Mexico City’s street food is the most varied, high-quality and tasty bites you can find in Latin America. The city ranks in a high position among top street food destinations in the world.
In the lively and bustling Mexico City ―one of the world’s largest and most populated metropolis― a great part of everyday life happens on the street and so does the cuisine. Mexicans love street food! Carts, street vendors, stalls and amazing markets are spread all over the city, offering from hearty breakfasts to late night snacks.
Tacos are the world-wide famous staple in Mexican cuisine and corn, beans and chili, the most popular ingredients. Besides, each Mexican city boast different variations of ‘antojitos’, the way locals refer to street food meaning ‘little cravings’.
Planning a vacation to Mexico City? Check out our tours and don’t miss this guide to explore the amazing street food in town!
Tacos are a huge Mexican favorite and as iconic worldwide as tequila. Basically, they consist of a corn tortilla stuffed with a wide range of fillings, from pork or cow meat, to chicken or seafood. This is mixed with cheese, beans, white onions, cilantro, sometimes pineapple and nopales (this is a curious thing: the cactus paddles are cut in strips and eaten in a variety of dishes). On top, tacos may have a salsa, typically there’s a green and a red salsa to choose from.
There’s an immense variety of tacos, from barbacoa to ‘guisados’. However, the most beloved taco style in Mexico city is ‘tacos al pastor’ (shepherd-style), prepared with pork marinated with red spices and chili and then cooked on a vertical spit. The cooking technique resembles the Middle-Eastern shawarma and has been introduced by Lebanese immigrants.
These famous snacks are round discs of blue corn dough (masa) that may be stuffed with ‘chicharron’ (braised pork belly), haba beans or ‘requeson’ (a light cheese very similar to ricotta). It’s common to see women cooking them on portable grills on the street. Tlacoyos can be topped with nopales, onion or fresh cheese, as well as red and green salsa. The best time to eat them is right after being grilled, while they are still hot. Otherwise, they get dry and hard…and that’s not so tasty!
Tamales & Atole
Tamales are the typical Mexican breakfast to have on the go. They are made with corn masa (kinda like polenta), then filled with chicken, cheese, mushrooms or pork, wrapped in corn husk and finally steamed. Every morning, you can find tamales vendors in almost every street corner. They keep tamales in a big aluminium pot to stay warm, while a small pot has atole, a hot drink also made of corn and with a cinnamon and vanilla flavor.
There are different versions of tamales throughout the Mexican states: from Oaxaqueños (wrapped in a banana leaf) to deep fried tamales. They are also eaten in other Latin American countries, like the Ecuadorian Quimbolitos.
Tamales are also a popular dish during Day of Dead, one of the most famous Mexican celebrations.
Tortas are the name for Mexican sandwiches, although we are not talking about regular sandwiches but super big, well-stuffed ones! More or less like tacos, tortas can be vegetarian or have meat. In fact, they can have whatever ingredients you want: roast pork leg, smoked turkey, sausage, meat (‘carnitas’), chicken, potato, onion, beans, avocado, tomato, cheese, pickled jalapeños (spicy!) and sour cream, among others.
This is a traditional Mexican street food for lunch, which is even most deep-rooted in Mexico City. It’s easy to find stalls around midday, especially close to the subway stations.
(If you are a meat lover you should definitely check out our blog post on Buenos Aires street food too!).
Elotes & Esquites
Elotes are corn cobs which can be either boiled in huge pots or grilled. They are placed on a stick and covered in mayonnaise, cream, lime juice, spicy sauce or chili, and grated cheese.
Esquites, on the other hand, are also made of corn but a little bit easier to eat. They consist on a cup of kernels boiled in a chicken broth. They also have mayo, cream, chili and cheese on the top. They are eaten with a spoon. Another type of esquites are made on a potato chip package opened from one side and filled with corn and the rest of the ingredients. Elotes and esquites carts can be usually found on the corners at night.
Chicharrones are crispy fried pork rinds. Originally from Spain, they are present in many dishes of Latin American cuisine. In Mexico, chicharrones are usually present in tacos, quesadillas and other typical food. However, the most common way to see them on the street is cut into large pieces and served as a dry snack, which loved by children and as famous as potato chips. They are sold in a plastic bag and ―like other types of Mexican street food― can be combined with a hot chili sauce. Some vendors prepare a kind of chicharrones without pork but with corn or flour.
Sometimes confused with tacos, quesadillas are basically a tortilla made with flour or corn, folded in half and filled with different things like cheese, chicken, jam, beef in red sauce, potatoes, mushrooms or Squash blossoms (‘flor de calabaza’). Another way of preparing quesadillas is using two tortillas instead of one, like a grilled sandwich.
In some Mexican states, cheese is the distinctive ingredient of quesadillas, while in Mexico City they never add cheese unless you specifically ask for it. Quesadillas are always eaten hot, while tacos can be also cold.
It’s time for dessert and there’s nothing better than camote (sweet potato), one of the most precious traditions in Mexico City when it comes to street food. Camote and plantains are grilled and served on a plate with condensed milk, cinnamon or cream as a topping.
Street vendors carry a steel cart around the streets and are known as ‘camoteros’. The cart has a kind of oven where camote and plantains are cooked over charcoal. A chimney on the cart releases steam from the oven and makes a distinctive and unique sound, like an acute whistle. That’s the sign you should wait for!