<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> RV Guide to Restaurants in Mexico
NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.



Dining Out in Mexico

by David Eidell 

México's restaurants mirror her people; they tend to be individualistic. Eating establishments range from elegant suit and tie palaces, worthy of a Michelin rating; to humble taco carts lined up around a village square. In the middle of a kaleidoscope of eating establishments, repose tourist restaurants. Most visitors gravitate to tourist restaurants because they are prominently located in tourist zones. They have English speaking waiters, Subtitled menus, and lean heavily toward gringoized variants of authentic Méxican food. Unfortunately, few tourist restaurants serve really outstanding Méxican food.

Most non-visitors have never experienced authentic Méxican dishes. Even lowly tortillas (handmade ones that is) are revealed to be tastier than expected. Let me explain: Although México is full of micro-tortilla factories that pump out millions of machine-made white cornmeal discs every day, traditional tortilla making methods still prevail in rural areas and a few restaurants. Comparing a machine made tortilla to a homemade tortilla is like trying to compare a loaf of mass-produced American white bread to a steaming loaf of from-scratch bread, fresh from a farmhouse oven. Beans is another food that is deceiving; truly excellent bean dishes are a wonderful surprise for most first-time diners. A typical reaction was offered by a new visitor just a few weeks before this article was written: "These beans are outrageous" she exclaimed as she scraped the bottom of her bowl. "I could eat beans like this twice a week for the rest of my life -- and I really don't like beans, or so I thought". Mexicans have had centuries to perfect Méxican food. As such, authentic fare is usually hand made, labor intensive, and not suitable for packaging or transportation to the mass market.

Uncovering hidden restaurants with truly superior food is one of the most enjoyable aspects of traveling in México. Along the way you are likely to sample offerings that range from acceptable to outstanding (but seldom mediocre or poor). As a comparison I rank acceptable Méxican food just above the "best" Méxican food that I've had in the U.S. Genuine "finds" are revered and discussed in subdued tones amongst aficionados like Chicago speakeasies with good booze were regarded during the roaring twenties.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the fine food scene to most newcomers is that the best Méxican food is usually not served in upscale restaurants with credit card symbols in the windows. Indeed it is important to remember that all restaurant food comes from the market. All taco stand food comes from the same local market. The way that food is stored, handled, and prepared determines it's ultimate level of quality (and safety). Successful taco cart operators practice freshness and preparation standards that would make a conscientious homemaker blush with guilt.

In between the prospective aficionado and tens of thousands of contending restaurants is a sense of the unknown. "Do I need to speak Spanish - Will they laugh at me - How do I select foods and restaurants Read on, for by now your taste buds should have been put on high alert. By the time you finish this article you should have enough self-confidence to tackle even a rural restaurant with a palm frond roof and sandy floor.

Mexicans will do just about anything to encourage and welcome timid newcomers into their humble restaurant. You are welcome first as a guest and secondly as a valuable customer. Even if you don't speak a word of Spanish, you can communicate effectively by pointing, gesturing and smiling. Everyone starts at the same level. I can remember my first years in México, as a non-Spanish speaker. Any reluctance that I had at first evaporated when I caught the broad smiles that greeted me, and food that far surpassed my expectations.



General Class

Credit Cards
Familiarity of Menu Items
Price $ - $$$$

(US Dollars)

International offerings. Top flight cuisine. In Largest Cities
$$$$ ($200)
Resort Formal
Typical Surf & Turf, Steaks, Lobster, Salads
$$$ ($30)
Everything from American to International
$$$ ($15)
Upscale Méxican menu
$$ ($10)
Food quality varies. A few offer outstanding fare
$ ($5)
Truck Stop
Méxican Equivalent to "Greasy Spoon"
$ (5)
Méxican food quality may range from fair to Excellent
Small Village
Méxican food quality may range from good to Superb
Fish, Lobster, Clams, Shrimp, Soups, Salads
$ - $$$
Palm Frond
Basic beach restaurant. Food Quality varies but is usually good

Luxury restaurants are found within the Zona Rosa in México City, Guadalajára, Acapúlco, and other very large cities. Reservations are necessary, dress codes prevail, and wine lists include the very finest of French Bordeaux, and California varietals. Service is excellent, with a Maitre D Hotel overseeing sommeliers, and table captains. Uncommon authentic fare is treated as a curious entrée rather than a menu staple. Escargot and Crepes Suzette are the norm rather than tamales and enchiladas. English is commonly spoken. American style brewed (unsweetened) coffee is universal and expresso coffee and latte not far behind in popularity. Hours vary, but late evening dining is expected.

Resort Formal Restaurants rely on stunning locations and striking décor as well as passable food to attract customers. Coats and ties are not required but the casually dressed will feel out of place. A modest wine list is the norm including Méxican varietals and generics from Bája California and Aguascaliente state. Imported lobster, and Sonoran beef entrees, is common as are deluxe salads and a smattering of familiar Méxican dishes (Burritos, Enchiladas, and Chimichangas). English is commonly spoken. American style brewed coffee is common. Many formal restaurants are open for dinner only, from five PM until ten PM.

Tourist Restaurants encourage the timid newcomer with names like "Señor Frogs", "The Giggling Marlin" and "Rice & Beans". The menu in these places tends to be eclectic and not bad. English is very common -- not a few of the waiters have lived north of the border and are accustomed to American customs and habits. Values are quite low however; with a bacon and eggs breakfast commonly priced at eight to ten dollars (with coffee). American style brewed coffee is a tradition is these "Gringo Hangouts". Typical hours are from 8:00 Am 'till ten at night. Credit card purchases are likely to outnumber cash transactions in tourist restaurants.

Businessman's Restaurants are common in Northern México. They serve a clientele that has adopted an American style work ethic. Brewed American style coffee is common, and faster food preparation is the norm. The menu leans toward traditional meals but with an emphasis on "Hamburguesas" (American style hamburgers), salads, and other lunch hour favorites. Meals tend to have overlarge portions, and are appreciated by Americans not yet used to traditional tiny portions served by more humble establishments. Credit Cards are the norm but not universally accepted. Many restaurants open at seven thirty in the morning and stay open until ten in the evening.

Chinese Restaurants are well entrenched throughout much of México. Chinese immigrants streamed into México during the latter part of the last century. Many of the restaurants offer acceptable, familiar fare while a few offer dishes that rival anything found in the best restaurants in the U.S. or Orient. Portions tend to be gigantic, so check out what's on a neighboring table before ordering. You may find yourself splitting one order with your dining companion. Urban restaurants sometime accept credit cards. Most are open from 8 AM until 10 PM

Truck Stops offer the road-weary RV'er chances to sample Méxican fare without having to endure the trauma of finding a parking place. Few of these roadside restaurants have inferior meals; most offer a good value for the peso. Scrambled eggs with spicy "Chorizo" (Méxican sausage) is common, as are Chilies Rellenos, Burritos, Tacos, and other familiar fare. Like their American counterparts, Méxican truck stops tend to offer calorie-laden food, heavy on the grease and spices. Brewed coffee isn't unknown although freeze-dried Nescafe and a cup of hot water is the norm. Cash only. They open early and close late in the evening.

Neighborhood Restaurants are designed to appeal to the locals. Meals include familiar favorites, plus chicken dishes, great soups, and some oddities like "Kidneys with Tomato Salsa", Mole (exotic sauces concocted from chocolate, chile, peanuts and a dozen other ingredients). I differentiate Neighborhood Restaurants from "Small Village Restaurants" (below) by the presence of a telephone. Only the more affluent Neighborhood Restaurant is likely to have one. Coffee is almost exclusively instant and credit card acceptance is all but unknown. "Cocina Economica" means inexpensive food and these more humble Neighborhood Restaurants offer traditional foods at bargain prices (see "Comida Corrída" later in the text. Menus consist of a message scrawled on a piece of cardboard and tacked to a wall. Note: Don't automatically bypass such a humble kitchen because of an apparent lack of affluence. Just yesterday I paid two dollars for an excellent lunch of slice roast beef in a light tomato sauce, rice, soup, and soda for two and a half dollars at such a restaurant.

Small Village Restaurants are typically found in rural areas, far from the tourist circuit. They typically are called (and signed): Loncheria or Comedor (Luncheria and Eatery). In southern México rural restaurants may seat patrons on long wooden benches at communal dining tables. Interior lighting may be by candle and the ten-year-old daughter of the owner sometimes recites the menu from memory. Meals tend to be basic with tortillas, rice, beans, squash, and chiles predominating. Beef and chicken when available act as the frontispiece of the informal menu. Devoted patrons in our southern states seek rustic, isolated Cajun restaurants in order to access authentic cooking, and México's basic rural restaurants hold the same promise for tourists willing to seek them out. Similar to drilling for oil, not every well is going to be a gusher, but when a special restaurant is uncovered, it is likely to be remembered far longer (and far more fondly) than a tourist restaurant serving Corn Dogs. English is uncommon and credit cards are unknown.

Seafood Restaurants are found from the feet of booming salty breakers, to mist shrouded mountain passes far from the ocean. It is said that Aztec rulers assembled elaborate relay running teams in order to assure a constant fresh supply of lobster, shrimp, and octopus for courtly feasts. Today most every village worth it's salt has at least a modest seafood restaurant. A combination lust and national institution, seafood gorging is an important prerogative in every Mexican's life. The peak seafood season occurs during "Holy Week" (the week preceding Easter Sunday). The national passion becomes a feeding frenzy then, with entire extended families travelling hundreds of miles to a seashore restaurant. A three-day weekend may consist of the first and third day used for travel and the middle day spent inside a palm thatch restaurant, gorging on seafood cocktails, squid soup, and Abalone appetizers. During the period restaurants are usually packed solid with patrons, Mariachi Bands blast out traditional tunes and diner's faces assume the most curious of satisfied expressions. At the end of leisurely gorging by a family of ten, the patron may whip out a thick wad of pesos and peel of several hundred dollars worth of multi-colored bills. He's just blown a month's salary but wouldn't have it any other way. Even the most modest of Mariscos (seafood) restaurants charge healthy prices, so don't assume that you're going to find a five dollar lobster dinner in a small shack. Seafood restaurants invariably open in mid-morning and close after ten PM.

Palápa Restaurants (Thatched Roof Restaurants) are usually found near the beach (but many seafood restaurants far from any palm trees use the frond decor as a statement). Indeed some palápa restaurants are seafood restaurants while others serve just basic Méxican staple food (The word mariscos announces the presence of a seafood restaurant). Floors are usually packed sand and luxuries like printed menus a product of wishful thinking. I always check for the presence of a signature dish, such as camarónes al diáblo (shrimp in spicy tomato sauce), or huauchinango a la veracruzana (whole red snapper smothered in a light sauce). Many times an out-of-the-way grass shack will offer a signature dish that will put a big city luxury restaurant to shame. The only way to know for sure is to try it! Palápa restaurants take cash only. They usually have no restroom facilities. Late openers by habit they seldom stay open after sundown. Beach restaurants seldom have electricity or running water.

Taco Carts

Any resistance to the thought of eating something from an "Ambulatory Food Stall" will disappear once you sink your teeth into a taco prepared from barbecued meat. In fact just walking down an aisle lined with these carts is challenging -- your nose will spring a sudden ambush on your self-control and before you know it you'll be reaching for your billfold.

Many tourists are leery of eating at such carts because they are open-air contraptions, without benefit of running water or refrigeration. I always first note the number of people standing around chewing tacos and sipping soft drinks. If the cooking odor smells fresh rather than like stale grease, I'll usually plunge right in. Freshly cooked foods are seldom responsible for upset stomachs later. Uncooked foods, salads, and fruits on the other hand are more susceptible to bacteria contamination. Many operators of these carts are fastidious, and conscientious of proper hygiene, food handling, and storage. A great number of customers present are a good sign that you won't get sick from the food. Keep your eyes open for extra dark colored fried food -- it may be a sign of stale grease or cooking oil. Mexicans avoid stands with substandard food or hygiene. Go with the crowd.

Note: It is widely believed that lime juice kills food borne bacteria. My opinion is more reserved -- I eat marinated raw fish (Ceviche) only after I have reconnoitered the restaurant or Taco Stand thoroughly. I seldom order this dish outside of direct line of sight of the ocean.

Universal Restaurant Customs

Mexicans absolutely love to help aspiring aficionados learn Spanish. Even the most halting, mispronounced words and phrases will be greeted by enthusiastic and appreciative workers and fellow patrons. If anything this you'll find this attitude toward fledgling speakers to be strongest in the most humble of establishments. Granted you may mispronounce a word or two along the way and have them clutching their sides in laughter but they will be laughing with rather than at you.

México enjoys different restaurant busy hours than the US. Breakfast (Desayuno) is commonly served from eight AM until eleven. The big meal of the day (Comida) is usually served from two until five PM. Supper (Céna) is light-duty, and consists of snacks and cold cuts. Supper hours are held late, usually from eight until eleven PM. Tourist restaurants are used to American habits and offer "eight-twelve-and-six" service.

Generally you are shown to a table, menus are passed out, and the waiter will ask you for your beverage selection. Most restaurants serve soft drinks, mineral water, beer, and filtered drinking water. More basic restaurants seldom have ice but if they do it is always made from purified water. Corn chips (totopos), homemade salsa, and perhaps a plate of pickled vegetables are set upon the table. After a five-minute period the waiter will return, collect the menus, and take your order. It is important to not deluge the poor man with a prolonged blast of imperfect Spanish. As a matter of fact I have acquired the habit of carrying a tiny notepad and pen in my shirt pocket. I will write down each of my guest's order on a separate page and then let the waiter copy down each page onto his order pad. Modest establishments may not use order pads and a grateful child waitress will transport the pages directly to the kitchen. One thing to keep in mind is that Méxican waiters and cooks are not used to American habits. They would think it odd but rapidly comply with a misunderstood order for a half-dozen raw eggs, twenty two tacos, and four bowls of soup for a party of two.

Méxican cooks will interpret strange orders in equally strange ways. Non-tourist restaurants most probably have never heard of "eggs over easy" or "three-minute eggs". If you insist on modifying a menu offering be prepared to gracefully accept any mistakes (some can be flat-out hysterical). Rather than stress the cook or waiter, I usually take things as they appear on the menu. Several years ago in the outback of a rural Méxican state I became adventurous and ordered a BLT sandwich in a tiny village restaurant. I held a conference with the waiter and cook in order to be sure that it could be done. They said "no problémo -- it was a bacon and lettuce and tomato sandwich that you ordered, right" I smiled and nodded. Twenty minutes later a smiling waiter brought a platter with three sandwiches on it. Rather than complain I took the ingredients from the tomato sandwich and combined them with the ingredients from the bacon sandwich and lettuce sandwich. Rather than attempt to further broaden their horizon by trying to describe a doggy bag, when it came time to settle up, I stuffed the extra sandwiches in a pocket and departed after paying the bill.

Except for daily specials in modest restaurants, food is never pre-cooked and can take as long as forty-five minutes to prepare. Specials are called Comida Corrída, Especial del Dia, or similar phrase. There are usually a variety of dishes offered in these specials. They are pre-cooked and served in much less time. If your Spanish is weak, ordering a strange sounding menu item will result in heightened anticipation while you await your surprise meal. If you are going to spend any time at all in México this method encourages by far the fastest learning curve with the greatest impact.

While you are dining the waiter is bound to return and ask you how things are going when you are chewing a mouthful of food. When you blurt "Todo es bien" (all is well) after a hasty swallow, he will inspect beverage bottles and if they are near empty ask "¿Otro" (Again). Be aware that "Otro" means that whatever is ordered, it's going to cost extra (something to keep in mind when you're sucking down that third cup of instant coffee). Tourist restaurants with brewed coffee invariable ask "Mas café" or "cafecito (A little coffee). Under such conditions, it is assumed that refills are free.

When a waiter acknowledges that he is being requested but holds up his hand with thumb and index finger pinched close together, it means "in a moment".

The check is never presented until it is asked for. "La Cuenta por favor" (the check please) is an acceptable way of asking for it. If you catch the waiter's eye across the room, you can make a gesture with your hand that suggests writing in the air with an imaginary pen. This is common and understood all over the country.

Café Con Leche

Literally, "Café con leche" means "Coffee with Milk". One would assume that this is exactly what many tourists desire first thing in the morning. Café con leche has been a tradition in México for centuries, and the beverage is completely unlike what you are used to. A traditional serving of this beverage consists of a mug of boiling milk accompanied by a jar of Nescafé, and a teaspoon. To avoid this mistake, order "café solo" (coffee only) or "café con crema " (coffee with cream -- the cream may be powdered).

Settling Up

Waiter's chits are just as confusing in México as they are in the United States. I find that deciphering one is probably similar to translating a Dead Sea Scroll. This is why (along with my miniature note pad and pen, I carry a tiny calculator). Those little chits that I wrote for a party of eight can be collected and totaled before I ask for la cuenta. México has a national fifteen percent sales tax that applies to restaurant food and beverages. I'll arrive at sum of all food and beverages and note it. Then, I'll multiple that figure times 115% and note that as well. When the waiter brings the bill (they usually leave it and return a few minutes later), I will compare his total to what I think it should be (Note: I try to keep careful track of seconds and thirds on beverage refills during the meal). If I discover a mistake I'll realize that the person who totaled it probably has a fourth-grade education, or maybe they are tired, or perhaps they just made a simple mistake. Righteous indignation is perhaps the last thing on my mind because most waiters will blush an embarrassed smile when your arched eyebrows convey the fact that the bill isn't understood. Mistakes aren't common, but as a whole I've found just as many errors on the side of the diner who forgot about that second beverage or side order of salad.


I don't grouse about adding fifteen percent to a bill in the United States, so I adhere to the same tipping principles in México. Waiters get by on their minimum wage, but they live on their tips. Once in awhile I award a fat tip to a waiter who performs above and beyond the call of duty. Some well-meaning tourists leave extravagant tips in the most humble of establishments. This is done I feel out of a sense of guilt (after all, they were served splendid food for a next-to-nothing price). By leaving perhaps twice the amount of the bill they feel that they are spreading wealth. This is a noble concept but it can backfire. Many times such actions will cause these fledgling capitalists to raise their menu prices. Consequently it can drive away traditional patrons who haven't an extra centavo to spare. For such instances, I'll pack along a decent quality used chef's knife, potato grater, or other useful instrument and offer the item as part of the tip. Méxican chefs in rustic restaurants particularly enjoy receiving a good quality can opener, or plastic serving utensil set. Ground black pepper is expensive in México but very reasonable in our membership clubs in the United States. For a great tip, after a great meal, leave a two-pound container on the table. They'll love it.

Common Phrases And Terms


In Spanish
(Something) To Drink
¿A Tomar
¿Ah Tow-MAHR
What Do You Desire
¿Que Desean
¿Kay Day-say-AWN
What Do You Want
¿Que Quiere
¿Kay Key-AIR-ay
Something More
¿Algo Mas
Would you like dessert
¿Quiere Postre
¿Key-AIR-ay POST-ray
All is well
¿Todo es bien
¿TOW-doh Es Bee-YEN
More Coffee
¿Mas Café
Right Away
A little more time


Common Names Of Restaurant Things


(Ground Black) Pepper
Pimienta Negra
Peeme-EN-tah NEG-rah
Drinking Water
Agua Potable
AH-wah Po-TAWB-blay
The Bill
La Cuenta
Lah KWEN-tah
The Kitchen
La Cocina
Lah Co-SEE-nah
The Tip
La Propina
Lah Pro-PEE-nah


Common Breakfast Entrees



Huevos Al Gusto
Way-vos all GOO-stow
Usually, a choice of scrambled, or fried sunny side up

(see list immediately below)

Huevos Revueltos
Huevos Fritos (fried)
Eggs sunnyside up
Estrellados Volteados
Es-tray-AH-dos Vol-TAY-ah dohs
Over Easy. Still a new concept especially in rural non-tourist areas. Eggs may arrive "Over Hard"
Omlet de Queso (KAY-so) is filled with melted cheese
Al Lado
Awl LAH-dough
"On the side"
Sliced Bacon
Papas Rayadas
PAH-pas ray-AH-dahs
The Méxican version of hashbrowns. Usually softer and usually made from white rather than russet potatoes
Thin slice of pressed ham
Pan Tostada (or) Dorado

PAWN Doe-RAH-doe

(TOAST) Bread "Toasted"

(TOAST) Bread "Golden"

Jugo de Naranja
HOO-go Day Nah-RAWN-hah
Orange Juice. Always squeezed fresh from local Valencia oranges
Frijoles Refritos
Free-HOLE-es Rah-FREE-tohs
Refried beans. Outstanding frijoles refritos are not too common but worth seeking
Tortilla de Maize
Tor-TEE-yah Day Mah-EEZE
Made from corn. To me, factory tortillas taste like cardboard
Tortilla de Harina
Tor-TEE-yah Day Ah-REEN-nah
Made from bleached wheat flour. More common in the north and at very high altitude
Spicy and greasy sausage. Usually served with scrambled eggs. Tolerable to scorching hot
Nopales (or) Nopalitos
No-PALL-es or No-pall-EE-Tohs
Sliced, diced and fried strips of cactus from young ears of the Prickly Pear Cactus. Served with scrambled eggs
Huevos Rancheros
Way-vohs Ron-CHAIR-ohs
Two fried eggs set atop a tortilla, drenched in a spicy tomato vegetable sauce
Huevos Méxicana
WAY-vohs Meh-hee-CAHN-ah
Eggs scrambled with the same sauce as used for Huevos Rancheros, but minus the tortilla
An eclectic combination of egg, beans, tortilla strips, cheese, canned peas and other ingredients


General Dinner Categories


Young Goat
Clear soup
Carne de Res
KAR-nay Day RES
Dessert (usually Flan, a custard)
Ensalada de Frutas
En-sah-LAH-dah Day FROOT-ahs
Fruit salad
Appetizers (not very common)
General term for all seafood other than fish
General term for potatoes
Pavo (or) Guajalote
PAH-voh (or) Gwa-ha-LOAT-tay
Sopa de Arroz
Steamed Rice
General term for all vegetables


Common Dinner Entrees

Taco. A soft tortilla wrapped around anything good to eat. Beef tacos use shredded beef, never hamburger. A side dish of condiments is commonly provided to garnish your tacos with. Really good chicken tacos are made with meat cooked over an open fire. Pork tacos are also excellent. Avoid tacos made from endangered sea turtles. Tacos de Caguama, or Tacos de Tortuga is quite delectable but not worth wiping the hapless creatures off the face of the earth.

Burrito. Common dish only in the north and in tourist zones. In the rural south if you state that you like to purchase a "Burrito" you're likely to see the owner of the local livery lead a "little burro" up to your table. The edible kind consists of a large flout tortilla wrapped around a combination of ingredients.

Enchilada. The term literally means "en-chilied", and denotes a Burrito-like preparation that has been browned in a deep fat fryer.

Chilies Rellenos. The word relleno means "stuffed". In this case a mild bell pepper size mild chile is stuffed with yellow cheese, dipped in an egg batter, fried to a light golden brown, and then drenched in a light tomato sauce. The chile itself varies from cool to moderate in spiciness. This is a great transition dish for the cautious who wish to explore something different than the three favorites above.

Carnitas. The best way to describe carnitas is that it is meat -- the product of deep fat frying an entire pig in a giant deep fat fryer, complete with spices. The meat is then chopped into cubes which are then eaten as part of a taco.

Carne Asada. The word "asada" means grilled. A Thin 6 oz. Beefsteak is the norm, with regional variations such as "Tampiqueña" or "Aguascalience" marking the restaurant owner's fancy in regions rather than a variation of the dish itself. Usually served on a bed of salad, along with fried potatoes, rice, and beans.

Pollo Al Carbon. Literally "Chicken To The Charcoal". This is a universal favorite. Specialty chicken restaurants have sprung up all over Mexico -- their specialty is a plate of barbecued chicken, coleslaw, beans, french fries and tortillas.

Tamales. A tamal (singular it's tamal, plural tamales), is steamed corn dough with a variety of fillings. The tamale is wrapped in cornhusks (or banana leaf in Yucatán) and steamed for hours in a giant covered pot. Common varieties include carne de res (beef), pollo (chicken), and piña (pineapple). Sweet tamales are solid cornmeal dough with a pastry-like sweetness (they are called tamales de elote) [Tah-MAHL-es Day Ah-LOAT-ay]. Many people develop a pronounced tamale habit (I confess that I'm hopelessly addicted). Just about every trailer park in México has a tamale pipeline. Asking your neighbor about the "Tamale Lady" will usually do the trick. For an entire summer I lived on three breakfast tamales and an armful of fruit each day. It's surprising how our eating habits gravitate so easily in a different culture.

Empanizado isn't really a dish but rather a method of preparation. When you see something empanizado it means breaded (Pan is Spanish for bread). Beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, anything breaded north of the border is usually found in Mexico as well. The result of breading makes familiar fare that is welcomed if you eventually succumb to "taco-itis"

Cáldo. Méxican chefs make great soups -- about like our homemade soup. Beef, chicken, or fish soup is common and most are outstanding.

Ensalada. If there is one area that Méxican cooking is weak in, good salad may be it. A typical restaurant salad consists of a few leaves of iceberg lettuce topped by a thin slice of tomato accompanied by a wedge of lime (to be squirted onto the salad). The more south you travel the more likely you'll find shredded cabbage instead of lettuce.

Fruit Salad. Yet another dish that is incomparable when done right. Try this on: Sliced watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, mango, guava, papaya, pineapple, and perhaps, maméy attractively arranged on a huge platter. This dish is traditionally served with a small pitcher of cream. You'll never want to go home again.

Pescado Frito. Fried fish. Most restaurant fish are a form of sea bass, with white meat, and very mild flavor.

Huauchinango al la Veracruzana (Wow-chee-NON-go Ah Lah Vera-cruz-AHN-ah). This mouthful is really a mouthful. Imagine a whole two pound snapper reposing on a platter, covered with a slightly sweet/tart sauce, with bits of onion, and olives. You haven't lived until you've tackled one of these babies (while crashing surf advances and recedes right outside your tableside window).

Langosta a la Parilla. Lobster to the grille! Usually served with melted butter, rice, and a small salad.

Langosta al Vapor. Lobster to the vapor (steam). México's lobster industry is on the decline because of over fishing and poaching. Most large dinner lobsters are now imported from Australia.

Camarónes. Shrimp. They range in size from tiny "popcorn shrimp" to truly awesome specimens that weigh "Three To A Pound". Fresh shrimp have bright pink and white bodies.

Camarónes Al Mojo de Ajo. When you see something prepared "Al Mojo de Ajo" it means cooked in butter and garlic.

Camarónes a La Diábla. Deviled Shrimp. Sometimes the sauce is quite spicy.

Calamár. Giant squid

Pulpo. Octopus

Pulpo en su Tínto. Octopus prepared in it's own ink.

Callos (KY-yohs). Scallops

Alméjas (Awl-MAY-has) Clams, usually served steamed

Caracól (Car-Ah-COAL). Shellfish. Sort of like abalone.

Abulón (Abalone) Large shellfish prized for it's succulent meat and iridescent inner shell. Overfished. And endangered.

Ostiones. Oysters. Usually served on the half-shell (Keep an eye out for "Ostiones Roquefeller")

"On The Road"

We found ourselves forty miles short of our destination when hunger pangs forced us to seek out something to eat. The problem was we had left the rigs behind and our only option was to find a restaurant in a strange village. Just about every street was unpaved and barnyard animals prowled freely. We proceeded to drive up one street and down another but did not find anything resembling a restaurant. Finally I spotted a boy on a bicycle and said, "Let's ask him". After a short conversation the lad declared that not only was there a restaurant in the village but that it was a very good restaurant. The village didn't have street signs and the boy wasn't sure about the number of blocks involved, so he parked his bicycle in a neighbor's front yard hopped into the pickup and acted as a temporary guide. The sign for the "Restaurant Guadalajara" was painted on a wall that faced away from the main street. Our guide refused to accept a tip so we gave him a couple of American candy bars which he accepted with relish.

To say the least Restaurant Guadalajára was unimposing. The front door was missing, and several panes of glass were broken out of the jalousie windows that bordered the door opening. Inside, a cavernous dining area was sprinkled with wooden tables and chairs. An elderly man put down his newspaper when we entered and advanced toward us wearing a huge smile. He motioned for us to follow him and he led us out a rear door and into an enclosed cubicle that contained several tables. The décor was eclectic: The walls and ceiling were covered with parquet wood tiles and newspaper clippings of the local Boy's soccer team were taped to them for the delight of local patrons no doubt.

If anything our guide understated the case when he declared the restaurant" Very Good". The food was better than excellent -- it was sublime. Our original intent had been to grab something to eat. In the end we spent three hours there, spent an average of five dollars each which was embarrassing considering that fond memories of the meal will stay with us forever. Sometimes circumstances tint the overall ambiance of a situation. So to be thorough I returned to The Restaurant Guadalajára (several times over a period of ten years), and found that my original impression had been right-on-the-money. There is something indulgent about diving into splendid Méxican fare while burros bray and roosters crow right outside the back door.

Don't Be An Armchair Diner

Click on the print button and commit this article to ink and paper. Next, start practicing your Spanish pronunciation by repeating the phonetic interpretation of restaurant dishes and terms. You won't get to square one unless you actually say the words aloud. Don't worry if the words sound strange to you, they won't sound at all strange to someone who speaks Spanish. The main thing is to get into the habit of speaking some Spanish without becoming self-conscious. I encourage you to take the article to your local Méxican restaurant, and try some of your new Spanish on the waiter or waitress. As long as you have both the article and a representative Méxican, available, why not ask them about where to find some special ingredients for my Frijoles de Olla recipe, below:


Frijoles de Olla

"Beans from the pot" can be made at home. I use a crock-pot because I can go to work and have tasty beans ready to eat when I return. I am a fussy cook and even a fussier recipe writer; instead of granting permission to stray from strict written instructions, I'll beg you to first follow the recipe to the letter. Once you've tasted these beans, then I shall give you license to fool around. Try to gather the ingredients well in advance before you plan to cook. The folks at a Méxican restaurant can help you locate Cotíja cheese.

You Will Need

1.5 qt. Crock pot or 5 qt. Standard pot

2.Food mill or processor

3.Black beans or pinto beans, three cups

4.Cumin seed, 1 tsp.

5.Cotíja cheese, block of 6 oz.

6.Cheese grater


8.Corn Tortillas, 1 pkg.


Put two cups of beans into the pot and fill with cold water. Let set overnight. Drain and discard water (this helps to reduce gas, and greatly shortens cooking time). Refill pot with water to 1" from top. Put a fire under the beans and bring to a boil. Reduce fire until beans are simmering. Cover. Note: With a crock-pot, rotate switch to "high". Add cumin seed and give a brisk stir. Do Not Add Salt. With stovetop beans, cover and keep an eye so they don't simmer dry. If you must add water, it must be boiling hot or the temperature shock will toughen the beans. Salt also toughens the beans -- save it 'till later. The beans will be done in one to four hours. Crock-pot beans take four to seven hours to cook. After the beans are cooked, drain broth from two cups of beans. Run them through a food mill until they liquefy. Set aside. Drain liquid in pot to a point one inch above beans. Add liquefied beans to pot, Add salt to taste. Serve in individual bowls. Pass the block of Cotíja cheese over the largest holes on the cheese grater. Put a generous pile of shavings on top of each serving.

To prepare the tortillas, you'll need a gas range. Use the stove in your RV. Grab a pair of tongs; open the package of tortillas and light off the stove. Throttle the flame to about fifty-percent. Place the tortilla right on top of the fire (or rather on top of the burner guard). The moisture filled disc will not blacken immediately. Let the fire heat interior moisture until you can see blisters forming on the top of the tortilla. Flip it over. If there are unsightly scorch marks on the underside, you've cooked the tortilla perfectly. Side two should take just ten seconds to cook. Remove and add another. Hint: Fire up a second burner to speed things up. The clever cook will moisten a hand towel, microwave it until it steams, and use it to hold the tortillas as they come off the stove.


Pico de Gallo

"Rooster Beak"

PEE-ko Day GUY-yoh

Rich and chunky, this tomato based salsa is good as an appetizer or spread over the top of egg dishes. If you can exercise self-control and wait until you find ingredients that are absolutely perfect before preparing Pico de Gallo, the result will be worth it. This may well be the best fresh salsa on the face of the earth!

You Will Need

1.Cutting board

2.Sharp knife for slicing

3.Hand squeezer for limónes

4.One large bowl and three smaller bowls

5.Three pounds of vine-ripened tomatoes (must be fully ripe and succulent). See Text.

6.Two large white onions.

7.Six medium limónes (Limónes look like limes but are mottled with yellow and quite sour)

8.Four small Serrano chiles. Jalapeño chiles can be substituted but they must be fresh


10.Corn tortilla chips

Note: Your local Méxican restaurant can direct you to a store that specializes in typical foods like limónes. Rather than substitute inferior ingredients, like pale, tasteless tomatoes, wait a bit further into the season or pay extra for fully-ripe hydroponically grown tomatoes. White onions are far superior to red or brown for this recipe.


Slice the tomatoes in half. Between thumb and forefinger roll each half over a small bowl and gently squeeze out pulp and seeds. Discard pulp and seeds. Using a sharp knife cube tomatoes into tiny blocks. It helps to slice from the inside out. Draft curious onlookers as helpers. Put diced tomatoes into large bowl. Next slice and dice the onions into cubes of a size similar to that of the tomatoes. Add to tomatoes. Slice in half lengthwise each chile and using your finger, scrape out seeds and discard. Dice each chile into very small bits and then add to the other ingredients. Halve the limónes, and squeeze the juice over the top of the ingredients in the large bowl. Salt to taste. Before your position is over run by eager onlookers, fill one of the spare bowls with salsa, another with chips and then go seek a hideout.