If someone asks you where the best Mexican food in town is, do you know what to tell them? Do you even know what gives a restaurant the title of the best Mexican food? Here’s a hint: the best Mexican food you’ve ever tasted (or perhaps you haven’t ever tasted, yet) hails from its homeland, Mexico. If your idea of the best Mexican food you’ve ever had is “Mexican inspired,” then you are seriously missing out my amigo.
So how do you know that you don’t know how to spot authentic Mexican food? Well, hang on to your pantalones, we are about to educate you.
Five Signs You Have Never Had Real Mexican Food
- You think a taco comes in crunchy or soft.
Our friends at the place with the bell on their sign will ask you if you want a soft or crunchy taco. We aren’t knocking that joint, it’s a guilty pleasure of ours too. Because, taco shells made out of Doritos, for Lord’s sake. However, what it is not is authentic Mexican cuisine. And it sure better not be what you consider the best Mexican food you’ve had.
But we digress. The point is, in authentic Mexican cuisine, the tacos are made of a small flour tortilla, none of this corn tortilla shell business. Secondly, an authentic taco looks nothing like what American wannabe Mexican restaurants serve. Your American taco probably comes with ground beef, limp shredded lettuce, and some shredded cheddar cheese on top. You’ll never find this south of the border.
- Your vision of a burrito is the size of a small child.
While we speak of faux-Mexican food, there’s another NOT-authentic establishment we want to mention. We won’t say their name, but they serve burritos wrapped in tin foil that could feed a small country. Okay, we confess, Chipotle is among our favorite fast food establishments. But it is not the best Mexican food. Not by a longshot. And if you think it is, it’s because you’ve never had real Mexican food.
Real Mexican burritos take a different approach to the burrito. You’ll find similar meats: carne, pollo, chorizo, and such. You’ll even see the variety of salsas that our American burrito peddler offers. But it will look different. A staple among Mexican burritos is potatoes. It will likely have cabbage. You’ll get lime slices to squeeze into your burrito for citrus. This is real Mexican food.
- You think that Mexican menus are in English.
A real Mexican restaurant makes food from Mexico. The native tongue of Mexico is Spanish. If your menu has words you’ve never seen, it’s a good sign that their food follow suit. Mexican restaurants serve mole (a delightful savory combination of chili and chocolate), elote (a corn dish), chicharron en chile verde (fried green chilis). That’s because they are common dishes that people in Mexico serve at their dinner table.
Most American versions of Mexican restaurants serve food that caters to Americans, not references the comfort food of the homeland.
- You think that guacamole is chunky.
Once again, we aren’t disparaging the guacamole of Texas. The delicious combination of diced tomatoes, avocado, and onion makes our mouths water as well. But is is from north of the border. If the restaurant you’re at serves this stuff, they are serving what the gingo customers think Mexican food is. In reality, Mexican guacamole is a smooth and subtle dip, with more of the consistency of ranch dressing than American guacamole. It’s made of lime juice, tomatillos, and of course avocado. But the avocado is not the star of the show, as it is with its Tex-Mex cousin. Many restaurants in Mexico don’t serve guacamole at all, but if they do, it certainly isn’t chunky.
- You think Tabasco sauce is a Mexican staple.
When you ask for hot sauce at an authentic Mexican restaurant, you might get Tapatio. You might get a house sauce. You might get cholula. What you aren’t going to get is Tabasco. Although it is a central figure in the hot sauce scene in the United States, Tabasco sauce not used often in Mexico. In fact, it hails from here in New Mexico. If the restaurant you’re at serves Tabasco, it’s most likely not authentic.
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