The Ultimate Guide to Mexico (It’s Mostly About Food)

Mexico’s many regions produce a variety of signature dishes, ingredients, and traditions. Though we have an above average love of tacos, there’s far more to love about Mexican cuisine than any of our standard restaurant orders. In celebration of one of our favorite countries, we’re going on a food-fueled journey through Mexico, taking a bite out of four diverse regions of the country. Oh, and we added some activities, too, because we know you can’t actually eat all day.

El Norte

Unsurprisingly, this area is in Northern Mexico (closest to the United States), and ranges from the Pacific Coast to the Gulf of Mexico. Baja, Chihuahua, Durango, and Tijuana are just a few of the subregions in El Norte—ranch land has hugely influenced the cuisine.  El Norte is known for its amazing selection of cheeses ranging from mild queso fresco to Monterey Jack-style ranchero, to creamy menonita also known as queso Chihuahua, produced in (obviously) Chihuahua. The cuisine of El Norte embraces grilling as a cooking method above all else—a holdover tradition from when ranchers would cook their food over a wood fire. Unlike other areas in Mexico that serve corn tortillas, it’s all about flour in the cities and states of El Norte. In coastal areas, like the state of Baja California, seafood (mariscos) is an essential part of the cuisine, whether simply grilled or served seared in tortillas. One thing you might not know: The Caesar salad was in fact invented in Tijuana, a border town that Americans frequented in the 1920s during prohibition. Also, Tijuana is having quite the food renaissance right now—look no further than Saveur‘s recs to lead the way.

Restaurants to check out:

  • Misión 19 for modern, sustainable upscale fare in Tijuana.
  • La Guerita in Puerto Nuevo for fresh fish with a side of rice and beans, and gorditas and flautas.
  • La Cava de Marcelo to visit an ancient cheese cave in Ensenada.

Photo on right courtesy of Matt Taylor-Gross for Saveur

The South Pacific Coast

Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Chiapas make up the South Pacific Coast, all featuring valley-style topography. This area is home to the most indigenous cuisines of Mexico, which can be quite different from the food in El Norte or El Bajío. A mozzarella-style cheese known now as Queso de Oaxaca is available throughout the area, generally served as an addition to various dishes or simply with tortillas (blue corn tortillas are a specialty, too). This is the region of mole, with many kinds depending on the ingredients on hand—chocolate plays a huge role in cooking and eating, going beyond the sauce to various drinks, tamales, and even for a few edible bug snacks (yes, bugs). You’ll also find a ton of mezcal, as it’s produced heavily in the region. The smoky, flavorful liquor is actually a type of tequila made from the (cooked) hearts of agave plants. So good. Back to the bugs mentioned above, chapulines (grasshoppers) are often served as a crunchy snack in the South Pacific Coast. You should 100% give them a try. For a full exploration of quintessential Oaxacan street foods, Saveur has you covered.

Where to go

As you can probably tell, the city of Oaxaca is a must-visit, with incredible wares and street culture, tons of historical sites and churches, and incredible food that spans haute cuisine to terrific tamales. However, the South Pacific coast has much to offer beyond wonderful Oaxaca. Definitely check out Agua Azul in Chiapas to swim in crystal clear water—the waterfalls alone are worth the trip. If beaches are more your scene, hit Acapulco Bay in Guerrero. Barra Viejo beach is an absolute dream, and you can hit some great bars after you’ve had your fill of sand and sun.

El Bajío

Located in central Mexico, the Bajío region is home to gorgeous mountains and, due to a period of immense wealth thanks to silver mining, beautiful, architecturally-rich towns. Pork is #1 in Bajío, so you’ll find carnitas (fork-tender, simmered-in-fat pork) throughout the area, particularly in Michoacan, as well as morisquetas, a dense sausage and rice dish. The desserts in Bajío are famed and dairy-heavy: Their arroz con leche (rice pudding) and cajeta (goat’s milk caramel) are classic elements of Bajío cuisine. Though there are many incredible places to visit throughout the region, in recent years the gorgeous town of San Miguel de Allende has become a popular destination thanks to its charming colonial architecture and excellent food. Querétaro is another central city in El Bajío that is well worth a visit—don’t miss the Santa Rosa de Viterbo church and the Zenea Garden.

Restaurants to hit:

  • Cenaduria La Alborada for pozole, a hearty, traditional stew that is named after the Spanish word for hominy.
  • Don Taco Tequila for excellent tacos and margaritas.
  • Aperi for an excellent tasting menu (definitely a pricier visit, but worth it for the incredible seasonal goods and the locally sourced fish).

Photo on right courtesy of Melanie Dunea for Saveur

Mexico City

Well known for its incredible street food, tacos and tortas are available on basically every street corner. Previously known as Distrito Federal, Mexico City is the heart of the country’s haute cuisine, in addition to its more casual dining options. Mexico City’s food draws influences from many different parts of the country—truly, the world. You’ll find decadent chocolate-laced mole and mild yet flavorful use of chiles during various meals. Nopales (aka the pads of cactus plants) are enjoyed widely, in salads, tacos, or just simply fried…they’re a must-eat.

Restaurant recs: 

  • La Noria for an upscale take on local food, located in Puebla.
  • Pujol is the most famous restaurant in Mexico, in large part due to its chef, Enrique Olvera, who is loved both globally and in Mexico. It’s a must if you can get in.
  • Contramar for a casual yet delicious meal in the heart of La Condesa neighborhood. Make sure to order the red and green grilled snapper and tuna tostadas.

The sites

One of the largest cities in the world, Mexico City is home to any number of things to do and places to see. From Templo Mayor to the Palacio Nacional to Zócalo (a massive plaza), you can spend weeks wandering the streets of CDMX (Ciudad de México). Quick hits (beyond those listed above) include Chapultepec parkPalacio de Bellas Artes, and the Pyramid of the Sun. You might never want to leave!

Bring it home

If this just made you super hungry (and you can’t make it to Mexico anytime soon), you’re in luck. We’re happy to share that you can experience all the flavors of Mexico with Plated. So, go ahead and try these recipes in next weeks’ box.

Turkey and Black Bean Enchiladas with Monterey Jack and Sour Cream

While tacos are a Mexican staple, let’s not forget about the enchilada. Corn, black beans, sour cream, cheese…all the classic ingredients you love.

Mexican Quinoa, Black Bean, and Corn Stew with Avocado and Queso Fresco

Since we’re not eating Pozole in El Bajío right now (sigh), this warming dish will bring all those flavors to the forefront. Warming, comforting, and creamy, this is a perfect fall dinner.

Black Bean Burritos with Pico de Gallo and Guacamole

Three quintessential Mexican sides, piled together in a decadent burrito. Done deal.

Love experimenting in the kitchen? Try Plated!

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