vegan meat substitutes:

  • Setas: These are edible mushrooms that offer a meaty, earthy substitute when sautéed.
  • Jamaica: Dried hibiscus flowers are commonly rehydrated with sauce and used in tacos for their tart, cranberry-like flavor.
  • Plátano macho: Ripe plantains provide a versatile and yummy meat substitute for fried dishes.
  • Frijoles refritos: These are substantial and nutritious enough, so meat can be wholly avoided in garnachas like sopes, tlacoyos, gorditas, enchiladas, and more. Watch out if you’re vegan, though, as frijoles refritos are often fried in pork lard.
  • Cheese: Cheese is an excellent substitute for meat in many dishes, particularly sauce-heavy dishes, like enchiladas and enmoladas. Some of the most common Mexican cheeses are cotija, oaxaca, panela, and chihuahua. This, of course, isn’t suitable for vegans.
  • Garbanzos: These are excellent meat substitutes in soups and stews, like pozole, menudo, and sopa de tortilla.
  • Acelgas: Swiss chard is commonly sautéed and used as a meat replacement in many dishes, including tamales, tlacoyos, enchiladas, and more.
  • Huitlacoche: This corn fungus is a very common ingredient in many garnachas, including quesadillas, sopes, gorditas, tlacoyos, and more.
  • Coliflor: Recently, cauliflower has become a popular vegan substitute for meat in many dishes, particularly breaded and deep-fried. These crispy cauliflower bites can easily replace meat in tacos, burritos, and other dishes.

Sink your teeth into some of these Mexican dishes

There’s no way you’re not hungry by now, as we’ve covered a grand total of 112 Mexican dishes, including appetizers, salsas, desserts, pastries, and more. So, what’s the best course of action now? Pack your bags and head to Mexico to eat lots of yummy food and learn some Spanish! And if that’s not feasible for now, then you can surely give any of these dishes a try at home — cooking Mexican meals is not as complicated as it may seem!

Make sure to check out our Spanish blog if you want to learn more about Mexican culture and learning Spanish. We regularly publish helpful guides to learning Spanish and understanding Hispanic culture, like knowing when to use formal vs. informal pronouns, how to write an email in Spanish, and how to wish someone happy holidays in Spanish.

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