What do you know about Mexican street food? Did you know, for example, that traditional Mexican guacamole isn’t made with lime or garlic? Or that to eat Mexican street food with proper etiquette, you shouldn’t use utensils? You won’t even think twice about wasting time with a fork or knife when you get your hands on an authentic gordita or tostada, anyway.

While you don’t have to travel to Mexico to enjoy Mexican street foods, you’d be in foodie heaven if you did. It’s where countless culinary traditions began, from the invention of the beloved taco to the first sizzle of a corn tortilla in hot oil.

What makes these foods unique is the deep history associated with the dishes, and the complex culture that is impossible to detach from them. Read further to learn the history of your favorite Mexican street foods and to discover new dishes to add to your foodie bucket list.


We’ll start with the one you already know: tacos. One of the most popular Mexican foods, tacos have been evolving for decades, and according to Smithsonian Magazine, no one truly knows exactly where or when they originated. “Tacos,” as a phrase, actually incorporates an innumerable amount of dishes, but when it comes to traditional Mexican street food, a taco consists of deep-fried, handmade corn tortillas stuffed with meat or beans and some variation of salsa.

The toppings that we put on tacos in America — like onions, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and corn — are not traditional for Mexican street food, though they are delicious. Head to a mercado in Mexico City, though, and you might find tacos de papa, crispy fried tacos stuffed with cumin-spiced potatoes, shredded cheese, onion, tomato and chili peppers. There are also carne asada tacos, which seem to be the tacos that we can trace back the farthest in history, and the uber popular tacos al pastor.


Typically sold as one of many late-night Mexican street snacks, molotes are fried, savory stuffed corn tortillas. The doughy tortillas are made of corn masa, or corn flour, and you’ll find that a majority of Mexican street foods are made with a corn masa base.

Molote is typically deep-fried and stuffed with chorizo, cheese, avocado, potatoes or mushrooms. When finished, they sort of resemble empanadas, and they are traditionally served with salsa and sour cream.

Molote originated in the village of Puebla, which is also where mole poblano originated. Mole poblano is a super popular, thick sauce made with chocolate and chiles.


You can’t think of Mexican street food without thinking of tortas. Tortas are simply huge, overstuffed sandwiches, and we mean that in the best way possible. When it comes to street food in Mexico, you’re bound to run into some variety of torta, and there’s a high chance it will be delicious.

Typically, tortas are served on large bread rolls, either called bolillos or teleras. So, imagine a big hunk of perfect bread sliced in half, slathered with butter and stuffed with ham, pork, avocado, tomato, fried chicken, shredded beef, sour cream — anything you can think of.

There are some distinct tortas flavors served as Mexican street food, like torta de tamal, which is a carb-heavy sandwich of bread stuffed with tamal, which is a corn dough stuffed with meats and cheeses. There’s also the torta ahogada, in which the sandwich is made of potato, chorizo, cabbage, sour cream, cheese and hot sauce.

Since the bolillos bread that tortas are typically served on resembles French breads, it is often said that tortas originated during the French occupation of Mexico in the 1860s. Either way, it’s likely that this hand-held dish became popular for the same reasons that tacos and other conveniently portable foods did: They’re easy to eat on the go and they’re cheap and quick to make, which was (and still is) ideal for the busy working class.


This one is going to sound kind of familiar. Gorditas are thick, corn-based tortillas stuffed with meats, cheeses and vegetables. Yes, a lot of Mexican street foods are variations of tortillas stuffed with ingredients. So what makes a gordita different?

They’re, well, chunky. Gordita translates to “little fat one,” which is to say that gorditas are made with a dough that is more bread and less tortilla. Therefore, they often get dunked in soups or sauces when they are eaten.


Tamales are hugely popular in Mexico, as they’re one of the most common Mexican street foods, and they come in a variety of flavors. They’re all a convenient hand-held size and are traditionally wrapped and steamed inside of a corn husk, which often doubles as a plate for the actual tamal.

Inside lies a corn-based dough stuffed with, well, anything. Tamales can be savory or sweet, depending on whether you stuff them with meats and veggies or fruits. Several sources date the origins of the tamale all the way back to the Aztecs in the 1500s and go now.

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