14 Dishes That Will Change Your Idea of Mexican Food

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Flight Network Foodie  

Photo credit: Frank Kovalchek
Photo credit: Frank Kovalchek

From the complimentary chips and salsa to the jumbo-sized strawberry margaritas, it’s hard not to love going out to eat Mexican food. But the Mexican restaurants we commonly see in Canada and the United States (although many are downright delicious) aren’t always 100-percent authentic. These 15 Mexican dishes are some of the best you’ll find south of the Rio Grande, whether they hail from a five-star restaurant, hole in the wall or fresh off the street. 

#1. Chilaquiles

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Start your day off with a plate of Chilaquiles. This traditional Mexican breakfast dish includes lightly fried corn tortillas (chips) topped with a green (mild) or red (spicy) salsa. Pulled chicken, sliced onions, cheese and sour cream are often added on top.

#2. Esquites

Photo credit: Angélica Portales
Photo credit: Angélica Portales

Cruising a town “centro” in the evening always calls for a snack of esquites. This simple street food is a cup of hot, fresh corn removed from the cob and seasoned with spices, mayonnaise, salt and lime juice. Esquites are eaten with a spoon, but this spicy corn combination is also served on the cob and called “elotes” instead.

#3. Mole

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Mole is a rich sauce that’s cooked all over Mexico, but the flavors vary greatly from region to region. It’s not an easy one to make and is famous for including at least 20 ingredients, such as tomatoes, garlic, chilli peppers and chocolate. Moles come in a variety of colors and flavors, and a mole dish is typically served with the sauce poured over a hearty meat like turkey or chicken. Try at least one when you’re in Mexico.

#4. Sopes

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Central and southern Mexico are the areas most well known for preparing sopes. The base of the dish is a thick, fried corn tortilla, which is then topped with refried black beans, lettuce, onions, cheese, salsa and sour cream. Pulled chicken and other ingredients are often piled on top to diversify the dish.

#5. Pozole

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Pozole is one of Mexico’s oldest dishes, and it’s also one of the best. This traditional Mexican soup — consisting of hominy corn, herbs, spices and chicken, pork or veggies — is often simmered overnight then topped with plenty of additions like lettuce, onions, radishes and lime juice. Pozole is said to date back to pre-Hispanic times.

#6. Torta Cubana

Photo credit: dabruins07
Photo credit: dabruins07

Tortas are sandwiches in Mexico, and the Cubana is one of the tastiest and most common combinations. Two slices of soft, freshly-baked bread are packed with a variety of meats, cheeses and crunchy pickles to create a hearty sandwich that’s tough to finish in one sitting.

#7. Tacos al Pastor

Photo credit: Iker Merodio
Photo credit: Iker Merodio

We’ve all heard of Mexican tacos, but tacos al pastor are one of the best taco varieties in the country. The meat (usually pork) is carefully marinated and cooked on a spit. It’s carved off and thrown into a fresh tortilla any time of day. Tacos al pastor are commonly served on the street or in hole-in-the-wall restaurants — usually characterized by a long line out the door.

#8. Fruta con Chile

Photo credit: purolipan
Photo credit: purolipan

Fruta con chile is the perfect dish to help you cool off on a hot day in Mexico. Mangos, cucumbers, jicama and a variety of other fruits are sprinkled with chili powder, lime and sometimes a special hot sauce, then served up on a stick or in a bag on the street corner.

#9. Carnitas

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The word “carnitas” means “little meats,” and that’s exactly what this traditional dish includes. Pork meat is carefully seasoned and simmered for three to four hours until it’s unbelievably tender. Carnitas are commonly served with salsa, cilantro, onions, tortillas and beans.

#10. Chiles en Nogada

Photo credit: Masa Assassin
Photo credit: Masa Assassin

This red, white and green dish is seasonal, historic and patriotic in Mexico. The dish’s colors — created by red pomegranate, a white walnut sauce and green parsley — match the colors of the Mexican flag. But the dish is more than just its colors. Under the red, white and green toppings is a delicious poblano pepper stuffed with ground meat, fruit and nuts.

#11. Ceviche de Pescado Ahumado

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The coasts of Mexico are home to a unique set of dishes based around the bounty of fresh seafood from just off the country’s shores. And while Mexico is certainly famous for its ceviches, the dishes don’t include raw seafood like other countries. Ceviche de pescado ahumado — a traditional Mexican ceviche — is made with smoked fish, lime juice, spices, peppers, onion, tomatoes and cilantro.

#12. Tamales

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Get your tamales on the street or in a five-star restaurant, because they’re a staple of Mexican cuisine. Unwrap the corn husk or banana leaf casing to unveil a pocket made of corn dough and stuffed with a variety of sweet or savory ingredients. Tamales come filled with meats, cheese, moles, peppers, fruits and more, so be certain to try more than one.

#13. Barbacoa

Photo credit: James
Photo credit: James

Barbacoa is a traditional way of cooking meats from which the term “barbeque” was coined. A traditional Mexican barbacoa involves slowly roasting a lamb or sheep in a pit dug in the ground. The pit is covered in maguey leaves, and it often takes days of cooking to get the meat properly tender. Barbacoa is enjoyed on warm tortillas with sauces, cilantro, onions, lime juice and other traditional toppings.

#14. Coctel de Mariscos

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Stop by any traditional Mexican beachfront restaurant, and you’ll see the locals dining on giant cocktail glasses filled with a thick, red mixture. The dish may not look appetizing, but the combination of seafood (shrimp, octopus, oysters or fish) and onions, cilantro, tomatoes, avocado and red sauce is undeniably refreshing on a hot day. Enjoy the meal with crackers or chips and an ice cold beer.

About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a travel writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and surfing new waves.

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