Mexican Cuisine To Sample in the Yucatan

Mexico is known for having one of the amazing cuisines in the world. One of the reasons why I keep returning to Mexico to travel, is because the food is so delicious and mouth-watering and I love sampling new dishes! What I love about Mexican food, is that most of it is all gluten-free (everything is made from corn and not flour)! As someone who has Celiac Disease (I cannot ingest any food or drinks containing gluten, wheat, flour, etc.), this is hugely important.

Every region of Mexico has their own specialties. They have different variations of dishes using corn tortillas, and unique combinations of ingredients for their sauces.

The basic staples of Mexican food includes corn, beans, and chili peppers.

Here are some traditional Mexican dishes, desserts and beverages, and Yucatecan specialties, that I ate during my solo trip to Mexico this past May. These are some of my favourites! I recommend sampling these next time you find yourself in Mexico:

1. Tacos

Tacos are the most well known and traditional Mexican dish. However, Mexicans make their tacos differently than what Americans and Canadians consider tacos. Hard shell tortillas are not used in in the making of authentic Mexican tacos.

Traditional tacos consist of a soft, flat corn tortilla, topped with a multitude of ingredients that could include various meats (chicken, pork, chorizo, beef, fish, etc.), beans, lettuce, cooked or raw onions, jalapeno or chili peppers and others. When you order tacos in Mexico, they are often accompanied with a variety of other toppings such as fresh limes, red pickled onions, radishes, avocado slices, cilantro, pico de gallo (fresh chunky salsa made from chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice and peppers) and spicy sauces that you can choose to add. There are many varieties of tacos, depending on the area of Mexico you are visiting.

I will warn you… the green sauce that looks like guacamole (which often accompanies your tacos in a small dish or is an option at the salsa bar), is not guacamole! It is a very spicy sauce, so don’t make the mistake I did and lather it all over your tacos. My mouth felt like it was on fire for quite awhile after that and nothing helped to calm it down!

I definitely recommend trying the tacos al pastor. “Al Pastor” is pork that has been marinated in a combination of dried chiles, spices and pineapple. It is slowly cooked on a vertical rotisserie called a trompo. When ready, the meat is thinly sliced off the spit with a large knife. It is served on small tortillas with finely chopped onions, cilantro, a small slice of pineapple, and topped with lime juice and spicy salsa.

Delicious tacos al pastor for dinner at Taqueria Mr. Taco in Valladolid

Tacos Al Pastor in Valladolid (Taqueria Mr. Taco) topped with onions, cilantro and lime

Lunchtime at Loncheria El Amigo Casiano

Tacos de Pollo in Valladolid

Tacos de pollo at the food court

Tacos de pollo (chicken) in Valladolid

2. Chilaquiles

Chilaquiles are a popular breakfast or brunch dish. On the bottom, they feature lightly fried crisp corn tortillas which are cut into quarters. On top of that, is green or red salsa, then fried eggs, pulled chicken, and finally, fresh cheese, cream, raw onion rings and avocado slices. They are often served with refried beans and guacamole as side dishes. This meal is very filling! I ate this in a small family-owned “loncheria” (lunch eatery) in Tulum and it was absolutely amazing.

Delicious Mexican chilaquiles, a breakfast food, at a no-name eatery on Calle Sol.

Delicious Mexican chilaquiles at a no-name eatery in Tulum on Calle Sol

3. Guacamole

Guacamole is a sauce made from mashed avocados mixed with onions, tomatoes, garlic, lemon or lime juice, cilantro and chili peppers. It is most often served with fried tortilla chips for dipping. Authentic Mexican guacamole is like no other. It’s like they add a special ingredient, because every time I attempt to make guacamole at home, I can never get it to taste like the ones in Mexico.


An entire plate of guacamole at En Rincon Chiapaneca in Tulum

4. Sopes

Sopes are a traditional Mexican dish originating in the central and southern parts of Mexico. The base is made from a circle of fried masa (of ground maize or corn flour) soaked in lime with pinched sides. This thick tortilla is then topped or stuffed with refried black beans and served with crumbled cheese, chicken, lettuce, onions, red or green salsa (made with chiles or tomatillos) and cream. Pickled red onions and pickled jalapenos can also be added on top or on the side. Salbutes and panuchos are the Yucatecan versions of the traditional sope.

Panucho, Taco and Sope at La Selva Restaurant in Valladolid. 10 pesos for each!

A panucho, sope and taco at La Selva in Valladolid

My delicious lunch of a watermelon agua fresca, panucho and taco from Loncheria El Amigo Casiano

A panucho and a taco from the food court in Valladolid

5. Panuchos

Panuchos are a Yucatecan specialty. They are made with a refried or partially fried crisp corn tortilla that is stuffed with refried black beans, and topped with chopped cabbage or lettuce, pulled chicken, tomato, pickled red onion, avocado and pickled jalapeno pepper. They are often accompanied by fresh limes and habanero chiles. I ate panuchos more than once in Valladolid, at the restaurants La Selva and the El Bazaar food court. They were one of my favourite dishes!

6. Cochinita Pibil

This is a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish originating from the Mayan in the Yucatan Peninsula. The meat is marinated in an acidic citrus juice (with red onions and orange juice) and seasoned with annatto seed (also called achiote). The achiote gives the dish its characteristic burnt orange colour and adds flavour. The meat is then roasted and wrapped in a banana leaf. I had the opportunity to sample this dish in Valladolid and the sauce was so tasty. The word “cochinita” means “baby pig” and “pibil” means “buried” in English, so true cochinita pibil will be cooked with a baby pig. This dish is usually served with corn tortillas, red pickled onions, refried black beans and habanero chilies. Traditionally, cochinita pibil was buried in a pit with a fire at the bottom to roast it (hence the “pibil” portion of the dish).

7. Poc Chuc

This dish is a signature specialty of the Yucatan state. It is comprised of a thin slice of pork, which is prepared in citrus marinade (a bitter orange sauce) and cooked over a grill. It is often served with a side of Mexican-style rice, warm refried black beans, chopped onions, and avocado slices.

Poc Chuuc at Taberna de los Frailes in Valladolid

Poc Chuuc at Taberna de los Frailes in Valladolid

8. Arroz con Leche

Arroz con leche means rice pudding in English. This is a popular dessert dish in Mexico. It is made from rice mixed with water or milk, cinnamon, sugar, egg yolk, vanilla, and raisins (soaked in rum or tequila). Chocolate, butter, lime zest or nutmeg can also be added.

9. Agua Frescas

Aguas Frescas are a popular, refreshing and fruity beverage. They contain fresh fruits blended with sugar and water to make a light, non-alcoholic drink. My favourite flavours included watermelon (“sandia” in Spanish), jamaica (made from steeping hibiscus flowers in warm water, but served chilled), strawberry (“fresa” in Spanish), and mango. They also come in many other flavours including melon, guava, papaya, banana and more.

10. Horchata

Horchata is a milky drink made of rice and also includes ingredients such as cinnamon, vanilla, sugar for flavour. It is absolutely delicious! Once I discovered this drink in Tulum, it was my go-to beverage to order during every meal.

11. Huevos Rancheros

Huevos Rancheros are another popular breakfast dish that is composed of fried eggs served upon lightly fried corn tortillas topped with a tomato-chili sauce. They are often accompanied with a warm black bean sauce, Mexican-style fried rice, slices of avocado or fried bananas/plantains. I tried huevos rancheros at the El Bazaar (food court across from the main square) in Valladolid. They were one of the best meals I ate in Mexico and I continue to cook my own healthier version of this meal at home. You can find my recipe here.

Tasty huevos rancheros at Loncheria El Amigo Casiano for my last lunch in Valladolid

Tasty huevos rancheros at Loncheria El Amigo Casiano in Valladolid

12. Ceviche

Ceviche is a seafood dish that is popular in coastal regions. It can be made with fish, shrimp, oysters or crab. I tried cevice in Tulum, which is a small town located on the Gulf of Mexico. There are a few popular seafood restaurants in Tulum; Barracuda and El Camello. La Malquerida, where I sampled my ceviche seen below, also sells it and it was delicious. It is made from fresh raw seafood mixed with citrus juices (lemon and lime) and spiced with chili peppers. Chopped onions, tomatoes and cilantro are added and the dish is topped with avocado slices.

Fish Ceviche dinner at La Malquerida Restaurant in Tulum with a new British friend from my hostel

Fish Ceviche dinner at La Malquerida Restaurant in Tulum.

13. Salbutes

Salbutes are similar to panuchos and they are also a Yucatan specialty. It is a puffed deep fried crisp corn tortilla topped with chopped cabbage or lettuce, shredded chicken, tomatoes, pickled red onions, avocados, and pickled jalapeno peppers.

14. Paleta

Paleta is a Spanish word meaning “popsicle” in English. These Mexican popsicles can be found at places called “Paleterias y Neverias” meaning popsicles and ice cream. They are popsicles are made from juices, are sweetened with sugar and also include whole pieces of fresh fruit inside of them, and they come in either cream or water based varieties.

You can get “paletas de agua” which are made from water and fruit juice. The flavours can include strawberry, mango, watermelon, pineapple, guava and more.

You can also order “paletas de leche” or “paletas crema,” which are made with milk and fruits and other ingredients like vanilla, chocolate or nuts. These are creamy and milk-based.

There are many other dishes authentic to Mexico that I have yet to try, but I look forward to sampling more of them in two months when I return to Mexico!

Reading menus that are displayed in Spanish-only can be overwhelming at first, especially if you know little to no knowledge of the Spanish language. Menus in family owned loncherias (lunch places) are often displayed on a colourful piece of poster board with the menu hand-written in black felt market on it. It can be difficult to decipher what it says to begin with, and also what everything translates to! In these small eateries, most (if not all) of the staff will only speak Spanish. It’s very difficult to communicate with them and ask questions, unless you want to practice some of your Spanish and test it out with them. I was asked a question by my server at a small eatery in Tulum  (in Spanish) and I had no idea what she was asking, so I asked her if she spoke English (in Spanish, “Habla ingles?”) but she shook her head and said no. That was the end of that conversation and I will never know what she was trying to ask me.

I have included a helpful list of menu and food words and their translations, that you will likely see often on restaurant menus in Mexico. Hopefully this helps you to decode the mysteries of the menu and know what you are ordering.

Menu Items:

Jugo = juice

Leche = milk

Cafe = coffee

Refresco = soft drink

Con (leche) = with (milk)

Sin (azucar) = without (sugar)

Agua = water

Aguacate = avocado

Ajo = garlic

Arroz = rice

Arroz con leche = rice pudding

Azucar = sugar

Bistec = steak (beef)

Camaron = shrimp

Carne = meat

Carne de res/vaca = beef

Cebolla = onion

Champinones = mushrooms

Chaya = type of spinach

Chorizo = spicy pork sausage

Churro = long doughnut covered with sugar

Elote = maize/corn

Espinaca = spinach

Frambuesa = raspberry

Fresa = strawberry

Frijoles = beans

Helado = ice cream

Hielo = ice

Huevos = eggs (fritos = fried, revueltos = scrambled)

Fruta = fruit

Verduras = vegetables

Lechuga = lettuce

Lima = lime

Limon – lemon

Maiz = corn

Masa = ground, cooked corn mixed with lime and used for tortillas

Naranja = orange

Nuez = nut

Pan = bread

Papas = potatoes

Pastel = cake

Pavo = turkey

Pepino = cucumber

Pescado = fish

Pina = pineapple

Platano = banana/plantain

Pollo = chicken

Queso = cheese

Sandia = watermelon

Tomate = tomato

Trigo = wheat

Vino = wine

Zanahoria = carrot

Helpful Restaurant Phrases:

Quisiera la carta, por favor = I would like the menu, please.

Puedo vera la carta, por favor = I would like to see the menu, please

Quisiera una mesa para (uno/dos/tres), por favor = I would like a table for (one/two/three), please

Tienen una carta en ingles? = Do you have a menu in English?

Quisiera la cuenta, por favor = I would like the check/bill, please

Por favor, nos trae la cuenta = Please bring us the bill

Estaba delicioso! = That was delicious!

Soy alergico/a (al gluten)= I am allergic to (gluten)

Tienen comida vegeteriana? = Do you have vegetarian food?

Soy vegetariano = I am vegetarian

No como (carne) = I don’t eat (meat)

Esto es sin gluten? = Is this gluten-free?

Other Words:

Desayuno = breakfast

Almuerzo = brunch or late-morning snack

Comida = lunch

Cena = dinner

Comer = to eat (verb)

Beber = to drink (verb)

Un Comedor = eatery

Un Restaurante = restaurant

Un Cafe = cafe

Postre = dessert

Antojitos = snacks or small portions of classic Mexican dishes

Botanas = appetizers

Sopas = soups

Ensaladas = salads

Bebidas = drinks

Refrescos = soft drinks

Restaurant Recommendations:

I highly recommend visiting these places when you are in Mexico.

Playa del CarmenEl Fogon (Calle 6 Bis and Avenida 30), La Senda (Avenida 10 and Calle 10), Tacos y Tortas (Avenida 10 between Calles 10 and 12?)

TulumEl Rincon Chiapaneco (Calle Jupiter Sur, just south of the main avenue and across the street from the ADO bus terminal), Loncheria Mati (family owned local lunch place, Calle Sol between Jupiter Sur and Alfa Sur), Antojitos La Chiapaneca (main avenue of Tulum, near the ADO bus terminal. Open in the evenings), La Hoja Verde (vegetarian, Calle Beta Sur just south of the main avenue)

ValladolidLoncheria El Amigo Casiano (Calle 39 at Calle 40 in the food court, open for lunch), La Selva, Taqueria Mr. Taco, Taberna de los Frailes (Calle 49 next to the Convent de San Bernardino), Yerba Buena (Calle 54A #217 in front of the Convent de San Bernardino, healthy Mexican food).

Mexican food has such a variety of ingredients, spices and sauces, depending on where you go! There are so many dishes I still want to try.

What are your favourite traditional Mexican dishes? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (!

9 thoughts on “Mexican Cuisine To Sample in the Yucatan

  1. Girl, Unspotted says:

    Ahhhh the things I would do for Mexican food! I lived in New Mexico for two years and even though that’s not entirely just Mexican cuisine, they were still pretty damn delicious. My husband is from Southern California so I make Mexican food at least once a week. This definitely got me craving!

    • Brittany Maria says:

      I know, right?! My home city in Canada only has a handful of places serving Mexican food but I crave the authentic stuff all the time. You’re lucky! New Mexico is so close to Mexico, that they probably had some pretty decent food. I have also been finding lots of recipes for my Mexican food favourites and have been making them at home too 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  2. Bulldog Travels says:

    Great and very complete post! Chilaquiles is made by Angels. One I saw missing from your list but I thought was particularly good in that region is Sopa de Lima. (Lime Chicken Soup.) Did you have any while you were there? I ended up liking it so much I figured out how to make it at home. It is a nice winter treat!

  3. Fabiola says:

    Your post is amazing! Most of those dishes can be found all over Mexico, but some are exclusively from Yucatan only. Even in Mexico, where there is amazing food everywhere you go, Yucatan cuisine is famous. Cochinita pibil is one of my all-time favorite dishes!

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