Top 5 Popular Mexican Foods You Won’t Actually Find In Mexico (and 5 you will)

Before you head off to Mexico expecting to live off of your usual order at the local Tex-Mex restaurant, know that Mexican cuisine is a bit different than what you may be expecting. After spending several months in the country, I’ve put together a quick list of the top 5 popular foods you won’t actually find in Mexico, and 5 delicious alternatives that you definitely will.

Hardshell Beef Tacos vs Al Pastor Tacos

Tacos al pastor found in Puerto Vallarta.

Ask a random gringo family in the United States how they want to celebrate Taco Tuesday and you can feel good about betting they bust out some Old El Paso-brand hard shells to be tossed in the oven and a packet of taco-seasoning to dust over a pound of ground beef. Toss it with shredded lettuce, some diced tomatoes, and a hefty pinch of “Mexican”-blend cheese and there’s your plate.

In Mexico, you’ll pass by countless food stands and under-gazebo seating where all you see is a spit of pig rotating vertically and all you feel is the heat of the nearby griddle preparing fresh tortillas. Ask for a few tacos al pastor con todo (with diced white onion and cilantro) and wait nearby as a skilful artist slices bits of delicious pork onto your warm tortilla and tops it with three foot drop of pineapple from the top of the spit down to his hip where he holds your taco. He could do this in his sleep. Bite into it and prepare to order ten more.

Mexican Pizza vs Tlayudas

The infamous Taco Bell menu item that sells out stores with incredible speed may be a top-seller, but it doesn’t have anything on the Oaxacan specialty, a tlayuda.

A huge toasted tortilla is coated with pork lard and a black bean paste before being topped with lettuce, avocado, melted Oaxacan cheese, and a meat of choice. Try chorizo, tasajo (salted beef), or cecina (chili powder-coated meat.)

Nachos vs Chilaquiles

Big game this weekend? Someone is likely to bring a bowl of nacho chips covered in factory-made queso. Maybe a few pickled jalapeños on top. I can’t lie, they’re addicting just like this, but we can do better.

Wake up early in Mexico and grab some chilaquiles for breakfast. Corn tortillas are cut into strips, lightly fried, and simmered in a delicious salsa roja or verde until they start to soften. Garnish it with some crumbled queso fresco and avocado and put a fried egg on top and Whew… I can’t wait until tomorrow morning now.

Top Tip: In a hurry, grab them in a handheld torta roll for an on-the-go meal.

Burritos vs Gorditas

Despite what Chipotle might have taught you, burritos and their deep-fried counterpart, the chimichanga, aren’t to be found in most of Mexico. A Tex-Mex creation, these monstrous creations are primarily consumed north of the border.

Desired for either breakfast or an early-evening snack, pick up a gordita which can range in diameter from the size of your palm to the size of your plate. These are thick masa tortillas stuffed with a guisado of choice. The most common being chicharrón (a spiced stew made with pork rind.)

Fajitas vs Huaraches

For the longest time growing up, my go-to order was fajitas. I loved being able to hear the meal come before you could even see it, then loading up the warm tortillas with peppers, onions, chicken, and shrimp. They were great. (I’d assume they’re still great, actually.) The thing is, you won’t find them in central Mexico or the Yucatán.

What you will find are huaraches. If you try to define the word, you’ll find pictures of sandals. That’s what this dish is named after because its shape resembles that of a person’s sole. Topped with mashed beans, salted meats, potatoes, and salsa. The plate its served on is huge and its a bit ridiculous trying to figure out how to eat it at first.

What’s your go-to Mexican food order? Would you be able to adjust to the different menu in Mexico?

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