That’s something we heard a lot before moving to Mexico. In fact, we’ve heard that so many times about so many countries all over the world. People cite all kinds of different reasons like expired food, lack of cleanliness, and lack of refrigeration. While these do appear to be good reasons, we can assure you that 99 times out of 100 you won’t have an issue with the food and the one time that you do have an issue, it probably had very little to do with the actual food or its preparation.
Can you eat the street food in Mexico?
Let’s dive into a little bit of science. There is bacteria in food everywhere in the world, regardless of how it is made. While most things cook off, it is almost impossible to serve food that is 100% bacteria free. While that might sound a little gross, it really isn’t – if you eat yogurt or anything else labeled to have “live cultures,” you’re actually eating something that intentionally has EXTRA bacteria.
Americans are used to American bacteria, Australians to Australian bacteria, and so on. Despite the proximity to the United States, the bacteria that are common in the foods in most Mexican tourist spots are very different from those found north of the border or across the Atlantic Ocean. If your stomach gets upset for a couple days, it is just a sign that your body is learning to accept a new form of bacteria, and after that you should have very few problems!
While this might not be the most fun “dinner table topic,” its crucial to help understand that street food in Mexico is almost entirely safe – certainly safer than a hot dog in New York City!
If you’re coming to Mexico, you’d really miss out by passing on the various street food options, as most street food will cost less than a dollar and fill you up just as much as a restaurant-style meal. When we travel within Mexico, we try to eat street food for lunch every day to save money and experience the local flavors. With that in mind, it’s important to note that Mexico is a huge country, and you might not find all of these foods in the same place…but you’re bound to find some of these foods anywhere you go in the country! Read on for our list of the best street foods in Mexico.
Tamales are a very interesting food to check out. Firstly, let’s set the record straight – the singular is not “tamale” – it’s “tamal!” A tamal is made up of a corn dough called masa (same thing used to make tortillas) wrapped around a filling that is usually meat. Then it is steamed in a cornhusk or banana leaf to cook! The steaming process gives it a very unique texture and flavor. While they’re not our favorite Mexican street food, they’re definitely worth checking out!
A tostada is like an open-faced taco on a hardened tortilla. It is worth mentioning that although tacos are often served on hard shells in the United States, tacos are only served on soft tortillas in Mexico! For tostadas, the tortilla is either deep fried or baked, and salsa, cheese, and meats are put on top. Tostadas are a great variation from tacos, and definitely hit the spot! They’re especially good with avocado salsa and shredded chicken.
Are you daring? Do you have a brave stomach? I hope so if you’re ready to try this one out! Chapulines are CRICKETS. They cook them up in Mexico and sell them everywhere! You can find them in huge bags on the street, in the market, in some family-owned convenience stores, and even in restaurants. They are typically dried to the point of being crunchy and then seasoned with normal seasonings like garlic, salt, and lime.
If you find yourself in Oaxaca, head to a Mezcaleria. Mezcal is a lot like tequila, but can be made in more states and with more types of agave. In Oaxaca they serve mezcal with salt made from chapulines along with lemon wedges. Definitely a change from the traditional tequila, salt, and lime!
A gordita is sort of a blend of a taco and a torta. It is an extra thick tortilla that is fried and filled with the same types of things one would find in a torta on or a taco! You could even think of it as a stuffed taco. They are super delicious and even easier to eat than tacos, because the food doesn’t fall out nearly as easily. If you can, try one with carne asada!
The burrito is another Mexican food that has earned its place on the international stage, but you’ll probably be surprised to find out that burritos really aren’t a big deal in Mexico. In fact, in everywhere except the northern states along the U.S. border you may have a really hard time finding them.
The true home of the Burrito is Tijuana, which is just across the border from San Diego, California. A true Mexican burrito is served with smashed black beans, cheese, meat, and salsa for dipping. If you have the choice, try to get one with either chorizo (spicy Mexican sausage) or carne asada!
This one is another favorite in the United States, and probably doesn’t need too much explaining. A quesadilla is a folded tortilla filled with a ton of cheese and some other ingredients like meat and vegetables. While quesadillas are all over the United States, try to get your hands on something a little more unique than a regular chicken and cheese quesadilla that you can get from Chili’s. Our favorite variety that we’ve come across was a blue tortilla with quesillo, chicharron, and pumpkin flowers in it! Super delicious and ultra cultural!
If you haven’t had a real Mexican churro, get ready for your life to be changed. They are such a tasty snack and hardly break the bank! Churros are made of fried dough punched out in a star shape and then covered in cinnamon and/or sugar. While they’re great in all forms, we prefer to find ones that have a bit of a gooey center! There are also tons of options for things to dip them in, but we’d definitely recommend dipping them in either a dark chocolate syrup or cajeta, which is a thick caramel sauce.
3. ELOTE AND ESQUITES
Both of these words come from the Aztec language of Nahuatl. Elote means corn on the cob, while esquites means sliced corn.
You might be thinking “We have corn at home. Why should I get an ear of corn to walk around with?” Here’s why: the Mexicans do it right. Not only is the corn very tasty; they also cover it in mayonnaise, chili peppers, and cheese! You can customize it to be however you like when you go to order it.
While elote is great, we are both very partial to esquites. They’re basically the same thing, but the corn is served off the cob in a cup, and it is eaten with a spoon. We love adding some lime, cheese, and a touch of mayo to make them taste just right.
2. CEMITAS AND TORTAS
These two are very like the mathematical saying about a rectangle and a square. A cemita is always a torta, but not all tortas are cemitas! A torta is a traditional type of sandwich made usually with a fluffy, yet crunchy-crusted roll called a bolillo. Tortas can be filled with just about anything – all kinds of meats, vegetables, sauces, cheeses, and herbs! Our go-to is a carnitas torta with quesillo (Oaxaca cheese), chilis, avocado, bean spread, and a bit of mild salsa.
Tortas look different all over the nation just like tacos, and a cemita is the special, local variety in Puebla. It is made with an even sweeterm sesame-seed covered bun (a lot like brioche), and there is a lot less flexibility in the ingredients than there is for tortas. A true cemita won’t really add anything outside of avocado, meat, quesillo, onions, herbs, and chiles.
If you’re feeling adventurous one day in Puebla, try a cemita de cabeza! It is the same cemita we just described except the meat is from the…cabeza (head)! We didn’t love it, but it is definitely worth a try!
Who doesn’t love a good taco? Tacos may be the single most popular Mexican food internationally, and for good reason. They’re delicious, easy to make, and super versatile!
However, tacos in Mexico are a bit different from the international form that has satisfied tastes buds all the way from Chicago to Shanghai. While every region has their own take on the taco, most will be served on two corn tortillas, some sort of meat on the top, and a regional slew of toppings. The most common toppings are cilantro and onions, but depending where you are you might find various peppers, cheeses, herbs, or even fruits. Unlike the United States, Mexican tacos don’t typically come with rice, beans, or lettuce!
That’s all we have for you about the best street foods in Mexico! Hopefully this post answered any questions you had about whether or not street food is safe to eat in Mexico as well as the best street foods to try. Comment any questions you have about your list. Or let us know if you think we are missing anything from the list!