As we wind down our last week in Mexico, I’d like to reflect on some of the incredible street food we experienced over the past 2 1/2 months. This is by no means a comprehensive guide to all street food in Mexico, as it would take years to explore all that this country has to offer. Rather, this is a greatest hits of some of the tasty treasures we discovered on our journey. Many travelers feel that it is risky to eat street food here, but I think it’s as safe or even safer than restaurant food as long as it’s hot and the cooking area is generally clean. On the street you have the advantage of seeing exactly what’s going on, whereas you have no idea what kind of sketchy shit might be happening in a closed restaurant kitchen. And a lot of the time I found that food on the street just tastes better than comparable dishes in a restaurant. Street food is also extremely affordable. For a frame of reference, one dollar was worth between 19 and 20 pesos during our time here.
Pollo con Mole Tamales in Oaxaca. Tamales are something I’ve been eating my whole life, but the deliciousness of tamales in Oaxaca turned my image of this common food on it’s head. Mole can be found all over Mexico, but for me, Oaxaca leads the pack. Mole is used in all sorts of different dishes, but the tamale offers a quick and easy delivery package with maximum tastiness. You can find them being sold by common people out of a box on a street corner or in the many markets of Oaxaca. They cost somewhere between 5 – 15 pesos each.
Quesadillas in Puebla. After being aggressively hassled by touts in a food court, we were literally chased out into the street where we found a sweet little food stall that specialized in quesadillas and tacos with no pressure to eat there whatsoever. They didn’t need to, as the place was absolutely packed, which is always a good sign when eating street food, as it means the food will be fresh and hot because it hasn’t been sitting around all day. A couple of women were frying up a variety of ingredients on a huge griddle, and to order you just request what ingredients you’d like in your taco or quesadilla. The quesadillas come in fairly large oblong tortillas made there on the spot. We opted for beans, cheese, squash blossoms, nogales (cactus), papas fritas (French fries) and a salsa verde in ours, and it was literally the most outstanding quesadilla I’ve had in my life. It was a very filling lunch for 30 pesos.
Tlayudas in Hierve El Agua. Tlayudas, which are sometimes referred to as Mexican pizzas, are a signature dish of Oaxaca. They consist of a large flour tortilla smothered with refried beans, cheese and a variety of meat and veggie toppings and salsa of your choice. Sometimes they’re folded in half, but usually they’re left open face. We had some in restaurants in Oaxaca city that were great for sure, but the best one we had was about an hour out of the city at the spectacular natural phenomenon known as Hierve El Agua. There are a bunch of temporary food stalls set up outside the site to catch whatever tourist business they can. When we’re hungry in that kind of situation, we usually peruse all of the different stalls to try to find the proprietor with the best vibe, who seems like they’d serve the best grub. I suppose it’s more intuition than a science, but we hit big on this particular day, as the tlayuda was superb. We ordered mixed vegetarian tyaludas and the smiling, little old lady delivered something that blew away the fancy restaurant tlayudas in the city. I would guess quality of ingredients and her passion for cooking was the difference. Those tlayudas were very filling and only set us back 35 pesos each.
Gorditas in Bernal. Gorditas are found all over central Mexico, but the small, crystal powered town of Bernal has the best we’ve found, and there are Gordita joints all over town. We tried several spots, but the best one was at the small food market on the south end of the town, and we literally went there day after day for these awesome taste treats. Gorditas are small but thick, corn tortillas that are opened in the middle and stuffed with the filling of your choice. They are then deep fried or fried on a big skillet and served very hot. Deep fried is good, but a little too greasy for my taste. The place we frequented used blue corn tortillas (incredible taste and texture) and skillet fried them. Some of our favorite fillings were sautéed mushrooms, spiced potatoes, squash blossoms, huitlacoche (corn smut) and carnitas (slow cooked pork). They cost 28 pesos each and one or two will do, depending on how hungry you are. We’d often get a bowl of chicken soup to accompany our gorditas, which was also outstanding.
Nieves in Guanajuato. Nieves are water based ice creams that are found all over Mexico, and they are supremely delicious. It’s hard to find bad nieves, but there is one particular street vendor family in Guanajuato that truly knocks it out of the park with their nieves. Every day they bring a dozen or so canisters full of delicious fruity and nutty flavors and set up just downhill from the University in the heart of the city. If you’re ever in Guanajuato, seek this family out. We got nieves from them every day during the week we were there, and just writing about it has got me jonesin’ for a double scoop of Nuez (walnut) / Mamey (a bright orange, delicious fruit). A single scoop is 14 pesos and a double is 28 pesos.
Empanadas in Guanajuato. I don’t know that Guanajuato is particularly known for it’s empanadas, but we happened upon some truly delicious ones in this city. We found gorgeously flaky pastries with super tasty fillings that stood above other empanadas we’ve had around Mexico. One empanada that stood out was a chile relleno empanada that we found at an open air food market near the Plaza De San Fernando. It was a full meal for 25 pesos.
Tacos in Mexico City. Picking the best street tacos in Mexico is like picking the best microbrew in the U.S. Tacos are the quintessential street food, and there are too many good ones to judge the best, but we had some damn fine longaniza (spicy sausage) tacos in Mexico City right around the corner from our Airbnb near the Mixcoac metro station. They were only 13 pesos each, so I had five.
Caldo de Gallinas in Mexico City. Chicken soup… Mexican style. I’ve had chicken soup all over the world, and of course nothing beats Mom’s chicken soup, but damn did we find a stunningly delicious bowl of chicken soup in a street stall just outside of Mixcoac Station. Mixcoac, by the way, is a non-touristy, yet very convenient location (because of it’s subway and local bus access) in southwest Mexico City. A huge bowl of veggies and chicken dripping off the bone in a sublime broth that’s been stewing all day. At 40 pesos with freshly made tortillas, it’s a dinner that’s tough to beat… anywhere in the world. Tell us about your favorite street food in Mexico, or anywhere in the world…