How to Tell if You're Getting Authentic Mexican Food

Real, authentic Mexican food can be hard to come by, with many places not serving traditional meals. Here's how you can tell if you're getting the good stuff.

Step aside Chipotle. Make room Taco Bell!

We're on the hunt for some authentic Mexican food.

What you consider to be Mexican food is largely dependent upon where you've been eating Mexican food. If you live in California, you think it's all about the burritos -- the bigger, the harder to eat, the more it falls apart as you go, the better. If you live in Texas, you're wholeheartedly on the TexMex bandwagon.

But if your tummy is grumbling for some truly authentic Mexican food, you may have to look a little harder.

Here's how you can tell if you're getting authentic Mexican food.

Take in your surroundings

The best places for authentic Mexican food have a few telltale signs you should be looking for before you even open the menu.

These are the mom and pop shops that do it right, the family-owned hole in the walls where three or more generations work side by side -- preferably with grandma in the kitchen heaping her wealth of cooking knowledge on every plate.

Of course, Mexican cuisine is known for being adaptive and that can also be said for the setting of authentic Mexican food as some restaurants achieve an upscale setting with the same traditional flavors. 

Look for the brightly colored decor, the papel picado, the nearly empty bottles of Tapatio.

What's really in that steaming plate of yumminess?

The history of authentic Mexican food tells the account of melding cultures. Some have suggested this may be why Mexican food has so many different adaptation, including those like TexMex.

Before the Spanish arrived in Central America, a typical diet relied not on meat, but on beans and corn, flavored with chilies and other spices.

The Spanish brought with them many of the ingredients we now consider staples of authentic Mexican food, such as garlic, onions, cheese, and chicken. Wheat also led to the addition of flour tortillas in Mexican cuisine.

Today you can expect to find jalapeno, ancho, and serrano peppers at any self-respecting Mexican restaurant, as well as black beans and pinto beans (which you may recognize as refried beans) and many iterations of corn. 

Corn is still a staple ingredient in authentic Mexican foods such as tortillas and mesa.

Dig in!

The taste test begins the moment that little red basket of salsa and tortilla chips hits the table.

The most authentic salsas are made with a molcajete, a traditional volcanic-stone mortar and pestle, and call for fire roasted chilies, fresh tomatoes, and garlic.

Alternatively, you might find yourself face to chip with a little bowl of green -- it's not guacamole. Salsa verde gets its distinct color from the tomatillos it is made with.

From there, you have a plethora of choices facing you. But more important than what you order is how your order is made.

Some restaurant have given up the use of lard for less traditional oils when cooking, but the most authentic Mexican food still relies on the tried and try cooking techniques and recipes.

Closing Thoughts on How to Find Authentic Mexican Food

When it comes down to it, if you really want to know if you're getting an authentic meal, just ask!

Real Mexican restaurants are all too happy to assure you of who is in the kitchen and that the recipes have been passed down from one generation to the next for longer than anyone remembers. You may even earn yourself a visit from the chief!

For delicious Mexican dishes, come to MESA Restaurant!


Raul Reyes