From early morning breakfast-on-the-run to late-night bites overflowing with toppings, the world of Mexican cuisine is truly dizzying. Known as antojitos, its street foods are usually fast, savory, handheld bites or meals that can be taken on the go. Many of the dishes are cooked at carts, griddles, or open-fire grills that line the streets, but vendors often have their own hole-in-the-wall establishments with only a few tables and a lightning-fast customer turnover rate.
Ready to tuck into Mexico‘s street food universe? Here are some popular items to look for when visiting Mexico.
When in Oaxaca, do as the Oaxaquenos do. And when it comes to food, this means sussing out the crispiest, topping-stuffed tlayudas. A tlayuda is similar to a quesadilla, except it’s made with thin, crunchy, char-grilled tortillas and smothered with a layer of refried beans, lettuce, avocado, Oaxaca cheese, and shredded meat (usually either chicken, beef, or pork). Part of the tlayuda magic also comes from the asiento, or pork lard, that is used to cook it. Just remember that when ordering a tlayuda, less is more—they can be as large as proper dinner plates, and they do not come light on filling.
Where to eat tlayudas in Mexico
In general, you’ll find tlayudas all over the state of Oaxaca, from the streets of Oaxaca City to the small fishing villages along the coast. One great choice is Comedor Maria Alejandra, located within the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, which serves open-faced tlayudas from a stall within the central market.
Another option is Mama Malu in Puerto Escondido, which originally started as a simple charcoal grill behind the Oxxo convenience store on Playa Zicatela. The brick-and-mortar restaurant serves exquisite late-night tlayudas, among other delicious treats, like tostadas and huaraches.
This street snack based on masa (cornmeal) translates to “sandal.” Why? Because its oblong shape is said to be reminiscent of traditional sandals. The comparison to footwear ends there: Huaraches are exceptionally delicious, made of fried masa dough that’s piled high with luscious toppings, like green or red salsa, onions, cilantro, ground beef (or any other meat), and a sprinkling of queso fresco.
Where to eat huaraches in Mexico
Huaraches are available all over Mexico, but the best ones are said to be in Mexico City.
El Huarache Azteca has been serving up scrumptious huaraches since 1935. In fact, it claims to be the inventor of this now-ubiquitous street snack. Mexico City’s Tacos y Huaraches El Güero has a lengthy menu of different huaraches, as well as tacos, quesadillas, and tortes.
The tamale is probably one of Mexico’s most well-known dishes, and there’s no better street snack that offers a complete meal. This hand-held, to-go dish dates back to the pre-Hispanic days of Mesoamerica and is made from masa. The masa dough is stuffed with chicken, pork, or beef and vegetables like peppers and onions and then wrapped in a banana leaf or corn husk and steamed until moist and tender. In Mexico, tamales are often prepared for national holidays, like Independence Day (September 16) or King’s Day (January 6).
Tamales can be found in every corner of the country, and the list of tamale types is dizzying. For example, a classic tamale is filled with pork or chicken, but there are also tamales called zacahuil, which hail from the state of Huasteca Potosina, made with chicken and cooked in a wood-fired oven for about 10 hours. Oaxaca tamales are filled with mole and pork or chicken, then smothered with green or red sauce. There are even sweet tamales, which are typically pink in color and filled with pineapple.
Where to eat tamales in Mexico
Try Tamales Doña Emi in Mexico City, which sells both savory and sweet tamales.
4. Torta ahogada
The Mexican torta is a really broad, overarching term that basically means “sandwich.” These plump, overstuffed hand-held snacks are made with fluffy bolillos (baguette-like breads), which are sliced in half and stacked with meats, cremas, and other sandwich ingredients.
However, the torta ahogada is a specific type of torta from the state of Jalisco. This hearty street snack has a filling of potato and chorizo and is practically drowning in a light tomato sauce. The sandwich is topped with cabbage, sour cream, and cheese.
Where to eat torta ahogada in Mexico
Torta ahogadas are an essential part of the Jalisco experience, especially when visiting Guadalajara. Swing by restaurants like Tortas Toño, which has a cult following across the city. The brick-and-mortar place started as a street stall in Providencia and has morphed to a small empire, with seven locations across the city. On Calle Vidrio, Tortas Ahogadas Dany also serves succulent tortas ahogadas from his street cart (and has been since 1988).
A shrill, high-pitched whistle, almost like that of a steam locomotive, signals that a camote truck is close. Camotes are basically Mexican sweet potatoes that are cooked in rolling carts that vendors push through the city streets. The sweet potatoes steam up nicely in the metal cooker and the sound signals the release of the steam that is pressurized to cook the tubers through and through. This sweet treat is served hot and topped with condensed milk, cream, and a drizzle of strawberry jam.
Where to eat camotes in Mexico
It’s tricky to pin down the best locations for camotes, since vendors usually push their carts through the streets. But they can be found throughout Mexico—so pay attention and answer the call of the whistle.