Signs of a Delicious Traditional Mexican Food Menu
When you're in the mood for Mexican food, nothing else scratches the itch. Street tacos, margaritas, tamales, salsas, and more have some special property that makes them more delicious than your average cuisine.
Did you notice how we didn't mention burritos? Or nachos? That's because far too often restaurants pass themselves off as "traditional Mexican," when their cuisine is decidedly not traditional Mexican.
It's a shame, because not only are those patrons eating subpar food, but they're also misinformed about real Mexican culture. While we're not claiming any revolutionary culinary ideas, cooking authentic Mexican food requires experience.
The next time you're in the mood for Mexican, keep in mind our seven telling signs of a delicious traditional Mexican food menu.
Traditional Mexican Food 101
Mexico is a large country with many different regions all contributing many different cuisines. Coastal regions love seafood, while inland regions eat far more beef and pork. There isn't one specific type of traditional Mexican food.
Rather, like any cuisine Mexican foods originally drew from the resources surrounding the locals. Corn tortillas became popular, as did meat specific to different regions. Salsas grew from access to specific crops.
Traditional Mexican chefs stick to this theme today. Simple eating based on ingredients native to Mexico. Often times regional foods stay very specific to their roots.
For instance, the southern regions of Mexico have a climate conducive to growing poblano peppers. Meaning they cook with, you guessed it, poblano peppers. The same logic holds true for the rest of the country.
Though despite the differences in regional cuisines, certain things remain constant throughout Mexican cooking...
Yes, some Tex-Mex restaurants have corn tortillas on the menu. They're right next to the flour tortillas that embody Tex-Mex cuisine. However, no traditional Mexican restaurants have flour tortillas.
If you're looking at the menu and flour, or hard tortillas for that matter, are an option, you're not at a traditional Mexican restaurant.
Oh, and corn tortillas are always around the size of your palm. Anything bigger and it's not authentic.
The Menu is in Spanish
Traditional menus often have the Spanish words for each dish. However, just because it's in Spanish doesn't mean it's actually traditional. Tex-Mex restaurants often but things like chili con carne, or tacos locos, on their menus.
Yes, they're Spanish words, but they aren't the names of traditional Mexican dishes. Traditional dishes aren't "inventive," but rather simply describe the food.
If the labels simply describe the food, that's because the food's simple. Traditional Mexican food isn't very complex. It's best described as basic ingredients that compliment each other; coming together to make a cohesive dish.
You won't find sauces or any other toppings besides the occasional cheese or crema. Look for cilantro, lime, onions, al pastor, and chorizo. Too much craziness and you're not eating authentic food.
There's No Ground Beef
Speaking of al pastor and chorizo, traditional Mexican food contains a variety of meats, but it most certainly does not contain ground beef. Let us express that again. NO GROUND BEEF.
Instead, you'll find delicious variations of pork, beef, chicken, and seafood. Remember, Mexico is a big country. Food varies by region, lending many different proteins to the cuisine.
If there's one thing that defines traditional Mexican cuisine, it's cilantro. Love it or hate it, the plant's used for everything from garnish to main the ingredient. It blends well with nearly every Mexican dish imaginable.
If the restaurant isn't using cilantro everywhere, or tell you there's none cut for extra garnish, you're in the wrong place. Traditional Mexican cooks always have spare cilantro on hand.
Let's talk salsas. They're traditionally tomato-based "dips" that Mexicans use for a variety of dishes. But salsa isn't as straightforward as most people believe.
Salsas range from slightly chunky to completely smooth. Those hot sauces you see at all the traditional restaurants? Tapitio? That's salsa to those of us hailing from south of the border.
What most certainly is not salsa, are store bought variations that resemble mushed up tomatoes. Salsa needs character. Oh, and any authentic place has several house salsas. Just ask your server what's best.
Too Much Cheese
Look, we love cheese as much as the next person. Cojita cheese is a favorite among those who love traditional Mexican cuisine. However, not all cheese is created equal in the eyes of Mexican chefs.
For example, shredded cheddar cheese isn't common among most authentic Mexican restaurants. You might find the odd chef here or there trying to branch out, but it's not the norm.
Though the biggest tip-off is exactly how much cheese is on the menu. Is everything drown in cheese? Not authentic. Neither is food preceded by the word "smothered."
Smothered in cheese? Not authentic. Smothered in sauce? Not authentic. Smothered in hot sauce? Not authentic. You get the idea.
Finding the Right Restaurant
Follow the tips above and you'll have no issues finding the best restaurant around for traditional Mexican fare. However, do remember that some traditional places to like to experiment.
Just because there's something on the menu that seems slightly out of the ordinary doesn't mean that it's "bad." Rather, a chef could have had access to new things and decided to take risks.
While the above things indicate a restaurant with traditional Mexican food, that doesn't that non-traditional places don't use some of these ingredients.
There aren't hard and fast rules, but rather guidelines. When in doubt, use your best sense of judgment. If there's cilantro on top of a mountain of melted cheese, it's probably not authentic.
Keeping it Traditional in Texas
If you're looking for traditional Mexican fare in Texas (amid the sea of Tex-Mex), come check us out. Our menu is full of traditional food that appeals to all kinds of people.
It's healthy, tasty, and best of all represents traditional Mexican culture. So make your way to Grapevine, Texas (or stop by after work, we love locals!), and try some authentic Mexican cooking. You won't leave disappointed.