If you find yourself in Mexico, then you can expect to see plenty of sand and sun, unique landscapes across the country and a colorful culture. But one of our favourite pastimes is learning about (and eating) the traditional Mexican street foods. While most of us are familiar with tacos, burritos and nachos, authentic Mexican street food is so much more than that!
We don’t consider ourselves to be experts (yet!) but we have done our fare share of research and are currently eating our way through Mexico. Instead of shying away from the unknown and sometimes unpronounceable, we’ve put together a guide to Mexican street food to introduce some of the usual options available for you to try at food stands. If you know what to look for, you can enjoy delicious and filling foods for a fraction of the price of a restaurant meal. You can also have Mexican Michelada with these Mexican dishes, it will be a great combination. Here is the recipe for how to make a traditional Mexican Michelada.
The list is endless so this is just a taste of what street food can be found throughout Mexico. So let’s get right to the meat and potatoes. Here is a breakdown of some of the traditional meats you can find at food stands:
Mexican Street Foods
Seasoned and grilled chicken that can be thinly sliced or shredded
Carne Asada: Grilled Meat
Usually thin slices of marinated beef (sirloin or rib)
Chorizo: Spanish Sausage
Ground pork sausage that has been seasoned and is often red in color
Al Pastor: Shepherd Style (Pork Shavings)
Very thinly sliced pork that is spit-roasted (similar to shawarma) and often served with grilled pineapple.
Tacos al Pastor
These savory tacos are exemplary Mexican street food. Thinly sliced marinated pork is cooked on a vertical spit, reminiscent of Middle Eastern shawarma. Then it’s usually served in warm tortillas with pineapple, cilantro, and onion.
Fish is either battered and fried (capeado) or grilled (a la parilla)
You can take any of the above meats and combine them with one of the following when ordering your street food:
A staple item in Mexico and one of our favourites. Tacos are made with tortillas and you will often be asked if you’d like harina (flour) or maíz (corn).
Essentially, a taco with cheese. The tortilla is folded, filled with cheese and grilled until the cheese is perfectly melted. You can have a plain quesadilla or add your favourite meat to it.
These are made with small but very thick corn tortillas with a border or pinched edge. They are often layered with beans plus your meat of choice and then topped with lettuce, tomato, cream and cheese.
The Mexican sandwich. These are served hot after being grilled or toasted in a press. The buns are nice and crispy on the outside and warm on the inside. They’re usually filled with your meat of choice, plus lettuce, tomato and onions.
Gorditas are prepared using cornmeal and resemble pita pockets. The dough is shaped into a small disk shape and then pan-fried so that the outside is crispy and the inside is soft and steamy. Then they are stuffed with your choice of meat as well as beans and cheese.
This is a traditional Mexican dish that dates back to native Aztecs. Seasoned meat is wrapped in cornmeal dough and then steamed or baked in cornhusks or banana leaves. The tamales are usually kept in big pots at food stands to stay warm and they are unwrapped before eating.
Food Stands 101
Foods are usually served on plates that are sometimes wrapped in a thin, clear plastic layer so that dishes don’t have to be washed. You’ll find an assortment of fresh toppings, limes and homemade salsas at food stands too. But be sure to ask which are picante (spicy) because color doesn’t always determine spiciness.
In Mexico, street food stands are busiest either in the morning or later in the evening since locals eat a big sit-down meal around mid-afternoon.
If you’re hesitant on which street vendors to approach, our advice is to look for busy stands where locals are eating. We once followed a group of construction workers to a stand on their lunch break and were not disappointed!
As with all street food, check for cleanliness and note that the person preparing your food should not be handling money at the same time. We always carry hand sanitizer with us too because you’d be hard pressed to find a stand with a full sink and soap around for you to use.
So, if you’re in Mexico, go out there and see how great street food can be. And like they say in Spanish, buen provecho (enjoy your meal)!
What’s your favourite Mexican food apart from tacos?
About the authors: Felicia and Wesley are currently traveling across Mexico on their second long-term backpacking trip. The couple writes about budget and beginner travel over at Feather and the Wind. They hope their tips and travel tales inspire others pack up and see the world.