Topping the Forbes rankings for best street food, Mexico is a haven for food junkies who love to try something new and preferably spicy. With over 50 percent of the Mexican population eating street food at least weekly, this isn’t just a traveler oriented market. Locals love their street food as much as the next person, so where better to go for the cuisine than this Latin American hotspot?
We’ll kick off with the quintessential Mexican Street food; the humble, hardworking taco. Constructed of greasy, delicious corn tortillas (preferably more than one per taco and handmade), they’re then topped off with tender meats and the salsas of your choice. Go for a spicy option, although you might enchilarte (literally, chili yourself), or stick with smooth guac. Cilantro and diced onion are essential extras. Alternatively, try a taco dorado. This crispy version should ideally be stuffed with potato and a regional variation can be found in Zacatecas – look out for tacos envenenados.
Gorditas and sopes are two versions of more or less the same thing. A small, stodgy corn dough snack, gorditas are fried before being stuffed with beans, cheese and meats and topped with salsas and cream. The most common variation of the gordita, is undoubtedly the gordita de chicharrón (pork crackling), although a recent modification is growing in popularity in the Cuauhtémoc borough of Mexico City. The simple addition of bistek warrants the new name ‘mochila’. Sopes are basically the same as gorditas, except the toppings go on the top, not inside the dough, and they tend to be a bit smaller. They’re typical of Culiacán.
Predominantly found in Oaxaca – one of Mexico’s best street food hubs – tlayudas are huge, baked, crispy tostadas which are spread with dark, chocolatey mole sauce, a selection of salad and the meat of your choice before being topped with the iconic, stringy Oaxaca cheese. Often referred to as the Mexican pizza, they might even be considered by some to rival the Italian classic. For an authentic experience, order yours with tasajo, a cut of meat typical of the region.
Another Oaxaca favorite, but definitely one that can be found wherever you go countrywide is the tamal. Also popular in the rest of Latin America, the Caribbean and the US, the Mexican version is undeniably one of the best. Stodgy, steamed corn dough wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and stuffed with all sorts – from cheese to chicken mole to pineapple. This is Mexican street food at its finest – because you won’t even need a plate.
Everyone has probably eaten some sort of quesadilla at some point. In their purest form, they’re either a corn or flour tortilla doubled over with cheese in the middle and other additional fillings; chicken, huitlacoche (corn smut), and flor de calabaza (squash blossom) prove particularly popular. Ojo (watch out) in Mexico City though, as they inexplicably never add cheese to a quesadilla as standard unless you specifically ask for it. Don’t end up cheese-less and disappointed.
Tortas are a staple of Mexican street food and are basically a supersized sandwich, served in squishy bread and stuffed with meats, cheeses, salad and sauces. You can pretty much get whatever you want in your torta, although there are some special variations you should be sure to check out. In Jalisco, the torta ahogada reigns supreme as the hangover cure du jour. Served in a special, baguette type bread (called birote), it’s typically a pork sandwich literally doused in spicy tomato sauce and topped with fresh onion and cilantro. Then there’s the torta cubana, which includes almost every meat under the sun and isn’t one for the faint hearted.
Crispy, salted tortillas are a firm street food favorite, particularly when topped with fresh fish or ceviche, plus sliced avocado and salad. Markets across the country can be found selling these light snacks that are markedly more refreshing than the often meat heavy and greasy dishes that tend to dominate the street food scene in Mexico. However, meat lovers will like Mexico City, as it’s a great place to try tostadas de puerco (pork) or de pata de res (cow foot). If you still want to try the lighter versions, head to the Coyoacán market, which is known for its seafood.
Two names for the same food in essence, elotes and esquites refer to corn on the cob and sweetcorn respectively. The former is served whole on a stick before being smeared seductively in cream, mayonnaise, and chili. Unsurprisingly, it is not an easy food to eat gracefully. The latter is the sweetcorn shorn from its cob and served in plastic cups, layered with cream, mayo, lime juice and chili. A traditional and emblematic Mexican foodstuff, they make the perfect snack.
Native to Mesoamerica, this peculiar vegetable is shaped like a pear, but has the soft taste and texture more akin to a potato, all while being considered part of the gourd family. Often served by vendors who sell elotes y esquites, try it out with cream and mayonnaise, plus plenty of lime juice. A hearty snack that will fill you up and leave you wishing you could get chayote back home.
This peculiarly Mexican phenomenon involves opening a bag of crisps at the side – typically of the Tostitos or Doritos brand (hence the name) – before topping them with all manner of vegetables and sauces. Some vendors go all out, throwing in jicama, carrots, pork rind, jelly sweets, lime juice, chili powder and all sorts of sauces. However, most will keep it simple, throwing on pico de gallo style ingredients and maybe even some nacho cheese. A true Mexican experience.
If all this saltiness and grease has you wanting something sweeter, then try out this Mexico City favorite for size. Camotes (sweet potatoes) are served with strawberry jam and condensed milk. Listen out for the trademark whistling of the vendors’ cart, as steam escapes from the pot in which the tender camotes can be found.