Mexican foods you need to try before you die

While virtually all Mexican food is scrumptious, you shouldn't stop at the Americanized version of Mexican food you can find in fast food joints around the country. In other words, just because you've eaten everything on Taco Bell's menu twice over, that doesn't mean you are an expert when it comes to food from Mexico. You have to dive deeper than that — and perhaps even take a trip south of the border.

Real, authentic Mexican food is where the real greatness is found. If you have adventurous taste buds, a stomach that can handle spicy food, and the bravery to live life to its fullest, you owe it to yourself to try all of the Mexican food on this list.

Even though Mexican restaurants are the second most popular type of restaurant in the United States, there's a good chance you don't know about the vast majority of Mexican dishes you should eat at least once in your life. These are the Mexican foods you need to try before you die.

Arroz con leche

Arroz con leche is essentially a better version of rice pudding that Mexico has mastered. The basic ingredients are simple: white rice, milk, sugar, and cinnamon. However, different recipes vary drastically in taste and texture. Mexican rice pudding often features both condensed and evaporated milk, along with rice, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, egg yolks, orange zest, and butter. The stars of the show in this pudding are the raisins, which have been soaked in tequila or rum. Find an authentic Mexican restaurant or a neighborhood abuela near you to get your hands on this yummy dessert.

Barbacoa

Though you might see "barbacoa" listed on a Mexican restaurant menu, the term isn't actually the name of a dish but rather the cooking process. Barbacoa is the process of steam cooking meat in an underground oven until the meat is very tender. In the U.S., barbacoa is often made with parts of a cow's head — typically the cheeks. In Mexico, though, the preferred type of meat ranges from lamb to goat, chicken, rabbit, or other options. No matter what kind of meat that is used, barbacoa is generally served on corn tortillas with onions, cilantro, and various salsas. Even if the thought of eating a cow's head doesn't appeal to you, you should try barbacoa. You might find it's the best meat you've ever tasted.

Birria

Traditionally made with goat meat or mutton, you may also see this spicy stew made with beef in certain Mexican restaurants in the U.S. The slow-cooked, super moist meat is typically served in a shallow bowl and topped with chopped onions, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. You can use corn tortillas to make birria tacos, or just to sop up the spicy broth. If you're traveling in Mexico, you'll find birria tacos at roadside stands and small restaurants throughout the country. Just be sure to ask for a bowl of the broth on the side because it's delicious.

Borracho beans

Next time you're in a Mexican restaurant, ask if they have borracho beans rather than charro or refried beans. Frijoles borracho (drunken beans) are pinto beans cooked in beer, bacon drippings, and spices. The layers of flavors are wonderful and they are a nice complement to any Mexican dishes — but specifically those made with pork. Poblano, jalapeno, or serrano peppers are often added to borracho beans, as well as diced tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. You should definitely dig into a bowl of borracho beans at some point in your life.

Carne asada

Carne asada is beef — often skirt steak or tenderloin — that has been marinated and then grilled. It's a staple dish in parts of Mexico and a common plate at most good Mexican restaurants throughout the United States. You can also find raw carne asada that is already marinated at butchers and meat markets. If you decide to buy that, it's ready to rock — all you have to do is grill it. 

Carne asada is generally served with a side of rice and beans, or sliced and used to fill tacos or burritos. This is a simple Mexican favorite that is well worth trying. Don't be surprised when it becomes a staple in your household, too.

Carnitas

If you have never tried carnitas, you are truly missing out. Carnitas are similar to pulled pork. Pork shoulder roast is cooked low and slow in lard or oil so that the meat is very tender and juicy. However, unlike pulled pork, the meat is finished by turning up the heat and making the outside of the pork slightly crisp. Carnitas are served with corn tortillas and topped with avocado, onions, salsa, and other condiments. You can also use carnitas in burritos or tamales.

Cemitas

A cemita is a torta (sandwich) served on a soft, sesame seed roll. The sandwich ingredients include meat, avocado, onion, peppers, and white cheese, along with red salsa and papalo, a tasty yet often ignored herb. Originally from Puebla, Mexico, the cemita is an easy lunch or snack that is packed with flavor. You can stuff your cemitas with carnitas, milanesa beef, or any of your other favorite meats and the result will be the same — absolutely delicious.

Ceviche

Ceviche originated in Peru or Ecuador, depending on who you ask, and consists of raw fish cured in citrus juice. This common Latin American appetizer is spiced with peppers, onions, and other seasonings. Mexican ceviche is often made from shrimp and lime juice, along with avocado, cilantro, and jalapeno. For some added kick, you can top it off with hot sauce or more peppers. There's nothing like eating spicy ceviche and sipping on a cold cerveza while lying on a beach in Mexico. But if you can't make it to Mexico, there's no reason to fret, as you can find ceviche at your local Mexican restaurant or even make it in your own kitchen. Just cure the shrimp in lime juice long enough that the shrimp turn pink, and then start adding all the ingredients and spices you love.

Chalupas

Chalupas, which are similar to tostadas, are like open-faced tacos.The base is a deep-fried corn tortilla that is slightly curved on the edges to hold in the ingredients. The tortillas are typically topped with ground beef (or shredded chicken or pork), along with cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Some people like to slather refried beans on their chalupas before adding the meat. Others like to load them up with sour cream and guac. Whatever you prefer, these crispy delights make for a tasty meal.

Chapulines

You really should try grasshoppers at least once in your life. And that's what chapulines are — fried or roasted grasshoppers. 

A popular snack in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, chapulines are seasoned with garlic, lime, and salt.. You'll often find them sold by the scoop by street vendors. You can eat them plain, wrapped in a tortilla with a few slices of avocado, or mixed with sausage and cheese. Believe it or not, grasshoppers are a healthy, high protein food. Before you are six-feet under, give chalupines a try. You might be surprised by their mild, smokey flavor.

Chicharrones

Chicharrones are thin cuts of pork belly that are fried crispy. You can find chicharrones throughout Latin America as well as in the Southwest United States. In Mexico, they are made and sold at farmers markets as well as by street vendors. They can be eaten as a snack or served as a main dish. Munch on them plain, dip them in sauce, or wrap them in a tortilla along with avocado, queso fresco, and salsa. 

Snack food companies sell crispy, fried pork rinds that are often spiced with different flavorings. And though they may be marketed as chicharrones and are tasty in their own right, they are not the same as the authentic variety. Pork rinds are just the skin. Chicharrones consist of skin, fat, and a little bit of meat.

Chile relleno

A chile relleno is a roasted poblano chile stuffed with cheese, dipped in egg batter, fried until golden, and then often topped with red or green sauce. Sometimes, chiles rellenos have meat inside as well. In some Mexican families, it's traditional to eat chiles rellenos at Christmas, along with tamales and other seasonal favorites. But no matter what time of year, you should give this Mexican classic a try before you miss your chance.

Chiles en nogada

Even if you have tried chiles rellenos, you probably haven't tried chiles en nogada — and you definitely should. Chiles en nogada are poblano chiles stuffed with picadillo. The picadillo is often created from ground beef, pork, or turkey combined with apples, pears, or other fruit. The stuffed chile is topped with nogada (a creamy walnut-based sauce), pomegranate seeds, and parsley. We'll admit that this unusual dish doesn't sound very appetizing, but the layers of flavors actually go very well together. Chiles en nogada are often served to celebrate Mexican Independence Day because the green (parsley), white (nogada), and red (pomegranate) represent the colors of the national flag.

Chorizo

Chorizo is a spicy ground pork sausage used in Mexican and Spanish cuisine. Mexican chorizo is generally sold raw and it's seasoned with spicy red peppers and vinegar. Spanish chorizo is sold fully cooked. It's either dry (like salami) or semi-cured and soft. Spanish chorizo is seasoned with smoked paprika and garlic rather than peppers. The Mexican version is often scrambled with eggs and served with tortillas for a breakfast dish, but you can eat chorizo anytime of day. Chorizo can be used to make chili, be added into queso, or replace ground beef or pork in any other recipe.

Cochinita pibil

Cochinita pibil is a dish made when a whole suckling pig (or sometimes pork shoulder) is marinated with sour oranges, onions, and achiote, wrapped in banana leaves, and then roasted. Historically, it's roasted underground in a pit with a fire at the bottom. If you don't have the means to cook it this way, you can roast the meat slowly in your oven or, better yet, find it at a local Mexican eatery. You might discover it on the menu listed as Yucatecan, or Mayan-style pork. Wrap cochinita pibil in lightly fried tortillas, along with avocado, radish, and red onion for a delectable Mexican meal.

Dorilocos

What do you get when you mix Doritos, gummy bears, and a hodge-podge of other ingredients? Dorilocos, of course. This popular Mexican street food might sound disgusting, but it's surprisingly good. Nacho Cheese Doritos are topped with pickled pork rinds, a variety of chopped vegetables, peanuts, hot sauce, chamoy, and, yes, gummy bears. It's not just for kids. Adults love this crazy combination of textures and flavors, too. If you are in Mexico City or other locales south of the border, look for a Dorilocos stand on the street, throw caution to the wind, and order it.

Elote

Elote — Mexican street corn — is typically grilled on a skewer and then slathered in a mixture of mayonnaise, crema, and chili powder. It's then dusted with cotija cheese. You can buy elote from Mexican street vendors, and at festivals in Mexico and in the United States. If you typically walk on by the Mexican corn stand at your local county fair, be sure to actually stop next time. This sweet and spicy treat is absolutely delectable. Add extra chili powder if you want to turn up the heat.

Enchiladas verde

If you typically shy away from green food, don't make that mistake with enchiladas. Enchiladas are corn tortillas that have been rolled around a filling of some sort — usually either beef, chicken, or cheese, but sometimes a combination of ingredients — and smothered in a yummy sauce. While there are different types of enchiladas, enchiladas verdes are normally filled with chicken and topped with green enchilada sauce, crema, cilantro, and cotija cheese. They are absolutely scrumptious with a side of Mexican rice and refried beans.

Esquites

While elote is corn on the cob, esquites is Mexican street corn in a cup. Mature corn is boiled and then sauteed in butter with chiles, onions, and seasonings. The corn is served in small cups and can be topped with chile powder, lime juice, mayonnaise, or a number of other toppings. Like elote, you can typically buy this snack from vendors at farmers markets, festivals, and street stands. If you don't like to deal with gnawing the corn from the cob, this snack is a comparable alternative to elote.

Flan

Mexican flan is a silky, creamy custard made from milk, eggs, vanilla beans, and salt. Caramelized sugar is used to make a mold for the mixture to cook in. When it's removed from the oven, the flan is flipped over onto a plate, and thus the caramelized sugar becomes the top layer of this sweet dessert. If you've been to any Mexican restaurant in your life, you've probably seen flan on the menu. Next time you see it, order it, or you are sure to die with many flan regrets.

Flautas

Flautas make for a great snack or light meal. When ordering them in a Mexican restaurant, you typically get a trio of flautas. So, what exactly are they? Flautas are flour tortillas rolled around a filling and then deep-fried. Taquitos are basically a smaller version of the same thing, but use corn tortillas. Flautas are typically served with guacamole and sour cream on top (or on the side for dipping). If you like crispy tacos, you'll love flautas and their corny taquito counterparts. They can be filled with just about anything, but chicken flautas are especially delicious.

Gorditas

Gordita means chubby one in Spanish — and you will certainly learn to love this chubby version of tortillas. Gorditas are made with instant corn masa flour. They are fried, split open, and stuffed with whatever filling you like. Some people love refried beans and cheese, while others prefer picadillo, carne asada, or other meat. Whatever is inside your gorditas, they are absolutely yummy. The cooked corn masa is crispy on the outside but soft on the inside, and able to hold all your favorite ingredients. Pupusas are the same as gorditas except the filling is added before you cook them, rather than after like gorditas.

Guacamole

Believe it or not, some people have never tried guacamole in their lives. The horror! If you are one of the rare few, you seriously need to grab yourself a bowl of avocado goodness as soon as possible. Guacamole should be made fresh with perfectly ripe avocados (don't make it with peas!), bright red tomatoes, and spicy jalapeno peppers. You'll find hundreds of guacamole recipes on the internet, but the best ones are simple. Add in chopped onions, garlic powder, cumin, lime juice, and salt, and you are ready to dive in with your crispy tortilla chips.

Horchata

Horchata is a classic Mexican beverage made with rice soaked in water. Sounds gross so far, right? It's really not. Horchata is spiced with cinnamon and sweetened with sugar, so you are basically drinking rice pudding. It's not chunky because the drink is strained to remove any solid material. Though you can find pre-mixed horchata in a bottle at many grocery stores, it's even more delicious when made fresh. With that in mind, find your way to a Mexican diner or learn how to make it in your own kitchen to truly enjoy this traditional, authentic Mexican drink at its best.

Huaraches

Huaraches are Mexican sandals, so what does that have to do with food? Well, the edible variety are flattened masa shaped to resemble the sole of such sandals. The fried masa base can be large (like a pizza) or made small enough for bite-size appetizers. Huaraches are traditionally topped with beans and cheese, but you can put just about anything on them. In Mexico and parts of the Southwest U.S., huaraches are often eaten alongside fried cactus leaves (Nopales).

Menudo

Menudo is more than a Latin boy band. It's actually tripe soup with a red chili pepper broth that is seasoned with hominy, oregano, onions, and lime. Though you might be hesitant to try menudo because tripe is actually a cow's stomach, you really should grab a spoon when you see this soup on the menu. This traditional Mexican dish is hearty, filling, and tasty. This soup takes hours to cook and, in Mexico, it is often served at wedding receptions and other family gatherings. In the U.S., many people believe that menudo is the perfect hangover cure. But even if you didn't drink the worm last night, you should give menudo a try.

Mexican hot chocolate

You might be used to making hot chocolate by opening a pack of powder, pouring it into your cup, and adding hot water — or hot milk when you really want to splurge. Mexican hot chocolate is completely different. It's made from whole milk, finely chopped chocolate, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and a little bit of cayenne pepper. Yes, pepper! Pour this chocolate deliciousness into a mug and top it with whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder right before serving. The result is an amazing beverage that warms your body and soul on even the coldest of nights. Does it take a little more time and effort to make Mexican hot chocolate? It certainly does, but every incredible sip is worth it.

Mezcal

Mezcal is Mexico's national spirit and has been around since before Christopher Columbus ever thought about hopping on his ship. This alcoholic beverage is made from the thick stem of an agave plant, mostly in the state of Oaxaca. If you're in Mexico, mezcal is almost always consumed straight — and that is the proper way to drink it. You really don't need to add anything because it has a smokey, intense flavor that could change your whole world.

Mole

Mole is a dark sauce served over meat in a number of Mexican dishes. Though you can find dozens of types of mole, they are all primarily made with chiles, tomatoes (or tomatillos), dried fruits, spices, and a thickening agent to make a paste. The paste is mixed with water to make the sauce. Mole poblano is the most common kind of mole that you find in Mexican restaurants in the United States. If made properly, it features nearly 20 ingredients, including chocolate. However, the resulting sauce doesn't taste chocolatey at all. The chocolate is just used to offset the heat of the peppers. When it comes to mole, most people either love it or hate it with no middle ground. You should definitely try it, sooner rather than later, in case you fall into the "love it" category.

Molletes

If you love bruschetta, you need to try molletes, which are basically the Mexican version of the Italian classic. Molletes are broiled, open-faced sandwiches. Typically refried beans are spread on bolillos (Mexican rolls) that are sliced lengthwise. The bread is then sprinkled with cheese, topped with sliced jalapenos, and broiled in the oven until crispy. You can top these sandwiches with salsa, pico de gallo, or anything else you'd like for a simple lunch or an easy-to-make appetizer.

Pambazos

What would you get if you bathed your bread in salsa and then fried it? The base for pambazos, of course. These sandwiches are absolutely delicious, and sometimes difficult to find unless you are in Mexico (or a very diverse Mexican restaurant in the U.S.). The bread is amazing and when you fill it with spicy chorizo, potatoes, cabbage, and other goodness, you'll have an incredible lunch that can't be beat. If you see pambazos on the menu at your local Mexican place, don't hesitate to place your order. They'll soon become one of your all-time favorites.

Pico de gallo

Pico de gallo is fresh, uncooked salsa that traditionally is made from chopped tomatoes, diced onions, chiles, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Pico de gallo is easy to make at home and found in almost every Mexican restaurant. You can use it on just about everything, from tacos to scrambled eggs, and from fish to cheeseburgers. If you typically skip the pico when you are eating Mexican food, you shouldn't. It adds a fresh, spicy, chunky element to any meal.

Platanos fritos

While bananas are a favorite all across the United States, relatively few people have experience with plantains. If you are one of those underprivileged individuals, you need to try platanos fritos at least one time. Platanos fritos are plantains that have been sliced and then fried in oil. In Mexico, you'll often find platanos fritos topped with either sour cream or some sort of cheese. If you're shopping for plantains at your local grocery store, you should know that the darker the plantain, the sweeter it will taste.

Polvorones

You might hear them called polvorones, Mexican wedding cakes, or Mexican wedding cookies. They are all the same thing. Balls of dough are made from butter, sugar, flour, and ground almonds, pecans, or walnuts. They are baked and then rolled in powdered sugar. The result is a very crumbly yet very tasty little cookie that is, as you might have guessed, often served at Mexican weddings. If you've never tried them before, you might be surprised how crumbly they are. Have your napkin ready and don't be surprised if you can't eat just one.

Pozole

Let's just be honest from the get-go and admit that pozole originally was made with human meat. But don't let that alter your decision-making. These days, pozole is a traditional Mexican soup created from hominy, pork, chiles, and seasonings. Yes, pork. You won't be eating any human flesh when you order this soup at your local Mexican place. Pozole is awesome in the winter time when you come in from the outdoors and are chilled to the bone.

Quesadillas

Quesadillas are tortillas sprinkled with cheese, folded over, and heated until the cheese melts. Boring, right? Well, they don't have to be. And though simple cheese quesadillas are loved by young kids everywhere, you can put a lot more inside your quesadillas than cheese. Spicy chicken and caramelized onions make amazing quesadilla fillings. Also consider other combinations such as blackened shrimp and crunchy bacon; chorizo, queso fresco, and eggs; or smoked gouda and mushrooms. You can put just about anything inside your quesadilla to jazz it up.

Queso fundido

Queso fundido is molten cheese. Like quesadillas, you might think that queso fundido isn't exciting — but it can be. First of all, use a combination of cheeses rather than simply one. Mix Oaxaca cheese, Chihuahua cheese, and mozzarella for an amazingly gooey result. Next, there should be some other add-ins in the queso before you start dipping your chips. Chorizo, chiles, tomatoes, and onions are top choices. In restaurants, the cheese concoction is often flambéed (alcohol is poured over the cheese and ignited) for some bubbly excitement at your table.

Raspados

Raspados are shaved ice treats with sweet flavored syrups that are topped with all kinds of deliciousness — fresh fruit, candied fruit, caramel, and even chiles. You can get raspados from street carts and shops throughout Mexico and parts of the U.S. One optional topping to enhance your raspada experience is lechera — sweet condensed milk. It's simply heaven. You can also find raspado vendors that will top your treat with nieve (which really means snow, but is actually ice cream).

Sopa Azteca

Sopa Azteca is the authentic version of what we in the United States call tortilla soup. While American tortilla soup usually has just a handful of ingredients and isn't known for being especially flavorful, that's not the case with sopa Azteca. In Mexico, they add a whole host of ingredients including diced tomatoes, chile, garlic, cilantro, onion, multiple types of peppers, and various kinds of cheese. On the top of your sopa Azteca, you'll usually get slices of avocados, a scoop of sour cream, wedges of lime, and tortilla chips.

Sopes

A sope is a Mexican dish that is sold all around the country by street food vendors. At first glance, you may think it's made with a tortilla base. However, it's actually fried masa with pinched sides that has been made into a circular shape. It's then topped with refried beans, white cheese, sour cream, diced onions, shredded lettuce, and salsa. Traditional sopes usually don't have meat but you can find sopes with meat if you look hard enough.

Tacos al pastor

Tacos al pastor is a dish that features some of the tastiest pork on the planet. The pork in these tacos has been marinated in a variety of spices and then spit-roasted. When the pork is ready, it's added to a corn tortilla and then it's topped with chopped cilantro and onions. Even if you think you don't like cilantro (or it taste like soap to you), it's mandatory in tacos al pastor and you'll love it. Also, at restaurants, you'll get wedges of lime with these tacos — use them!

Tamales

What used to be just a Christmas tradition, tamales seem to be growing in popularity by the day. You can't go anywhere without seeing this traditional Mexican food — and for good reason. Even if food from Mexico scares you, tamales is something you need to try at least once. It comes in a corn husk and the inside of it is mostly masa. The middle filling of tamales varies greatly. Beef, pork, and chicken are all popular fillings. But there are tasty dessert tamales that are filled with fruits, jams, and even cheeses.

Torta tecolota

A torta tecolota (also called torta de chilaquiles) is a breakfast sandwich that can be found almost exclusively in Mexico City. If you can't find it near where you live, you know where you must travel. The bread of this sandwich is a bolillo roll that has been toasted and slathered with refried beans and then blessed with cheese crumbles, cilantro, and onion. Sometimes a fried egg is also placed in the sandwich. And to add some flavor and texture, fried pieces of tortilla that have been bathed in salsa are added as the final touch.

Tlayuda

The key to a great tlayuda is the tortilla. A generic tortilla simply won't do. It needs to be really thin, bigger than usual, and then fried gently enough that it's crispy but not too much that it becomes rigid. The toppings found on a tlayuda are refried beans, shredded lettuce, slices of avocado, cheese, and a choice of meat — with chicken being the most popular. While eating it, you should dip it in a bowl of salsa.

Torta ahogada

Torta ahogada is a spicy sandwich that your taste buds deserve to try at least one time. This sandwich, like many other Mexican sandwiches, uses a bolillo roll for the bread and it's filled with beans or a meat (typically chicken or pork). The most important part of a torta ahogada is what happens next: it's drowned in a spicy red chili sauce. "Ahogada" means drowned so it's not a true torta ahogada unless your sandwich is dripping wet.

Tres leches cake

As anyone who is even a little bilingual can tell you, tres leches cake is a cake that uses three milks. Those three "milks" are condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy whipping cream. With all those milks at work, it's no wonder that a tres leches cake ends up being a yummy yet soggy version of a sponge cake. In Mexico, you'll find that most tres leches cakes have cinnamon sprinkled on top right before being served.