Mexico is an exceptionally diverse country with a cuisine that reflects the many different cultures that call this Latin American nation home. Interestingly, though, many of Mexico’s most interesting dishes share common ingredients (including tortillas, beans, cheese and salsa) and cooking techniques (baking and frying). These six dishes go beyond typical tacos and quesadillas to showcase the many ways that Mexican cooks put a creative local spin on their food.
Chilaquiles are one of the most iconic Mexican breakfast dishes, and a must-try on your next trip to Mexico. The base of the dish is quartered corn tortillas that have been lightly fried and then simmered in spicy red or green salsa, or traditional mole sauce. Before serving, the soupy tortilla pieces are topped with a combination of thinly-sliced onions, crumbed queso fresco, sour cream and fresh cilantro.
Sharing a name with the Spanish word for flute, flautas are rolled, crisp-fried corn tortillas with a distinctive cylindrical shape. Common fillings include beef, chicken, beans and cheese, and flautas are often served with salsa or guacamole heaped on top. Flautas are usually larger than their common counterpart, taquitos, but may also be listed as “tacos dorados” on the menu.
Hailing from Mexico’s far north, molletes are basically just Mexican toast. To make molletes, a fresh, crusty bun is cut in half horizontally and slightly hollowed. The inside is filled with refried pinto beans, cheese and sliced hot peppers, and then the dish is broiled until the cheese melts. It’s also possible to find molletes dulces (“sweet molletes”) which are topped with butter and sugar instead of beans and cheese.
Originally from the city of Culiacan in central Mexico, sopes are an indulgent appetizer or street food. About the diameter of a tennis ball, sopes start with a thick base of masa (corn dough) that gets pinched at the sides (to form the perfect scoop-like shape) and thoroughly fried. The base is then topped with refried beans, cheese, salsa, lettuce and onions. The most common meat topping is chicken, although you’ll find crispy fried grasshoppers are a popular topping as you head further south. Sopes are commonly served as a plate of three or five.
Exclusive to Oaxaca and its surrounding region, tlayudas are one of the healthiest tortilla-based dishes in Mexico. Every authentic tlayuda starts with a large wheat tortilla, which is baked (not fried) until it is crispy. Then, a thin layer of refried beans are spread all over the tortilla; these act as an anchor for the rest of the toppings. Fresh lettuce, salsa and cilantro are common toppings, as are grilled vegetables and meats.
Mexico has its own unique flatbread: totopos. To make totopos, masa is treated with a process called nixtamalization, which improves its flavor, nutrition and storability. The dough is then rolled into a circle ranging from three to thirty centimeters in diameter, sprinkled with salt and decorated with small holes before being baked in a clay oven. Baked totopos can be stored for weeks and are usually eaten like crackers.
One of the best things about Mexican food is the wide range of regional dishes that can be encountered throughout the nation. If you don’t see these dishes on the menu, feel free to ask your host or server to recommend something similar.