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Guide to Mexico Cuisine - or, advice please?

Hi guys,

I'm planning a 10-day trip to Mexico and one of my priorities is going to be eating great food. I'm on a pretty tight budget but I'd like to eat the indigenous food as the locals do anyways, so I'll be eating comida tipica and the like, including market food, street food, and of course mid-range restaurants. However, I'm looking for advice as to the best regions/towns for Mexican cuisine...I know some are better than others. I know little about traditional Mexican right now, as I've jut started my research...I know to be sure not to miss Oaxaca's mole's, and that's about it. So, what are the "best" regions for food in Mexico? Obviously Mexico City is kind of a central location that probably has some of everything, but what are the towns/cities that are know for certain specialties? Right now I'm considering going to Uruapan, Pátzcuaro,
Morelia, Guanajuato, San Miguel, Queretaro...I'm open to suggestions, although I'd prefer to stay (generally) close to central Mexico.

Thanks for any advice or for pointing to a good resource!

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  1. PS - What about the best place for fresh and unique fruits and veggies?

    3 Replies
    1. re: luke77

      Hi Luke,
      In Michoacan, your best bet for truly wonderful street food, both indigenous and traditional Mexican, is Patzcuaro.

      The first thing to do is put Patzcuaro in the search field at the top of the Chowhound screen. There are 22 hits, some with good information for you.

      When you've read those, come back and ask some specific questions about what you've learned. Several of us here either live in or near Patzcuaro and can answer most anything you'd like to know.

      Happy investigating! Your palate will love you for it.

      1. re: luke77

        Here are a few pics taken in the Pátzcuaro mercado.

        I don't have very many pictures, as we usually are carrying 2-4 large shopping bags, loaded with produce, and the place is often very busy, especially after 10 a.m., and on Fridays and Sundays.The activity winds down about 2 p.m, and by 3:30 it's all but over. Then the evening street food stalls open.

      2. Hola Luke,
        It sounds as if you have the right idea, you will get some great street and market foods in the places that you mentioned. Do not be afraid to get to know the locals as well. Some of my most memorable meals have been in private homes in Mexico. Comida casera is the true cooking of Mexico. Also, try to find some of the fiestas that are always taking place around the country; especially the smaller towns and villages. In the indigenous areas, fiestas provide an excuse to cook up the best. Puebla and Veracruz are also excellent food places that are within reach of Mexico City. Buen Provecho!

        1. Hey Luke.... here are some additional recs...

          > One of my favorite places in the whole country is the Centro Ceremonial Otomi in Temoaya, Mexico State. Its a huge complex up in the mountains dedicated to the preservation of the Otomi cultural & the area's natural resources. The Otomies are a very interesting & mystical group that have a presence in the area for an estimated 22,000 years. The surrounding area has cave paintings carbon dated to 10,000 B.C.... and as their civilization developed they built some wonderful cities & monuments including Tula in the state of Hidalgo. The center hosts daily rituals of which visitors are welcome to join. And a couple of years ago it hosted a huge conference of First Peoples with the stated goal of rescuing traditional practices to heal the planet's wounds.

          Adjacent to the Center you will find a private campground that operates a restaurant dedicated to mushrooms... with about 90% of their dishes specializing in some variety of mushrooms (the area also has one of the world's greatest diversity of mushrooms... edible & non... including magical ones).



          > I also highly recommend a trip to Texcoco in Mexico State for one of the very best BBQ experiences you will ever have.

          > Puebla City is without a doubt... a can't miss.

          > A big nod to Xalapa & Coatepec in Veracruz, as well as Tlaxcala and Oaxaca city

          1. Puebla (city) and Veracruz (state) are very doable in 10 days. I just came back from doing a loop via Xalapa (and Xico/Coatepec) on the way from Puebla to the Puerto and Cordoba (extraordinary chow city: I really need to write this up!!!) and Orizaba on the way back. Top chow cities all of them!!! You can even skip Mexico City entirely on such a trip since there are direct buses to Puebla at all hours leaving straight out of Mex City airport. If doing Guanajuato/Michoacan, you might want to investigate fares form your home city to Leon airport. From Chicago, we get the cheapest rates to Leon (cheaper than to Mexico City), and Leon is very central and accessible to many points on that itinerary. If going to Guanajuato, consider going to Dolores Hidalgo which has wonderful food. If you're fluent in Spanish and have no problems going to places where you will not see a single tourist, you can add Celaya to the list. And maybe Zitacuaro (big town close to Diane Kennedy's ranch), which has 2 faboulous markets with plenty of hidden surprises!!! If you need recs for budget places to stay at, you can email me directly later when your itin is set.

            4 Replies
            1. re: RST

              So basically what you are saying (and I pretty much agree) is that just about every small & medium sized city in Central & Southern Mexico is a top chow destination.... how to decide.

              Luke... I think some of the decisions you need to make are what you really want to see of Mexico. A lot of the towns described have very good food but with varying influences... some are going to be more indigenous, others will have a Basque or Andalucian foundation, yet others will have firm Central African foodie influences etc.,

              1. re: RST

                Continental flies directly into Morelia from Houston every day, arriving about 8 PM. Cabs are plentiful at that time (buy the taxi ticket at the kiosk just outside Immigration/Customs) and it's only about a 20 minute cab ride into Morelia Centro. I will be making my 7th trip in the last 2 1/2 years to Michoacan at the end of the month. I love Patzcuaro, but I'm finding the more time I spend in Morelia, the more I am becoming enamored of it.

                Have drinks and botanas at Los Juanitos on the terrace overlooking the cathedreal and watch the catherderal lighting which happens nightly about 8:30-8:45. Even if Mexican church architecture and art aren't your thing, do pay a visit to the catherderal, it is one of the more beautiful ones. It has the largest pipe organ in Mexico (in a loft no less) and there is an organ festival annually. This is a very walkable city using the cathederal as the starting point. The insides of the San Diego church at the end of the pedestrian alcazada is specatular inside, you'll also be able to see the viaduct, one of the only curved viaducts in the world and still an engineering marvel/mystery as well as assorted museums and statues. There is a Museo de Dulces and a Mercado de Dulces to investigate as well, both are a short walk from the cathederal.

                Morelia is better for the mid to high end options and Patzcuaro is better for the street food. Both have been well documented on this board. If Sr. Anonimo sees this thread perhaps he will share some of his downscale dining finds in Morelia, I don't believe they've been as well explored here as has Patzcuaro. You can easily bus between Morelia, Patzcuaro and other cities/towns in Michoacan. These 2 cities and the surrounding towns could probably keep you busy for the entire 10 days. If not, it's a short bus ride from Morelia to Guanajuato.

                1. re: DiningDiva

                  (Deleted due to redundancy.-Anonimo)

                2. re: RST

                  Love mole de Xico - it's my favorite.

                3. —If Sr. Anonimo sees this thread perhaps he will share some of his downscale dining finds in Morelia,—
                  I fear that one of our favorite mariscos stands in Morelia, Los Delfines, has closed. http://www.pbase.com/panos/el_delfin (I will check again.
                  )Morelia is famed for its "gaspachos" fruit cocktails; chopped tropical fruits, layered with chile, and crumbled aged cheese, sprinkled with lime juice, salt and ground chile.

                  We haven't eaten that much street food in Morelia. We tend to do our more relatively "upscale" dining there, and in Pátzcuaro, ear street food more but not frequently. Atole de grano is always a welcome and comforting food in the evenings.

                  DiningDiva and Cristina are the experts on Páztcuaro street eats.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Anonimo

                    I have to give credit where it's due. I am only an "expert" on street food in Patzcuaro because of Cristina. She is a gifted guide and teacher. I just have a curiosity and willingness to put just about anything in my mouth at least once ;-)

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      Thank you for the accolades...the credit is much appreciated. It's always a joy to introduce willing eaters to the culinary thrills of Pátzcuaro.

                      Luke, when you come back here I'll be happy to answer any questions.

                  2. Guanajuato, sadly, has pretty boring food. The specialty of the city are chicken enchiladas with boiled potatoes and carrots. In a year there, I was only consistently impressed by the Italian food at El Gallo Pitagórico - nothing out of this world compared other places, but positively wonderful for a small town.

                    However, you can't miss the city - it's fabulous! It's my favorite place. You'll be able to grab some good, cheap comida corrida (my favorite is Las Ranas on Juan Valle up the hill right before the tunnel). In the Plaza San Fernando there are a few decent places - a crepe place and a little outdoor restaurant with quesadillas.

                    Also - secret's out here - if you go to the far end of Plaza San Fernando, by the crepe place, search for a very very small passage (callejón). Follow the passage up a few meters, and there is a restaurant/cantina called El Clave Azul. If you go at lunch time (1-4) you'll get a small snack plate for every beer you order. Trust me, after 4 beers and 4 plates, you'll be full and happy.

                    Finally, if you are there on a Sunday, head to Embajadores outdoor market. There's a lady in the median who sells tacos de tripa, and a million fresh fruit vendors. It's strawberry season there - so indulge. I have gotten fairly sick from the gordita vendors under the tarps, though. It was delicious, though... I'm sad my stomach won't allow me to go back.

                    Also, a Guanajuato specialty is the guacamaya (macaw). No fried endangered bird - it's actually a torta with chicharrón, avocado, and delicious salsa as a filling. Old men carrying oversized baskets sell them on the street, and they are famed as a hangover cure.

                    Another thing you should be on the lookout for in GTO is chimichurri. Nothing like its Argentine cousin, it's an extremely spicy light orange salsa made with something milky that they put on tortas and pizza. If you don't like fire, ask them to go light.

                    1. I'd add that the most known regions for deliciousfood in Mexico are:

                      Oaxaca (mole and more - simply amazing)
                      Puebla (mole poblano, everything poblano)
                      Sinaloa (ridiculous seafood)
                      Veracruz, Campeche (seafood, esp. fish and crab)

                      Obviously, sweeping generalizations and there are treasures everywhere. These recommendations above in Michoacán sound amazing.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: gueraaven

                        The food--the home cooking and the indigenous food--of Michoacán is less well known than the food of Oaxaca. However, it´s better. Period.

                        1. re: cristina

                          A bold statement - in fact heresay to some - but I think I'd have to second it. Having spent time in both areas specifically to learn about, cook and eat the food, my preference is certainly for the food of Michoacan.

                          1. re: DiningDiva

                            Again my gentle encouragement for both of you to spend some time in Tlaxcala.

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              I would love to spend time in Tlaxcala, are you offering to be the guide :-).

                              My next region, tho, is probably going to be Veracruz. I am really interested in Xalapa and the surrounding area.

                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                I would love to get back to Central Mexico... but I am not doing much international travel with a 4 1/2 month old!

                                With that said my work is taking me to Hawaii (twice) and Cabo in the next two months... so I can't complain.

                                1. re: DiningDiva

                                  If you are going to hit Veracruz.... I definitely recommend that you hit at least one Totonac town, and one African town.... understanding the cuisine from those two vantage points is crucial. Over time I have come to the conclusion that the African influence in today's Mexico is vastly under appreciated.

                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                    Eat Nopal--Can you recommend what towns to visit?

                                    Also, any specific restaurant/street food recomendations for veracruz city?



                                    1. re: helenabk

                                      For the African portion... hit Alvarado, Mandinga & Mozambique

                                      For the Totonac portion... hit Zempoala, Catemaco, Xalapa & Coatepec.

                                      (When you are in Catemaco you might as well visit the Nanciyaga biosphere reserve... that is where Medicine Man was filmed).

                                      In Veracruz the classics.... Cafe del Portal, and Cafe de la Parroquia... or any busy seafood shack down in Boca del Rio.

                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                          Zempoala, Catemaco, Xalapa lovely!

                                          Boca del Rio was there many many years ago, hope it's not too built up

                          2. That's a mighty tall question to be asking. Books have been written about this. My recommendation is that you get a copy (Amazon) of Eat Smart in Mexico or the Lonely Planet Guide to Mexican Food. When you are in Mexico, follow the restaurant recommendations of such publications as Frommer's, or Moon Handbooks. I can tell you, however, that Guanajuato, being a college town offers up some of the most delicious and inexpensive comida corridas that you will find. Querretaro has closed downtown sections to car traffic and has made walking areas that will take you past wonderful outdoor restaurants. The best tamal I have ever eaten was in the Querretaro central market. It was like eating cake. But I have no idea how to direct you to find the guy who sells tamales at breakfast time.

                            For a 10 day trip you really are biting off a lot. I could spend 10 days just exploring Mexico City. But, if you are set on covering this amount of turf, don't forget that you can get a bus to Querretaro that leaves directly from outside the Mexico City airport, thus bypassing having to go into town to the bus station. You could start in Querretaro, go on to Guanajuato (I am not a big fan of San Miguel) and then directions west.

                            In the bus stations you can pick up a Guia Roji 150 page map book called Por Las Carreteras de Mexico, which is my favorite map guide to Mexico.

                            Alternatively, you could take the bus from the airport to Puebla, stay at Hotel Colonial (excellent mole) and then in a day or so bus down to Oaxaca (stay at Casa Lidia, spectacular breakfast, in a quiet neighborhood with a comfortable walk to the San Domingo church). Then, bus back up to Puebla for a few days more.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Jay Francis

                              I have to disagree on Frommers & Lonely Planet.... they were a disaster in the Yucatan.

                            2. Some of the best food is in Guanajuato (city) just go to the Mercado Hidalgo for the best offerings. There are so many great stalls, the best carnitas sandwich ever and a variety of salsas!! There are these woman that make corn tortillas and have plates of vegetables with peppers, must try one. Great fruit and vegetables vendors on the outside of the Mercado. Outside of the building, in the plaza off to the side are several sit down stalls where you can eat a variety of amazingly great homemade food. The obvious places to stay away from are in the Union Jardin. There is a place on Juan Valle, just down the street from the Casa Diego where I had the best lunch, a family owned restaurant. Cafe Luz Unique, tucked into a stonewall tunnel on Calle Belauzara had great food and a very cool place. Best breakfast and the best cappuccino! is at Truco 7. Another family owned, humble, home style food is El Chahuistle.

                              The colonial cities and town loop is a great way to have a variety of cuisines. Getting form town to town is best by first class bus. You can take taxi and local buses once you reach the area. Best to not rush your time there, I think all the places you mentioned would be ambitious for 10 days. San Miguel Allende and Guanajuato are walking towns you do not want to drive.

                              You can fly into Queretaro and visit there, I went to Tequisquiapan just Northeast. I did not see one American the time I was there. The historical area had so many great places to eat, such nice people.

                              I love SMA, search here I posted my last trip of restaurants. They have a wonderful mercado almost as big as the one in Guanajuato.

                              Then you can take a bus to Guanajuato, then go to Michoacan and stay in Morelia as a base for that area. In Morelia I stayed at a private home in the Santa maria hills, a neighborhood area that has a wonderful native market to experience, Santa Maria de Guido. The best time to go to this market is Tuesday or Thursday. So much good food and along the plaza at the stands try the tacos, gorditas, pozole, chicharrones.. this is the spot to sample lot's of great food from this region cheaply.

                              There are other Mercados- Mercado Independencia, and San Juan both traditional that sell everything. Must try ates, a fruit snack made from mango, guayaba and cajeta sandwiched between wafers, best with chile sprinkled on it. Michoacan has such diverse climates that you get all kinds of fresh produce.

                              I don't know if this still goes on but the nuns of Parroquia de Inmaculata bring traditional dishes to the center of the church early evenings.

                              Uruapan and Patzcuaro (53 km from Morelia)are great day trips or go and stay over night.
                              Patzcuaro has the Plaza Bocanegra, you can sample different food. They are known for the Tarasca soup and great variety of atoles, distinctive characteristic of the Purepecha region. On Tianguis street, Market close to the curb I had one of the most outstanding mole from a vendor. Try some Churipo, a meat based with cactus fruit, carrots, garbanzos with ground chilies.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Lori SF

                                I wanted to add a couple of things Puebla would be another place to consider. Just two hours out of D.F. and hands down this is the place for mole poblano and mole in general.. This is such a charming town with great food.

                                Also, you may email me if you need any recommendations for places to stay.

                                If you do decide to go to Morelia and SMA, here are two forums that can answer specifics or you can looks through for lots of information.

                              2. where ever you are try the comida corrida for lunch-=-a very inexpensive 3 or 4 course meal the locals make and eat--I loved them-