There are so many great restaurants in Mexico. You’ll be astonished at the quality of the meals you get on your vacation. But some of the best eats are to be had on the street, whether from stands or roving street vendors. This is where you want to know a little bit about Mexico’s best street food. It takes a bit of courage to roll up to a taco stand for the first time and just order from what you see being cooked. My advice? Take a look. Say hello. You’re under no obligation. Do you like what you see? Are you hungry? Great! You may be in for one of the best meals of your life. A word about sanitation and health. Mexicans are some of the cleanest, most hygienic people on earth. They take great pride in keeping their stands clean and healthy. There are no guarantees, but if things look clean and proper to you, it’s probably more hygienic than a hot dog stand in the U.S. Here are some examples of Mexico’s best street food.
Tacos – Of course! It’s a given. There are some amazing varieties you haven’t seen in the U.S., too many to list here. A must-try item; al pastor. It you see a vertical spit with sliced meat topped by a pineapple, you’ve got to give this one a try. And be sure and give your tacos a small squeeze of lime juice. It’s a Mexican tradition and I bet you’ll love them that way. You’ll probably be confronted by a long array of home-made sauces from gringo-mild to five-alarm emergency. Ask “¿Pica mucho?” (Is it spicy?). If the answer is yes, move on to something else! By the way, if you see them making quesadillas at the stand, this is your chance. They’re really good!
Fish Tacos – For some reason, you’ll find the best fish tacos in the north on the Pacific coast. Ensenada has the best by far. But try them anywhere you find them because they’re an out-of-this-world experience, way better than what you’ll find in the U.S..
Tuba – Yeah, I know, weird name, right? So many of the traditional dishes and drinks are disappearing from the culture in Mexico. If you have a chance to try this drink, don’t pass it up before it’s gone forever. Street vendors walk around with two gourds on a stick across their shoulders. They will make this specialty drink for you right on the spot. It consists of palm- heart water jazzed up with apple slices, pecans, and sugar. The result is super refreshing and tasty.
Tejuino – Another drink that’s almost impossible to find anymore. Vendors grind corn into a flour, and mix it with water, lime juice, and sugar. If you haven’t tried Tejuino, it’s difficult to imagine just how delicious this iced traditional drink can be on a hot summer afternoon.
Anything at the beach – One of the coolest things about Mexican beaches is the food vendors. They sell everything from freshly caught charcoal-roasted fish filets on a stick, with lime juice and salsa of course, to fresh oysters, fresh fruit, ceviche, shrimp, home-made potato chips with salsa, ice cream, even slices of fresh home-made pie. There’s really nothing to compare it to in the U.S. You definitely owe it to yourself to try something while enjoying the afternoon by the sea under a palapa.
Esquite and Elote – Corn! The Mexican staff of life. You’ll still find these two standards just about everywhere. Esquite is boiled corn cut from the cob, placed into a glass with a little water, mayo, lime juice, grated Mexican cheese, Mexican sour cream (crema), and chili powder. It’s really unbelievable how delicious this is. Elote is generally a whole cob of Mexican corn on a stick roasted over a charcoal fire. After it’s well-cooked, they rub it with lime, salt, and chili powder. Simpler than esquite but delicious in its own right. By the way, when the vendor gets to sprinkling on the chili, if you’re unexperienced, you might want to request “poco picante, por favor”. Better safe than sorry.
Hotdogs – Alright, I know this is a stretch but there’s something about a Mexican hotdog from a street vendor, smothered in all the condiments, with a shot of Mexican sour cream (crema), wrapped in bacon, and topped with chilis. They’re really delicious!
Fresh fruit – Wherever you go in Mexico, you’re sure to see little stands selling prepared fruit in plastic cups. Don’t miss the opportunity to savor some of the tastiest tropical fruit anywhere. When you pick a pineapple at the height of ripeness and serve it that same day, it tastes different and better than what we get in the U.S. You can mix and match fruit, picking the ones you like best. They can also include cucumber spears or jícama if you like. Whatever you get, be sure and try it the Mexican way, with salt, lime juice, and a little chili powder (again, easy on the chili if you’re a novice). It sounds weird but it’s truly delicious. You may never go back to eating plain fruit again.
Paletas and Aguas Frescas – There are still hundreds of little family-owned shops in Mexico making all-natural, fresh fruit popsicles (paletas). Some are dairy based but I like the “sorbets” better. What’s different is the fabulous flavors you’ll have a chance to try; tamarind, guanábana, papaya, melon, pineapple, jamaica (hibiscus flower), guava, lime, mango, strawberry, orange, the list goes on. You might have 30 or 40 varieties to choose from, all delicious. The same stores often serve Agua Fresca in the same flavors. This is basically a natural fruit drink, very sweet and delicious on a hot day.
Fresh fruit juice stands – Early in the morning, you can catch your wake-up on the way to your dive lesson or maybe on your way home after an all-nighter. Little stands specialize in fresh orange, carrot, beet, etc. juices, all fresh squeezed as you watch. My favorite is an orange/carrot/pineapple mix. It’s a great way to get your day started!
Tamales – This is one of the original indigenous foods in Mexico. No other country has a dish exactly like a true Mexican tamale. They are very labor-intensive to make so you won’t encounter many street vendors anymore but if you do, grab a couple. They make a great snack and for whatever reason, they seem to taste different in Mexico. Around Christmas time, look for vendors selling seasonal sweet tamales with raisins or plums inside. They’re a real treat.
So, there’s a few ideas for you but there are many other possibilities as well. As you travel through Mexico, you’ll come across many delectable opportunities to sample foods that we don’t have in the U.S. If you’re feeling adventurous, your vacation could be the start of a new food love-relationship. Happy hunting and ¡Provecho!