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Unless you plan to stick to tourist resorts, you’re unlikely to find much in the way of America’s version of Mexican cuisine. The real thing is much better, especially when you visit one of these top destinations in Mexico that are becoming increasingly popular with foodies.
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Just two hours from Mexico City, Puebla is one of the best cities in Mexico for foodies. The city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its magnificent Spanish colonial architecture and colorful blend of cultures. Stroll its central streets, passing buildings, facades, and gardens that reflect its history, shop for intricately designed Talavera pottery and dine on some of the best food in the country. Puebla is renowned for its rich, high-quality fare, like one of its must-try specialties: Chile en Nogada, made up of seasoned ground meat blended with pine nuts, raisins, and local fruit before being stuffed into roasted poblano chiles. The stuffed chiles are then dipped in batter and fried, and then topped off with a deliciously creamy walnut sauce. It was during the colonial period when nuns from the convents of Santa Rosa and Santa Monica invented the recipes this dish and others that made it famous. After one of your meals, be sure to take a stroll down “Candy Street,” La Calle de los Dulces, to sample traditional sweets.
Oaxaca City is truly a must-visit Mexican vacation destination for foodies, thanks to the diverse range of traditional Mexican dishes that were birthed or perfected here. This exotic state has a long list of things to do, but it’s best known as a culinary destination and nicknamed the “land of the seven moles”. This is due to its legendary and complex sauces made with dozens of ingredients, often including chocolate, over several days. In Oaxaca, residents have truly embraced chocolate as a part of the culture and visitors will find they can’t walk down a street without being offered it in some form, whether it’s a hot beverage, pastry or candy. Mina Street may be the world’s very best “sweet street,” home to Mayordomo, Guelaguetza and La Soledad, where you’ll have the chance to watch traditional chocolate making and learn how it’s incorporated into desserts and many other aspects of the culinary experience. Outside of desserts, there is one dish Oaxaca is especially famous for and you won’t find better anywhere else: the Tlayuda, or Mexican pizza, a large crispy tortilla topped with mole sauce, meat, stringy cheese, and salad.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more charming town with such an abundance of top-notch eateries than Todos Santos. Not only is it surrounded by striking desert scenery, with soaring mountains to the east and the glistening Pacific to the west, but this fishing village cum surf mecca on the lower Baja Peninsula is a true foodie paradise. You’ll find everything from traditional Mexican cuisine like fantastic chile rellenos paired with amazing margaritas, outstanding street tacos, plenty of organic produce and fresh seafood, as well as an extraordinary Italian eatery, Cafe Santa Fe and heavenly French cuisine at Chez Laura. After a meal, take a walk down to the endless golden sands where you might just be able to enjoy those ocean views all to yourself.
Four hours inland from Cancun, Merida is “real Mexico.” This colonial capital and family-friendly destination is an underrated foodie destination that’s at its best on the weekend, when its historical core, lined with Mayan brick built 17th-century cathedrals, is closed to vehicles and filled instead with open-air stages, tacos stands and all sorts of happenings. Merida is especially renowned for its Marquesita Mayas (crispy rolled crepes packed with chocolate spread and cheese), as well as its Papadzules (an egg twist on the standard enchilada) and Cochinta Pibil (slow-roasted well-seasoned pork). After you’ve had your fill, experience the Ruta Puuc, a string of five well-preserved Maya archaeological sites, or tour the flamingo-filled mangroves in the fishing village of Celestun.
Situated on the Bay of Banderas in the state of Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta is one of the most popular tourist cities, with endless idyllic beaches and lush jungle mountains along with high-end resorts, nightclubs, shops colonial landmarks and a multitude of gourmet restaurants. This city is fast gaining a reputation as a gourmet destination with its delectable choices running the gamut from taco stands on the beach to five-star white-tablecloth eateries. Its location along the Pacific coast means that many restaurants serve dishes focused around fresh seafood, and while you’ll find lots to choose from, dedicated foodies might want to visit during Restaurant Week in Many, or the Puerto Vallarta Gourmet Festival in November. If that’s not an option, consider taking a street food tour with Vallarta Eats to sample some of the best.
Mexico City is one of the world’s largest cities, so it’s really no surprise that there are practically an endless amount of street vendors and tiny independent eateries along with world-renowned restaurants. Street food today is actually as much a part of the city’s culture as it was in pre-Hispanic times, with makeshift stalls on every corner and enough local delights to keep anyone busy trying them for days, or even weeks. Be prepared to be blown away just by the incredible variety and wow factor of street food here. While there’s no denying the appeal of an awesome taco, you’ll find much more than that in the Mexican capital, including roasted corn on the cob coated in mayo, chili flakes, cotija cheese and a squeeze of lime – otherwise known as Elote, cornmeal cakes known as Tlacoyo, and delectable candies made from chile-coated mango. If you’d like to sample some of the best, take a tour with Club Tengo Hambre.
Mexico’s second city offers a more relaxed alternative to Mexico City in the state of Jalisco. This is the birthplace of tequila, mariachi music, and the Mexican hat dance, and its highly-rated cuisine is based around chilies, corn, beans, tomatoes and pork. You can’t visit without trying Birria, a spicy goat or mutton stew-style dish that’s considered one of the region’s most emblematic. The Torta Ahogada sandwich – fried pork literally soaked, or “drowned,” as Ahogada means, in a tangy salsa, is a must after a long night of drinking – and, if you’re courageous, sample the Gusanos: deep-fried maguey worms wrapped in a tortilla.
This magnificent colonial city, set within a highland valley in the state of Chiapas, a region east of Oaxaca and south of Villahermosa, is considered one of Mexico’s most stunning scenic areas: wild, rugged, rich in indigenous life and culture. San Cristobal also offers the ideal mix of traditional restaurants, outdoor food markets, and trendy cafes, along with a smattering of delectable bakeries. Another outstanding destination for chocolate lovers, there are a number of incredible chocolate treats to be had here, but the hot chocolate is especially impressive and comes in a variety of styles, like Mayan-style, made with seven different chiles. If caffeine is your thing, you should know that the coffee beans are locally grown in this area and the resulting coffee with remarkably delicious. Be sure to try the Molotes while you’re here as well, chorizo and herb-covered potatoes tucked into a thin corn dough before being sealed and fried in oil until crisp and then covered with frijoles or guacamole and topped with salad.
Veracruz is the nation’s top producer of cattle, citrus, and shrimp. The state benefits from a year-round growing season, which means fresh, tasty ingredients are never far away. Yucca flowers, green beans, and the heart of palm are just some of the diverse ingredients cultivated here. It’s the birthplace of vanilla, while its capital, Xalapa, is a jalapeno-growing hot spot. You’ll find the tradition of “soup-stews,” a liquid-based dish that’s thicker than brothy soup but lighter than a full-on braise, like Tesmole, a stew of meat, vegetables, and masa dumplings. Veracruz is also famous for its Zzacahuil – a kind of supersized version of the tamale that can be found throughout the country. Zacachuiles are prepared by hand for special occasions, and sometimes for breakfast when a large number of people need to be fed. It’s a large, savory dish wrapped in banana leaves before being cooked.