Before we begin, my first recommendation is to not be afraid to try street food. If you do not try some of the delicious variety of street foods on offer you will be missing out on one of the best food experiences you can have in Mexico City. By choosing street food stands that are busy and look clean your odds of catching a stomach bug will be greatly reduced. Watch that the person taking the money is not handling the food, reputable street food stands have at least one person cooking and handling the food, while another person only handles the cash transactions. I have been following these guidelines and eating street food for two years and have never been sick. Eating at street stands is also one of the best ways to meet and socialize with local people from all walks of life, it is fun! Without further adieu, here are 6 Mexico City street foods you have to try.
Mexico’s favorite breakfast comfort food! The masa (dough made from corn) or dough filling is wrapped around meat, veggies or fruit and packaged in a banana leaf or a corn husk, then wrapped up like a pretty gift. Tamales are most commonly savory but you can also find delicious, sweet dessert tamales that are stuffed with dried fruit and further sweetened by adding sugar to the masa. In the mornings you will see vendors (tamaleros) with their large steam pots set up on sidewalks all over the city. You need to be up early though to get the best ones before they sell out, usually by 10 AM. Tamales stuffed with pork or chicken and a salsa or mole sauce are the most popular, along with my favorite, a version called “rajas con crema,” which are strips of poblano pepper with cream and cheese. Tamales are often sold alongside a sweet, warming drink made of masa called atole. A quick, hearty breakfast to start your day of exploration in this wonderful city!
Rajas con crema tamal.
Mexico City is one of the best places to eat tacos because here you will find regional varieties from across Mexico. One of the best ways to taste several types of delicious tacos is to take one of our Mexico City food tour experiences. The taco is Mexico’s most emblematic street food and in Mexico City you will find taquerías everywhere across the city. The taco al pastor is king here, it is made from pork marinated in a mild seasoning before being layered and cooked on a trompo (vertical spit). All taquerías have their own marinade recipe but they all contain achiote paste, which is what gives the meat its orange coloring.
Other popular types of tacos are guisado (stewed meat and/or vegetables), bistek (flank steak), carnitas (pork slow-cooked in lard), carne asada (grilled meat) and flautas (filled tortillas that are rolled, then deep-fried). Available toppings vary by taquería but generally at least two types of salsa (red and green), lime, onion and cilantro will be available. Other popular toppings include pickled vegetables, beans, cheese, rice, grilled spring onions, nopales (cactus), and if its your lucky day, guacamole. Flautas are always topped with crema (similar to creme fraiche) and cheese.
My personal favorite is tacos de canastas (basket tacos). These are tortillas stuffed with filling (most often potato, beans, mole verde, adobada or chicharrón) before they are carefully arranged in a steam basket. To finish them, the vendor pours hot seasoned oil over them and covers them with plastic, so they steam until they are meltingly soft. They remind me of a Mexican perogy! Yum.
Tacos al pastor with cilantro, onion & salsa.
Tortas are mouthwatering Mexican sandwiches you will find across the city. They start with fresh baked buns, usually a roll similar to french bread (bolillos) or a softer flatter bun with three sections (teleras) and filled with your favorite protein. From pork to breaded chicken or beef (milanesa), then slathered with beans, cheese and avocado, then dressed with tomato, lettuce and spicy peppers – if you like it spicy (picante). They taste even better when toasted lightly on the grill or pressed with a heavy iron and toasted. I love all tortas, they are cheap and delicious but my personal favorite is the torta ahogada. A specialty torta from Guadalajara, it is made from a bolillo bun filled with carnitas and then soaked in a light red spicy sauce and cheese.
You will see these blue oval shaped discs frying up on comals across the city. They are grilled to order with your choice of chicharrón (fried pork skin), Mexican cheese, or beans. They are fried, then topped with strips of nopales (cactus) and crumbled cotija cheese. Then douse them in your favorite salsa, red or green. They are a delicious and traditional snack.
Everyone has tried quesadillas, but the authentic ones made on the streets of Mexico City are a little different. Here they take a heated corn tortilla and fill it with chicken, huitlacoche (corn fungus) or flores de calabaza (squash blossoms) that has been cooked on the comal. They are usually served without cheese unless you ask for it – simple, filling and tasty.
Flores de calabaza (squash blossoms) quesadilla.
Elotes & Esquites
Corn, corn, corn! This is my son’s favorite treat, who doesn’t love corn on the cob on a stick (elote), typically spread with mayonnaise, chili powder and lime juice. Esquites are corn kernels cooked in a mix of chilies, then scooped into a cup and topped with any combination of mayonnaise, crumbly cheese, chili powder and lime juice. Both elotes and esquites are great snacks, though esquites are eaten with a fork or spoon, so easier to eat.
Elote (corn on the cob).
Finish your street food snack time with a fresh juice sold by vendors on street corners across the city and then you will be ready to continue exploring. Enjoy!