How to eat well anywhere in Mexico

You'll sometimes hear fallacious claims that San Miguel Allende or Guanajuato or other parts of Mexico don't have superb food.  What is true, in many Mexican cities, is that almost every place near the main square is only so-so.  Here's what to do:

1. Look for time-specific food.  In San Miguel for instance, there is barbacoa [barbecue] from 8-10 a.m., carnitas from about 11-4, and wonderful chorizo after 8 p.m.  In Mexico, if the food is available only part of the day, it's almost always good.  It's for locals and there is no storage in these places so it's also extremely fresh.

2. Often the best meals are served in places which have no names.  In San Miguel the "brothers Bautista" run the best carnitas stands, but there is no sign and no marking.  The stands are simply there on the side of the road, with some plastic tables and chairs, at a few places around town.  Everyone in town knows about them.

3. Ask around with taxi drivers and be persistent.  Ask the older taxi drivers.  Throw away your guidebook, no matter which one you have.

4. Use breakfast and lunch for your best meals; dinner is an afterthought.  Almost everywhere good is closed by 8 p.m. or often long before then.  Always visit a place that closes by 1 p.m.

5. Roadside restaurants, on the edges of towns or between towns, serve some of the best food in Mexico or anyhere else for that matter.  Some of these restaurants even have names, though you can overlook that in the interests of eating well. 

Comments

{{4. Use breakfast and lunch for your best meals; dinner is an afterthought. Almost everywhere good is closed by 8 p.m. or often long before then. Always visit a place that closes by 1 p.m.}}

How will I get wonderful chorizo?

{{Why doesn't this advice, 5, work for the U.S.? I assume that you would not consider Cracker Barrel some of our best food.}}

If you put #5 together with #4, you might want to reassess your assumption. I'm hard pressed to find a breakfast, even at a much higher price, that I like better, and the lunches are pretty decent too.

Most cities have their own late night (usually 8pm or later until dawn) places or street stands, which agrees with the Tlayudas in Oaxaca comment above. If it has a crowd eating standing on a cold night, it's probably good. Ask the younger locals where do they go after a late night.

The rules above also work for Mexico City, except you don't have to throw away your guidebook, because the expensive restaurants there are among the best in the world. Pujol is outstanding, for example.

Tyler - do you often worry about not drinking the water or having uncooked fruits / vegetables in lower-income countries? I usually do, but that really restricts what I can eat. Your thoughts on this?

Mexico's food culture is very different from its neighbor to the north. There are few reliably mediocre chains and few Mexicans would tolerate the quality of American chain fast food.

Food stands on the street and cheap restaurants with open storefronts, a few tables, and a fixed lunch menu are among the best places to eat in the country. Compared to the equivalent hot dog carts and fast food joints in the USA they are consistently much, much more delicious.

Foreign immigrant food spots are the center of quality cuisine in America. In Mexico, the best things to eat are usually distinctly Mexican. Mexico does have a substantial minority population of Italians, Koreans, and Chinese and at least the Italians and Koreans contribute a diverse quality to local eating in some places, but the main story is native. There is quite a lot of variety in regional specialties and most of it is great.

Fine dining worth paying for is rare and mostly limited to fancy neighborhoods in big cities. Get used to eating in the open air on stools and standing in crowded markets.

The major meals are eaten by 3pm. Don't expect a big dinner after 5pm. The few scattered places open after 10pm are usually good if you're hungry again. My favorite street stand opened at 11pm and stayed open to around 4am. Doña Mari dragged a gas range out on the street every night and cooked fantastic things but there was never any notice or signage. You may have to ask around for such a place; late night taxi drivers know where they are because they all stop to eat there on breaks.

Some great things are for sale only first thing in the morning. Tamals are usually gone by 9am.

Any place touristy looking or with English signs or menus is probably aimed at North Americans and Mexicans have utter contempt for NA food preferences. Don't expect anything good there.

nice and interesting reading i agree with you when you say "Mexico's food culture is very different from its neighbor to the north. There are few reliably mediocre chains and few Mexicans would tolerate the quality of American chain fast food".regards

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