Authentic Mexican food is one of the great cuisines of the world, treating you to explosive flavors, adventurous ingredients, and a journey through Mexico’s complex history.

Mexican Food Guide

Top 5 Mexican Foods To Try

best authentic mexican food


These are Mexico’s rich sauces, usually eaten with meats, filled chilies, and corn tortillas. The flavors are bold and complex, mixing ingredients such as chocolate, chili, nuts and fruit.

Cochonita Pibil

This Maya recipes draws from underground, slow-cooking techniques, resulting in a pulled pork marniated in red achiote (annatto seeds).


Get a spicy kick with this ceviche-inspired dish, which marinates raw seafood in lemon and chili to create a cool and hot contrast in your mouth.

best authentic mexican foods


Barbacoa draws from Maya techniques cooking with cactus or banana leaves underground. Think smoky, fall-off-the-bone meat that is the perfect taco filling.

best authentic mexican cuisine


A corn-based hearty soup with many variations that work for almost any meal and palate. You will be asked if you want the red, green or vegetarian version, which refers to the base chili and broth.

About Mexican Food

The first time you glance at a real Mexican menu reveals a small truth – most of us haven’t a clue what is authentic Mexican food. Forget nachos, burritos, fajitas, chili con carne or hard-shell tacos – these are all ‘Tex Mex’ inventions, the fusion food created by Tejanos (Texans of Spanish and Mexican descent).

Instead, authentic Mexican food is about soft tacos, slow-roasted meats and complicated salsas with 30 ingredients as diverse as chocolate and chili.

Food is inextricably tied to Mexican festive culture and is one of the few cuisines in the world to receive UNESCO’s stamp of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

In many Mexican recipes, you’ll taste traces of Mayan and Aztec history, when corn tortillas and bean paste were common. With the rise of the Aztec empire in the mid-1300s came chili peppers, honey, salt and chocolate, and domesticated turkey and duck were also added to the menu. With Spanish settlers in the 1500s came new cooking techniques and livestock – like pigs, sheep and cows – plus ingredients such as garlic, dairy products, herbs, wheat and spices. Added to the mix are influences from the Caribbean, South America, France, Portugal and West African countries, meaning today’s authentic Mexican food is a fusion of flavors.

But one thing remains true about Mexico’s food reputation: tacos are ubiquitous, eaten everywhere, everyday, and in every form. “Tacos are a way of life,” as Enrique Olvera once said, head chef of one of the country’s best restaurants Pujol. Far from becoming repetitive, ‘tacos’ in Mexico include numerous versions of corn tortialls that are fried, crunchy, thin, thick, large, small… you name it.

Today you’ll find tacos sold in both scrubbed down ‘taquerias’ (taco restaurants), street carts and gourmet restaurants alike. Add a few botanas or antojitos, simply ‘snacks’ or ‘little cravings’, and you’ll find yourself in Mexican heaven. And that’s before you even get to the desserts.

While it would be impossible to list every version and variety of authentic Mexican foods – which change between regions, and even from town to town – here are just some of the most common Mexican foods to get you started on your Mexican tasting journey.

Classic Mexican Dishes

mole authentic mexican food
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Mole translates to ‘sauce’ or ‘mixture’ in Nahuatl (Aztec). Most moles are complex, combing 20 or 30 ingredients, creating an explosion of flavors in your mouth.

Traveling around Mexico quickly reveals numerous regional varieties. Some common moles include:

  • the chocolate-chili Mole Poblano (literally mole from the town of Pueblo),
  • ‘pipian’ moles (where nuts are the dominant ingredient)
  • the seven moles of Oaxaca.

The truth is that each region – or even each family – has their own mole recipe, meaning this dish is more of an authentic Mexican concept, rather than a set recipe. In general, though, moles contain some combination of nuts, fruits and chilis, and served over meat or enchiladas (converting them into enmoladas), or as a filling in tamales.

barbacoa authentic mx food


Maya claim the barbecue as a pre-hispanic specialty, based on their long practice of cooking meats in underground pits lined with hot embers and stones. Barbacoa meats combine smoky flavors derived from the slow, long cooking process, as well as traditional marinate flavours, such as achiote. The perfect side is salsa de molcajete (sauce made with a Mexican mortar and pestle with grilled tomato, chili and garlic). The meat is traditionally cooked wrapped in banana or cactus leaves, so it is succulent and falls off the bone. There are the two main ideas about the origin of the word barbecue: the Maya Baalbak’Kaab (meat covered with earth) or from the Carribean Taíno barabicu (sacred firepit, using wooden scaffolding).

Cochinita Pibil

This is Yucatecan food at its best, hailing from the Caribbean state where Cancun is located. Its popularity means that today, you can find this dish all around Mexico. This dish is named after the traditional Maya oven ‘pib,’ which involves cooking with hot coals in a hole under a layer of dirt. The key to this pre-Hispanic recipe is slow-roasting pork in a marinate of ground annatto – a red seed known as achiote – with contrasting notes of sweet orange and sour lemon juice. The end result is a rich-flavored, stripped pork that melts in your mouth. It’s a great filling for tacos or on top of a panucho, a small fried taco with frijol beans inside. Top it off with a squeeze of lime, habanero salsa, and pickled red onion.

aguachile mexican food

Seafood Aguachile, Ceviche, & Cocktails

You’ll find many locally-inspired ceviche recipes around Mexico, a dish of raw seafood cured by lemon and varied with herbs and other flavors. But the true evolution of this Peruvian dish into a Mexican specialty is aguachile. The preparation is similar but the end result is spicier; raw fish or prawns are typically macerated in chili, lemon and sometimes cucumber (green or verde aguachile), creating a hot and cool sensation in your mouth. The simplicity of this dish lets you taste the flavor of the seafood more than in ceviche, the latter often being dominated by sweeter notes such as coconut milk and mango. Seafood cócteles (cocktails) are another Mexican dish of raw seafood, except served in a fancy tall glass and drowned in a softly spiced tomato sauce.

relleno negro mexico food

Relleno Negro

This is a special dish that transports you back to Maya primitive cooking techniques, although you might hear similar versions called chilmole or chirmole. It has a gritty texture thanks to the chilies that are toasted until charred then crushed to make the sauce.

You’ll mostly find it in Yucatan, traditionally simmered with turkey (guajolote), and served with slices of egg. It is associated with the local festival Hanal Pixán in November.

Chili Rellenos & Chilis ‘En Nogada’

The large but not overly spicy green poblano chili is most commonly used for this recipe. These ‘stuffed chilies’ are filled with anything from cheese to more complex mixes liked spiced ground beef or seafood.

The most patriotic version of this dish is chiles en nogada, which brings together the three colors of the Mexican flag. A (green) chili is stuffed with fruit-spiced minced or shredded meat (picadillo), then drowned in a (white) creamy walnut-based sauce, and topped with (red) pomegranate seeds. This dish is especially eaten around Mexico’s Independence Day on September 16.

fideos secos mexican dish

Fideos secos

‘Dry noodles’ is the translation of this pasta dish, which is an apt description of how this dish is prepared. Thin and tiny vermicelli pasta noodles are cooked in a creamy tomato and chipotle soup until reduced to a ‘dry’ sauce. The result is an intense and lightly spiced tomato flavor. It’s an easy and tasty dish for those who want to take it slow or need a break from tacos.

More commonly, you will see ‘sopa de fideo’ on the menu, which is the soupy version of this dish and also delicious.

arrachera real mexico food


This marinated, thin skirt steak is perfect to eat with tacos or as a main plate with sides of beans and rice. Add tequila or mezcal to the recipe, and you’ve got yourself arrachera borracha (drunk meat).

In Yucatan, you’ll find a traditional version of ‘poc chuc,’ which is thin, grilled pork with a bitter orange marinate.

alambre mexico food


Order alambre and you’ll get a sort of DIY taco plate that closely resembles fajitas. The meat was traditionally cooked over an open flame (usually on a wire or skewer, or ‘alambre’). The roasted beef is then cut up with grilled bell peppers, onions, bacon (or other variations that you can choose, like pork, chicken and chorizo). You can then order it to be covered in cheese. Next to this delicious mix comes a stack of flour or corn tacos to make your own tacos.

adobo meat mexican food

Carne Adobada

Adobo (meaning marinate) is a thick red sauce made with Mexican chilies, usually guajillo and chipotle, topped off with stewed tomatoes and other spices. Pork, chicken or sometimes beef is covered with this spicy adobo, and typically grilled or slow-roasted in clay pots until the meat is tender and flavorsome. While there are several countries that have adobo recipes – like Spain and Portugal – Mexico’s version has a spicy kick that makes it unique.

Mexican Tacos

Tacos, Tlacoyos, and Sopes, oh my!

The dizzying array of Mexico’s corn specialties is hard to comprehend at first – they come in different sizes and shapes, then there are different fillings and cooking styles, all which change the name. For example:

  • sopes are small, round tacos with a raised edge and topped with your choice of filling or, in the style of Puebla and Oaxaca, spread with beans, salsa and a sprinkling of fresh cheese (but then they are called chalupas or memelas).
  • tlacoyos and huaraches are elongated fried corn tortillas;
  • tacos guisados are filled with homemade stewed meats or vegetables;
  • tacos de canasta cook in their own steam in a covered basket (also known as ‘tacos sudados‘, “sweaty tacos’)… and the list goes on.

What is more familiar are the fillings, like tacos dechicarron (fried pork belly or rind), chorizo, steak (arrachera or bistec), seafood, campechano (a mix of chopped meats) or birria, a meaty spiced stew typically made with goat, to name a few.

And just when you think you’re a taco pro, you open a menu in a small town tacqueria and realize you still don’t understand half of it. In short, tacos are plentiful and no matter the form, eat as many as you can.

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Today this taco filling is found all over Mexico, although it originally hails from the state of Michoacan. Carnitas (‘little meats’) is the result of slow-cooked pork in vats of broth and natural fats, which is then cut up finely – skin, fat and all – and chucked on a tortilla. You then garnish it with coriander or parsley, fresh onion, salsa, and guacamole. Do as the locals – wipe up the oils on your plate with your taco for extra flavor.

authentic mexico food taco

Tacos al Pastor

Those who have been in the Middle East will recognize the rotisserie kebabs dotting Mexico’s streets. It’s not an old recipe in Mexico, created around the 1920–30s with the arrival of Lebanese and Syrian immigrants, but it has become one of the most common tacos you can find all around the country. Tacos al pastor (‘in the shepherd style’) are made from carving thin strips of pork off a spit onto a corn tortilla, topped with red onion, coriander and roasted pineapple, which you can spot sitting on top of the rotiserrie. Sometimes they are called tacos arabes.

flautas mexican authentic cuisine

Flautas, Panuchos & Salbutes

These corn tortillas sit in their own category because they are deep friend and crispy, rather than the usual soft-shell tacos. Panuchos are small, round crunchy pocket filled with refried bean; just choose your topping, and pick them up with your fingers. These are more modern inventions appearing in the Yucatan region around the 19th or 20th century. Salbutes are fried in a similar way until they puff up, minus the bean stuffing.

If you can fit one more in, try flautas (flutes) or tacos dorados (golden tacos), which are deep fried tortillas filled with potato, cheese or meat.

tostada mexico cuisine

Tostadas & Tlayudas

Now we switch to thin, cracker-like tortillas. Tostadas are appetizers which combine crunchy and soft textures in a single bite. A tortilla is fried until it has a golden crunch – or as the name suggests, until ‘toasted’ – and then piled up with your choice of topping. Our favorite is with raw tuna or smoked salmon, avocado slices, chipotle mayonnaise and fried onion strips, although you can find all types of seafood and ceviche toppings, plus meat combinations as well. Add a drizzle of your choice of chili salsa, a squeeze of lime, and eat it with your fingers like a cracker.

Tlayudas are large, thin crispy tortillas topped with a spread of refried beans, lard, shredded cabbage or lettuce, and your choice of meat and salsa. You’ll mostly see these in Oaxaca, where they were created.


Gorditas – which roughly translates to ‘chubby’ – are thick round tortillas of corn or flour, which are usually grilled on a comal (hotplate) or sometimes fried with a little bit of oil or lard. They are typically slit open and stuffed with shredded meat and salad, although you will see them served in a number of ways around Mexico. You can also find sweet gorditas cooked on the site of streets, which combine corn flour, milk and a little sugar  – grab a bag and eat them plain, they’re delicious.

enchiladas mexicano dish


If you’re new to Mexican flavors, enchiladas are an easy (relatively bland) introduction. This dish dates to Maya times when locals in the Valley of Mexico wrapped corn tortillas around small fish. Today you’ll find every possible combination of plain stuffings: frijoles (beans), cheese, meat, eggs or seafood.

You can spice this dish up by ordering them as ‘enmoladas.’ The rolled tortillas are ‘bathed’ or covered in your choice of salsa or mole, then sprinkled with cheese, shredded lettuce or cabbage, and cream. This is a pretty cheap meal if you’re on a budget, usually coming in a set of three.

A traditional Yucatan version is ‘papadzule.’ The tortillas are stuffed with boiled egg, then coated in pumpkin seed sauce and a drizzle of tomato sauce.

Mexican Starters

Mexican Soups

Lime soup (sopa de lima), black bean soup (frijol), tortilla soup, seafood (mariscos) soup – this is just the start to the delicious broths (consumes) and soups (sopas) you can find around the country.

You can also find ancho chili soup, a rich-flavored chile with little spice. Sopa Azteca brings all of these flavors together – chicken and tomato-based broth with pasilla chili, ladled onto tortilla chips and topped with avocado, cream and tangy cheese. For something a bit heartier, try frijoles de la olla, black beans cooked in clay pots, or menudo, a chili and corn-based tripe soup with a deliciously rich flavor.

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Mexican Starters

pozole mexican dish


This hearty corn soup traces its roots to Aztec ritual sacrifices. The broth is make from stewing hominy corn (dried maize kernels), usually overnight so the corn softens and the broth infuses with the flavors of meat and vegetables. The soup is topped off with onion, lime, chili, cabbage, lettuce, or radish for a fresh contrast.

You can find chicken, pork and vegetarian versions, with the option of green or red (usually mild) chili broth. A big bowl is enough for a full meal. Locals eat pozole on special occasions, like birthdays, Independence day or Christmas, although many eat it all year.

It can get spicy so ask about the level of heat (red is usually less spicy but it’s not a hard rule).


Totopos and Salsa

The simplicity of fried corn chips brings out the natural ingredients of Mexico’s fresh salsas and immense variety of chilies. It is typical to find an assortment of small salsa pots and chips on the table when you arrive, or receive it as a courtesy after you sit down. Try them all and discover the world of Mexico’s chilis; some that burn hot but quick, others with low but long kicks. The green salsas are usually roast green tomato and serrano; the red salsas tend to be less spicier but not always; soaked chilis in oil make a great dip; the chunky roast tomato, onion and chili salsa is usually the least spicy.

nopal cactus salad mx food

Ensalada de Nopal

Nopal, a type of cactus, is commonly grilled as a garnish for meats, or served fresh as a salad. Nopal salad is a refreshing mix of sliced boiled nopal leaves, onion and tomato, drenched in lemon. The leaves are soaked first to soften and remove the sticky residue; if a lot of residue is left on your nopal, it’s an indication of poor preparation or cleaning, although harmless to eat. This is another authentic Mexican food that has deep historical roots.

Mexican Fast Food

tamales mexican food


This has been the fastfood of Mexico for hundred of years. Even Aztec, Maya and Inca tribes used tamales as a take-away nourishing food for battle. Locals go crazy for these steamed corn masa parcels, wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks. They are eaten savoury, sweet, plain or stuffed, with many options like salsas or moles (normally red, green or mole poblano) or meats (chicharron is particularly good, and chicken is common). The flavor is quite plain, so stuffing is a welcome addition.

Many neighorboods have their own street-cart seller, some which pass by with a recording blasting ‘tamales… ricos… Oaxaqueños’ – considered one of the ‘sounds of Mexico.’ Some tamale street vendors also serve a hot drink of ‘atole’ on the side, a thick chocolate-corn drink made from the starchy water of the tamales.

Once you remove the wrapping, it doubles as an ‘organic plate’ – many will eat it right there as they chat with the tamale vendedor.

Elote & Esquites

This is more than your basic ‘corn on the cob.’ You can find street vendors selling this big kernel ‘elote’ on nearly every corner, the best ones will even have long lines. The corn is typically speared on a stick to create a corn popsicle, and then smothered in cream, butter, cheese, mayonnaise, chili powder, lime, and butter.

You can also ask them to shave the corn off the cob and serve it in a cup, which converts it into ‘esquites.’ The corn’s savoury base is spiced up with the creamy, spicy topping, which is usually served it to your liking (the seller will either ask you how you like it, or the toppings will be self-service).

torta ahogada mexican food

Tortas, Cemita & Pambazo

These three foods don’t deserve to be lumped together but they represent Mexico’s versions of sandwiches – with many twists. When you tire of corn, you can order a ‘torta,’ a soft bread roll with your choice of meat filling plus beans, avocado, fresh onion and salsa. Some common fillings are ‘torta cubana’ or ‘campechanos’, which are the kind of ‘everything’ sandwich. The Jaliscan specialty torta ahogada – literally ‘drowned sandwich’ – is filled with shredded meat and soaked in chile arbol sauce, which gives it a good kick. In Mexico City, you’ll find ‘pambazos,’ sandwiches dipped in salsa and then grilled. The bread is soft but strong enough to withstand the salsa, usually guajillo chile sauce which gives it a red color but not too much spice. In Puebla, sandwiches are made with ‘cemita poblano,’ sesame-seed bread.

For Adventurous Eaters

gusanos ant eggs mexico food


Considered the ‘caviar of Mexico’, escamoles are ant eggs, typically sautéed in butter and sometimes with local herbs, such as the Mexican herb epazote. This Mexican delicacy has a softer flavor than real caviar, reminiscent of a soft cheese, and is typically served with a side of corn tortillas and guacamole or mixed into an omelette. It is a seasonal dish, usually in abundance around the start of the rainy season in April and May.

crickets mexican cuisine

Guacamole – With Chapulinas

TMarinated, crispy grasshoppers may not be first on your list of must-try Mexican foods – but don’t be hasty to cross it off your list. This protein-packed nibbly adds a great crunch and flavoursome smoky aftertaste to guacamole–sometimes put on menus as ‘rustic’ or ’rustico’ guacamole– or even a whole taco of spicy grasshoppers. Plus you can take great photos to prove your foodie adventure.

Aztec sustained themselves for centuries on these protein-rich treats, with a side of mezcal worms and fly eggs. Mexico has among the most edible insects in the world, and not all that weird when laid next to caviar, escargot or frog legs. Buen provecho –make the most of it–, as they you before a meal or when someone is eating.

ant sauce mexican cuisine

Gusanos, Chiliquales & Black-Ant Salsa

Bugs and worms make most people run but Mexico’s collection of insects adds unique flavors to traditional Mexican dishes. Eating fried, protein-plump gusanos (agave worms) adds a good crunchy spice to a taco of guacamole. If that’s too much, try the smoky gusano salt (sal de gusano) that is served with the national drink Mezcal. Chiliquales are another insect that pack a flavoursome and rich punch, adding a bright red colour to any dish they are mixed with. Try eggs with chiliquales salsa in a clay pot, or mixed with guacamole or on top of tacos. A great accompaniment to meat is black-ant sauce, velvety and rich from ground ant-bottoms. In Oaxaca you’ll find it as a spicy mole, called salsa de chicatanas.

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Images (CC Licence): Elton Rodriguez via Wikipedia (barbacoa), T.Tseng (aguachile), Krista (relleno negro, wnhsl (arrachera), Saloca via Wikipedia (alambre), Lorena CM (carnitas, guisados), Marrovi via Wikipedia (gorditas), Pikist (tostada, pozole, sopa de tortilla), City Foodsters (enchiladas), Javier Lastras (nopal salad), Samiiboy via Wikimedia (elote), AlejandroLinaresGarcia via Wikimedia (pambazos, huevos divorciados), El Mono Español via Wikipedia (ant sauce), ProtoplasmaKid via Wikimedia (tlacoyos), flautas (pixabay), City Foodsters (chilaquiles, huevos motulenos, sopes, tortas ahogadas)