Exploring Mexican Cuisine, One Taco at a Time

David Lee September 11, 2013 4

Traveling to Mexico is as much about sampling the local flavors, as it is about climbing ruins and hanging out at the beach.

Growing up in the United States, Mexican food was one of the few international cuisines I remember experiencing as a kid. Tacos, quesadillas, nachos, burritos. American culture may have put their own spin on these foods, but their origins always remained clear.

My Ancient Civilizations trip allowed me the chance to indulge in authentic, unadulterated Mexican cuisine for the first time. I came away confident in saying Mexico has the best food in Latin America. Peruvian food has now been bumped to second place in my mind, and anything else remains a distant third.

What follows is a selection of food photos from my favorite meals between Mexico City and Playa del Carmen. The restaurants were a mix of recommendations from Gaby, our CEO, and TripAdvisor, as well as a few I stumbled across exploring on my own.

Buen Provecho!

Molcajetes Azteca

Molcajetes Azteca

Restaurant: La Posada del Jaguar, Av Periferico 208, San Martín de las Pirámides 55850

My Dish: Molcajetes Azteca

Cost: $21 (USD)

This is the dish your doctor warned you about. Various meats, including beef, pork, and chicken are piled high in a hot volcanic stone bowl, and served with melted cheese, and a few slices of fruit for color. Transfer said meats into your tortilla, pour on some spicy salsa, roll up, and enjoy.

We ate at La Posada del Jaguar as part of our guided trip to the pyramids of Teotihuacan outside Mexico City. The cost of lunch was not in the tour.

Chicken Tacos

Chicken Tacos

Restaurant: El Rincon Tapatio, Independencia No. 68, local No. 4, Col Centro, Mexico City

My Dish: Chicken tacos with Oaxacan cheese

Cost: $6

Before leaving Mexico City to begin our overland journey to Playa del Carmen, we ate at a local taco joint recommended by Gaby. She’d already shown Alex, a CEO-in-training, the spot, and they’d eaten there several times in the days leading up to our tour.

This was far from a tourist restaurant, and we were certainly noticed by the Mexican clientele dining in there.

The tacos were small, greasy, cheap and delicious. The option to get Oaxacan cheese on your tacos for an extra dollar or so was a no-brainer. Devouring them with fresh guacamole and a little fresh squeezed lime juice wet my appetite for our stop in Oaxaca a few days later.

Chicken in Black Mole

Chicken in Black Mole

Restaurant: Restaurante Catedral, García Vigil 105, Centro Historico, Oaxaca

My Dish: Chicken in Black Mole, with white rice, refried beans, and slices of fried bananas

Cost: $14

Mole, that rich sauce artfully combining melted chocolate and spices, smothered my chicken breast. The presentation may strike first timers as a bit odd, but all it takes is a bite to become hooked.

Moles were developed in Oaxaca or Puebla, depending who you ask, but you won’t go wrong ordering them in either city.

Green Mole with Suckling Pig

Green Mole with Suckling Pig

Restaurant: Casa Oaxaca Restaurante, Constitucion 104-4, Centro Historico, Oaxaca

My Dish: Green mole with suckling pig, served with organic vegetables

Cost: $25

Moles come in a variety of colors and flavors, so when I saw a green mole with suckling pig on the menu at Casa Oaxaca, I couldn’t resist.

One of the more expensive restaurants in the city, I was certainly splurging on lunch this day, but it was worth it for the table side-prepared salsa, and of course, the succulent pork.

Fried Crickets

Fried Crickets

Restaurant: Benito Juarez Market, the corner of Flores Magon and Colon, Centro Historico, Oaxaca

My Dish: Fried crickets

Cost: $0.80

Far be it from me to spend all my days eating food I’m comfortable with. No, I was in Mexico to discover what the locals eat, and if that means chowing down on a few fried crickets from the Benito Juarez Market, so be it.

It wasn’t my first time sticking crispy critters in my mouth. I’d first snacked on insects in Cambodia five years prior, but they never overtook potato chips in my snack selection.

80 cents (10 pesos) will get you a healthy handful of crickets. After popping a few in the nearby plaza, I attempted to give them away to locals, to no avail. It’s an acquired taste not just for us foreigners, but apparently for Mexicans too.

Aztec Soup

Aztec Soup

Restaurant: Carajillo Cafe, Andador Real de Guadalupe, No. 24, San Cristobal de las Casas

My Dish: Aztec Soup

Cost: $3

While walking the main restaurant-filled street in San Cristobal de las Casas, I stumbled across Carajillo Cafe.

Inside, I was fascinated by an apparatus dripping cold water melting off an ice cube through a filter with ground coffee into a little pot at the bottom. I ordered the Yama cold coffee, which can take up to 8 hours to brew a single cup, along with the Aztec soup.

I’m not a big soup person, but it’s hard to find fault with tortilla chips, avocado and cheese in broth. After the soup, I couldn’t resist ordering the rich and creamy white hot chocolate. A little taste of heaven in the Central Mexican highlands.

Handmade tortillas

Handmade tortillas

Restaurant: La Chaya Maya, Calle 62 x 57, Centro, Mérida

My Dish: Handmade corn tortillas topped with shredded turkey, lettuce, and pickled red onion

Cost: Unknown

Arriving in Merida, Gaby recommended La Chaya Maya near the main plaza for dinner. Both were located a convenient 5-10 minute walk from our hotel. La Chaya Maya specializes in Yucateca cuisine, or the foods of the Yucatan Peninsula.

As we approached the restaurant, little old women could be seen in traditional dress, making fresh corn tortillas used for the tacos.

Surprisingly, turkey was on the menu in more dish than one. I ordered a turkey leg served in a bowl full of gravy and Mayan herbs, but it was the shredded turkey tacos ordered by others that I enjoyed even more.

Fish tacos

Fish tacos

Restaurant: Fusion Beach Hotel Bar and Grill, located at the end of Calle 6 (6th Street) on the beach, Playa del Carmen

My Dish: Flour tortillas filled with fish, bell pepper, onion, and tomato, served with guacamole, pico de gallo, and black beans

Cost: $13

The two week trip from Mexico City to Playa del Carmen came to a close too soon. Our official goodbye dinner was at the Fusion Beach Hotel Bar and Grill. I opted for the fish tacos, which blew away the ones I’d had as my first meal in Puerto Vallarta four weeks earlier.

The fish was tender, not overcooked, and there was a healthy amount of pepper, onion, guac and beans.

Staying an additional 10 days in Playa, I’d return to Fusion Bar and Grill at least four more times. The atmosphere offered by one of the few restaurants on the beach was hard to beat.

4 Comments »

  1. Agness September 14, 2013 at 1:42 am - Reply

    I was never a big fan of Mexican cuisine till I got to Amsterdam a month ago. I went to a traditional Mexican restaurant and we ordered some nachos with cheese, tacos and enchiladas. OMG, I was enjoying every single mouthful. Since that day I like to indulge in Mexican dishes and I really enjoy reading blog post on Mexican food :). Handmade tortillas look so so delicious!!

  2. Julia September 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    Oh Lordy, all of your photos look delicious (well, maybe the crickets less so than the rest… to me at least!). That black mole sauce looks so rich, I wish I could taste it!

  3. Leo June 1, 2014 at 11:08 pm - Reply

    Those are not hand made tortillas David! Those are panuchos, they are deep fried thicker corn tortillas whith a bit of black beans inside, that’s why they look black and it looks like they are served with cochinita pibil (pork), lettuce and some purple pickled onions. They are a Yucatec specialty.
    Delicious!

  4. Anna August 6, 2014 at 5:02 am - Reply

    I used to live in Mexico for 2 years and I miss the food so much! Yum! Too bad the majority of Mexican dishes you can’t prepare in any other country :(

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