When you ponder the world’s best culinary destinations, Latin America might not be the first place that comes to mind, but in reality Mexico is one of the top food countries and exciting cities for foodies, with a wide variety of offerings from coast to coast that are sure to please even the most sophisticated palate! In fact, Mexico’s culinary offerings are incredibly diverse, with amazing variety from one locale to the next and Mexico was the first place to receive the coveted UNESCO Culinary Heritage status, which recognizes the country’s rich and varied food-related traditions.
“If you’re a food lover, there is no better vacation destination than Mexico,” wrote TheKitchn.com. “Mexico’s culinary traditions are vast and varied, with nearly every region of the country producing its own signature dishes.”
Here are five of the best food cities in Mexico, along with a bit of info about local favorites to sample when you visit each destination! Provecho!
Situated along the northern shores of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the colorful colonial town of Merida has become a true foodie destination in recent years, offering easy access to a wide range of delectable traditional Yucatecan fare that you simply can’t find anywhere else in the world. As in many parts of Mexico, the food here has evolved over hundreds of years, blending traditions from the Spanish colonizers and ancient Mayan locals to create incredible new flavors and textures.
While in Merida, be sure to try the salbutes and paunches – local street foods made with a fried tortilla filled with beans or topped with local favorites like shredded turkey, chicken or carne asada, and finished with shredded cabbage, pickled red onion, avocado and pickled jalapenos. Also, no visit to the Yucatan would be complete unless you sample the iconic cochinita pibil, which is a true example of blending ancient Maya and European flavors. Made using indigenous staples of pork and annatto seed, marinated in the citrus juice of Spanish oranges, seasoned with achiote paste and wrapped in banana leaves, this mouthwatering dish is traditionally slow cooked in an underground fire pit.
Puebla is one of the top food cities located in Central Mexico that the Spanish settled and for a time really considered their own, ultimately melding with the existing ethnic regions to give the cuisine in this part of the country considerable depth. This is where amaranth was first domesticated and also one of the first areas where maize was cultivated, serving as an important part of Mexico’s ancient “corn belt.” In Puebla, the food is colored by native herbs, grains and greens, with a variety of fruit and livestock from Spain, as well as spices, tubers and seeds from Africa, Asia and South America.
While in Puebla, be sure to try the mole poblano, a smooth, rich, incredibly delicious sauce prepared with a variety of ground chiles, tomatoes, onion, garlic, chocolate, chicken stock, banana, almonds and more, that is often served over turkey or chicken, but is also used often in the preparation of enchiladas and tamales. Chalupas are another must-try Poblano cuisine, consisting of small thick tortillas covered in red or green sauce and topped with onion, shredded pork or chicken, then fried as a snack. Finally, be sure to sample the tacos arabes in Puebla – this local favorite was inspired by Lebanese immigrants in the 1930s and is similar to shawarma, but made with Mexican ingredients and topped with a life-changing chipotle sauce.
Pronounced “wa-ha-ka” and located in southwestern Mexico, Oaxaca is a foodie’s dream destination, with some of the best and most varied food in the entire country. Perhaps its no accident that the state also boasts incredible variety in its landscapes, offering access to everything from a tropical coastline to chilly Sierra Madre mountain air, along with a number of different indigenous groups that have contributed to its diverse culinary traditions.
For starters, Oaxaca is widely believed to be the birthplace of mole – that rich and complex slow-cooked sauce that most of us can never get enough of – with at least seven varieties to sample locally. Other specialties include stuffed peppers and tlayudas, which are a type of Mexican pizza, with the toppings laid out and baked on a large tortilla. If you’re a queso lover and want to try a local snack food, check out quesillo – a type of stringy cheese – or if you’re feeling super adventurous, chapulines (fried grasshoppers) are another delicacy you might come across in this part of Mexico!
As the capital city of Mexico’s Jalisco state and the second-largest city in the entire country, Guadalajara is home to an impressive swell of world-class dining options and has already given us many of Mexico’s most iconic dishes, drinks and desserts, including tequila… In fact, this spirit distilled from agave plants first originated just north of Guadalajara near the town of Tequila!
Local Tapatio chefs are known for their delicious torta ahogada, aka the “drowned sandwich,” made with spicy tomato sauce and mouthwatering pork, as well as the uniquely pleasing birreria, a type of goat stew that is another popular local delicacy. New global food trends are also visible on the robust and always complex Guadalajaran food scene, with open kitchens and behind-the-scenes action to entertain diners and a deep respect for tradition, combined with creative new culinary endeavors, all taking root side by side.
The northern Mexico metropolis of Monterrey has often been seen as little more than a business layover, industrial and technological hub, but in recent years the city has also finally been receiving some well-deserved attention for its foodie culture. Delicious fare and craft beer abound in this Nuevo Leon capital city, which is known for its meat-heavy diet complemented by pinto beans and flour tortillas, which are more common here than corn tortillas.
A favorite local dish in Monterrey is machaca, a type of sun-cured meat mixed with eggs and Chile piquin that is very popular for breakfast. Carne asada (marinated grilled steak) is also popular here, along with barbecued meats of all kinds, and be sure to try the tender cut of beef known as arrachera while you are here! Other local favorites include cabrito asado (roasted goat kid), barbacoa and Glorias goat’s milk caramel candies.
Would you like to know more about visiting the best food cities in Mexico? Post your questions in the comments!