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Street food in the Riviera Maya goes far beyond tacos. From snacks to beverages to sandwiches to full meals, vendors offer a wide variety of delicious selections, some of which you may or may not be familiar with. Street food can be found at one of the many carts, stalls, small trucks, bicycles, under umbrellas, vendors walking the beach, or out of makeshift counters set into the sides of buildings. No trip to the Riviera Maya is complete without at least one meal, and hopefully more, from the local street food vendors. Here’s our guide to all of the main options available in the Riviera Maya.
On street corners all over the Riviera Maya, you’ll find carts or small stands set up, where vendors sell fresh juices, most commonly orange and grapefruit, at prices ranging from 10 to 15 pesos a cup. Some juice stands even offer carrot juice; for a few extra pesos, you can get a “combinado” of orange with a splash of carrot.
You’ll recognize these stands by the big glass jars on display, filled with all kinds of chopped fruit. Licuados are fruit shakes made with an evaporated milk base; the most common flavors are the banana-chocolate, strawberry, mamey (an orange fruit with a texture similar to avocado) or chocolate. If you want something lighter, ask for an agua fresca: the same blends of fruit, but without the milk.
Small bicycle carts sell fruit cocktails of papaya, watermelon, and strawberries covered with whipped cream, honey, and granola. If you want a more savory breakfast, they also sell generous portions of shredded cucumber, jicama, or carrot seasoned with lime, salt, chili and, in the best cases, chamoy — a sour-salty-sweet fruit sauce.
Tamales are one of the most popular street foods in Mexico City, especially for breakfast. A huge steel bucket full of steaming tamales and two pots with atole — a sweet breakfast drink of strawberry, chocolate, or rice thickened with starch — are the basics of the tamal stand. (Try the champurrado, usually a water-based version of chocolate atole that, traditionally, was thickened with masa.) The tamal — made from corn masa that’s been formed around a filling, wrapped (usually in a corn husk), and steamed, is one of the most emblematic foods of Mexico — and pretty much every state in the country has its own version depending on the local ingredients and traditions.
Recognize this tamal by the banana leaf wrapper and the consistency of the masa, which is heavier and slightly sweeter than a corn-husk tamal.
Corn tamal: The dough is a mixture of cornflour and fresh corn grains wrapped in a fresh corn leaf. The traditional way of eating them is with a dash of sour cream and cheese.
Dry corn leaf
This style is very popular in Mexico City. You can find them sweet — strawberry or pineapple — and spicy, with green salsa; chili pepper with tomato sauce; or mole as the main flavors.
Usually, this tamal is a day old — the vendors deep-fry the previous day’s leftovers to make it hot, crispy, and delicious and offer it inside a bread roll as a breakfast sandwich.
Guajolota or tamal torta
This is an iconic street food popular and a true power breakfast. The vendor opens a bun — or bolillo — right on the spot, and stuffs it with a tamal of your choice.
Tortas de Chilaquiles
Chilaquiles are a very traditional type of breakfast: triangular, deep-fried tortillas swimming in a red or green spicy sauce and topped with sour cream, cheese, and some fresh onion. The enhanced version of chilaquiles comes with grilled steak, egg, or chicken. Put this combo inside a bollilo to make a torta de chilaquiles.
Coffee and pastries
Mexicans love pastries, which can be found everywhere. It is common to find a vendor riding a bicycle and selling coffee from a jug and a variety of pastries carefully placed on a big round basket. The conchas, the rebanadas, or the moños (shaped like a bow) are the must-try options.
Very common in plazas and parks. This is a small cart with a variety of chips — salty and flavored with chili powder. Every vendor offers salsa, lime, and salt on the side. Some chip stalls only sell packaged chips. If you want something totally over the top, order Dorilocos.
Sold from carts with clear acrylic sides so you can see the sheets of ultra-crispy fried pork skin, this is a favorite after school or weekend snack for children — and adults with a nostalgic heart. Some chicharrón vendors sell versions not made from pork at all, but from flour or corn. Be sure to ask, so you know what you’re getting. Either way, they’re best doused in hot sauce. These carts also sometimes sell potato chips and other fried snacks.
The Mexico version of snow cones, raspados (the word means “shaved”) are cups of shaved-ice covered with all kinds of flavored syrups. Tamarind, lime, mango, strawberry, grapefruit, chamoy, and rompope — Mexican eggnog — are typical choices, and most vendors will make a spicy version that includes beautiful amounts of chamoy, chili powder, and lime.
A tortilla (usually corn) forms the base of all tacos, which can be filled with anything: every part of the pig, cow, and chicken, stewed (as in a guisado), barbecued (for barbacoa), roasted on a vertical spit (al pastor), cooked atop a griddle (a la plancha), or campechano (a melange of chopped meats). Tacos de mariscos (seafood) and pescado (fish) can also be found on the streets of Mexico City. Beans, cheese, rice, nopales (cactus paddles), and grilled spring onions are common additions. Salsas are always on offer; Every stand will have one red and one green salsa. The really good stands will also stock an avocado-based salsa, one made from roasted chiles — plus a mixture of chopped onions and habañeros, French fries or sautéed potatoes, and a large bowl of halved Mexican limes. Here are some of the most common:
A la plancha
Also known as “carne asada,” this taco is filled with steak or chicken that’s been grilled and then chopped and placed on a tortilla. The best options to top a taco a la plancha are guacamole or red salsa.
If you love pork, this is your taco. Carnitas are made from medium-sized portions of lean pork meat, as well as other parts of the pig, including the head, that are slowly cooked in pork fat—very similar to a duck confit. There are different types of carnitas, and the color of the meat will depend on the ingredients that the taquero adds to season the pork fat. The red raw salsa and the guacamole salsa are best for this one.
A tortilla holds a portion of rice or beans topped with a guisado — a pre-made traditional Mexican dish like chicken with mole, chicharrón in green or red sauce, chicken with green pumpkin seed sauce, or pork with spicy sauce. Every stand will have their specialties, and every day they’ll offer a different variety.
Yes, it’s cow head. This type of taco is very common as a nighttime snack, but they’re not hard to find for lunch, either. The taquero will carve meat to order from a steamed cow’s skull — very dramatic.
Barbacoa refers to a style of cooking that originates with the Taíno people of the Caribbean. It is from this term that the English word “barbecue” originates. In Mexico, barbacoa is traditionally cooked with a pit in the ground that is covered in agave leaves and left to cook in its own juices. Occasionally, an adoboor marinade is added for flavor. Today, tacos de barbacoa generally refer to cuts of meat from young animals, or those that have a high-fat content—or sometimes even whole sheep cooked in this method—until the meat is so tender it falls off the bone. The meat filling is then shredded and served with diced onions, cilantro, and lime juice. There are two other traditional types of barbacoa taco: soft, which is seasoned with a pulpe-based salsa called salsa borracha, and deep-fried, which is topped with sour cream and cheese.
This taco is the quintessential Riviera Maya taco, an object of extraordinary obsession. The cooking method — layers of pork on a vertical spit — is very similar to gyros, belying the taco’s Arab origins. Every taquero has his own special recipe, and they are very protective of their craft. It’s served with onions and cilantro, and often a little bit of pineapple.
Tacos campechanos are from the Mexican state of Campeche. Traditionally, they are made with crispy pork rinds ( chicharrón), longaniza, and cecina. These would be served with the typical diced onion, cilantro, and lime with a salsa de morita. Throughout the rest of Mexico, tacos campechanos has come to mean tacos that are made with a mix of beef and pork or chorizo -usually whatever fillings the house already serves – blended together into a meaty filling with a spicy kick.
Lamb meat is seasoned with chile and spices, wrapped up in parchment, and then slowly steamed or pit-roasted, with succulent results. The traditional toppings are a purple onion and habanero mix and chopped radish.
Suadero is a thin cut of meat from between a cow’s ribs and its leg. It is taken from the fatty muscle closest to the skin, and often it is slow-cooked to highlight the smooth, supple texture of this cut. Suadero is typically chopped and fried on a griddle to crisp and brown the outside of the meat. However, it can also be found slow-cooked and shredded with almost a carnitas texture. It is often served cilantro, diced onion, and lime juice.
Cecina is a form of dried and salted beef, cut very thin. The state of Morelos is known for cecina – specifically from the town of Yecapixtla which has a festival every year. Traditionally, this meat was salted and dried by means of sun, smoke, and air. There are cecinas made with goat, horse, hare, etc. However, it is typically a cut of salted beef. Tacos de cecina are served with cilantro, onion, and lime juice.
“Chuleta” means pork chops, and tacos de chuleta that are served on the street are generally created from a smoked pork chop, which is then diced, and finally fried on a griddle. The tacos are served with lime juice, diced onion, cilantro, and house salsa. This is one of the least expensive cuts of meat, and can often be found in taco stands which stay open until dawn.
In Mexico, chorizo is a type of spicy, ground sausage which is cooked down in its own fat until it fries—forming dark red bits of meat for filling. The chorizo most often found in Mexican street tacos are made from pork, however grocery stores sell chorizos made from venison, beef, chicken, turkey, even kosher or tofu chorizos. The level in which the chorizo is fried in its own fat will dictate the crispiness of the filling. Tacos de chorizo is often served with a smear of refried beans and a hint of cheese. However, they are also found with just the filling, or with minced cilantro, chopped onion, and lime juice.
Longaniza is a type of sausage that is made with pork or beef. It can be a dense sausage (like a hot dog or salchicha) or a ground sausage like chorizo. Valladolid is famous for its longaniza, where the meat is infused with achiote and then smoked with wood from the Jabín tree (often called Jamaican Dogwood in English). Most longanizas, however, are not so intricate. Tacos de longaniza are typically served with cilantro, diced onion, and fresh lime juice.
These tacos are typically made from the shredded meat of braised beef ribs. These tacos have a soft texture, and can often be found served with slices of avocado, or with the traditional cilantro, diced onion, and lime juice sides.
Bistec (or sometimes Bistek) is a generic term for steak. Typically this term denotes a type of skirt steak which is known for its flavor – not its tenderness. The meat typically ends up chewy when fried on the griddle, however, it can be braised or even slow-cooked in salsa to soften the meat.
Tacos de cazuela (also known as tacos de guizado) are tacos filled with slow-cooked ingredients. These ingredients can be vegetarian, such as tacos de rajas for example, or they can have meat products in them like tacos de chicharrón. Either way, they are slow-cooked in a cazuela – which is a traditional clay pot that is used similarly to a crockpot in the United States. The lid of a cazuela has holes in it which allow a bit of moisture to escape, which still keeping in loads of vapor for a multitude of guizados.
Tacos de pescado simply mean fish tacos, and they can be found along all beaches on both coasts. They can be grilled, or made from smoked or slow-roasted whole fish which would often be served with Spanish rice. However, perhaps the most famous fish tacos are the tacos de pescado from Baja California and Baja California Sur which offer beer-battered and fried strips of what is typically a white fish. They are then served with a slaw of some kind, be it made with cabbage in cream or mayonnaise, and a type of diced salsa with some form of tropical fruit along with tomato, red onion, chili peppers, and minced garlic. Fish tacos are always served with a side of lime.
If you spot a bicycle carrying a small basket with a plastic bag inside, you’ve found tacos de canasta (basket tacos). Tortillas are filled with potato, beans, or chicharron, the tacos are carefully arranged in the basket until it is full. To finish them, the taquero pours hot seasoned oil over the tacos, covers them with the plastic bag, and lets them sit until the tacos are meltingly soft. These were traditionally brought to work and shared between employees. They don’t have a long shelf life, so try to buy them soon after the taquero has started for the day.
As well as with the taco, the variety of the tortas is endless. Cut a bun in half — in Mexico the most common breads are bolillos or teleras — and put whatever you want inside and you have a torta. A popular kind is a torta ahogada, a version from Jalisco that’s filled with potato and chorizo swimming in a light and very hot tomato sauce, and topped with shredded cabbage, sour cream, and cheese.
For a foreigner quesadillas can be confusing since they share the same principle as a taco: a tortilla folded in half and filled with whatever you want — and despite the name, it’s not always cheese. You’ll recognize quesadillas by their longer tortillas. The usual guisados that fill a quesadilla are cooked mushrooms, chicken, or beef with red sauce and potato with chorizo. And sometimes — but not always — cheese. They also have a few variations:
Fresh yellow corn dough is worked by hand on the spot, filled with the guisado and then deep-fried. The fillings are usually the same as a standard quesadilla.
Gordita de chicharrón
Corn dough is filled with chicharrón and then shaped into a circle. Once it’s cooked, the vendor splits it open and adds salsa, cilantro, and onion.
The base of this dish is a crisp, thin, round corn tortilla — like a little plate. A tostada can be topped with anything: beans and a guisado with shredded lettuce and salsa, fresh marinated seafood, or just sour cream with a little cheese.
Similar to barbacoa but made with goat instead of lamb, birria is a meaty, spicy stew. At every birria stand, you can choose to order tacos filled with just the meat, with the broth on the side, or order the broth and the meat altogether at once in a bowl.
A thick tortilla shaped into an oval (huarache means “sandal,” and they do look a little like the sole of a shoe), huaraches are usually covered with beans, meat, lettuce, and cheese. At some stands, they mix the corn dough with beans before it’s cooked, so it ends up with a savory bean filling.
The same principle as huaraches, but in a round shape instead of oblong.
The best of these oval treats are made with blue corn dough. The traditional fillings are chicharrón, requeson (fresh cheese), beans, or a paste made of broad beans. The fillings are added before cooking, and once it’s all done, the tlacoyos are served with nopales, salsa, and cheese on top.
These rolled, deep-fried tacos look like little cigars (or flutes, which they’re named after). They’re filled with potato, beef, or chicken, and then covered with guacamole, shredded lettuce, sour cream, and cheese.
If you’re walking the streets and suddenly hear a long, loud, high-pitched whistle, you’re probably very close to a camote cart. One of the oldest Mexican street food traditions, a camote cart sells plantains and sweet potato — served with strawberry jam and condensed milk — cooked on a bed of charcoal, inside an oven built into the cart. The characteristic whistle happens when the vendor releases steam from the oven through the cart’s little pipe.
A popular option for lunch and nighttime. One version of the hamburger is the Hawaiian, which includes a slice of pineapple cooked on the grill. At almost every hamburger stand, the vendors also sell corn dogs, which locals eat with ketchup and salsa.
Elotes and esquites
These stands are out only at night (with a few exceptions), and sell Mexico’s famous elotes: ears of corn skewered on a stick, then covered with mayonnaise, cheese, and chili. For esquites, the vendors remove the kernels from the cob and cook them with chicken broth and epazote (a Mexican herb that smells a little like gasoline). The corn is served in a cup, topped with the same thing that goes on the elotes: mayo, cheese, and chili powder.
Churros and chocolate are a classic late-night snack. For the street version of the churro, keep an eye out for carts that have a special system to fill the churro with different sauces: dulce de leche, chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry.
This is a food cart item found in the mornings from 6 am to noon. Each empanada maker has their own salsas from their own recipes. Check out the pickled red onions if they have them, and their roasted tomato salsas. Some food carts make them at the moment, some have them stored in a cooler to keep to warm. Empanada options can range from cheese, potatoes and chorizo, chicken, or sometimes refried beans. Cheese and chicken are the most popular.
Pronounced kee-bee in Spanish, this cone-shaped falafel type snack is hard to find. It is an authentic Yucatecan recipe that only old school street vendors sell. The kibi really does look like an oblong cone-shaped falafel but it is way more that than. The outer core is spiced masa and the interior is either pork, beef or beans. Throw on some pickled onions, salsa and a bit of cream and you are eating like a Yucateco. These can easily be purchased in the Valladolid Municipal Market or on the streets and beaches of Puerto Morelos. Note – The local kibi vendor in Puerto Morelos hangs for a while at the Oxxo just off the town square.
Artisan Ice Cream
Corn Ice cream, Tamarind, Coconut, and Pitaha there are just a few of the artisan Mexican ice cream flavors. Don’t look for these in any old ice cream store. True Mexican ice cream can only be purchased from an ice cream cart, either found on the street, or in the zocalo.
This is the king of food truck items in the Riviera Maya. Again, this is morning item and the food cart will close as soon as they are sold out so closing times are optional. If you find a good one, get there early as the locals will beat you to it. This slow-roasted pork marinated in a chili paste can be served in tortillas or on a bun.
Mexican street corn on the cob is known as ‘elote’. Most commonly it is boiled in water with salt or other spices such as tequesquite, epazote, the Santa Maria herb (feverfew), or pericon. Condiments such as butter, mayonnaise, and crumbled cotija cheese, chili powder, lime juice, and salt are added onto the corn. Off the cob and typically served in a cup, Mexican street corn is known as ‘esquites’, though it is sometimes known as ‘elote en vaso’ (little corn-cup). Preparation and condiments are similar but with the kernels cut from the cob. See our recipe for Mexican Street Corn Cups (Esquites) to make your own at home!
A common street snack at busy corners, marquesitas are like light, crispy crepes. A batter is poured into what looks like a large waffle maker, sweet and savory add-ins are thrown in, then the whole thing is rolled up and becomes crispy as it cools. The crepe itself tastes like a waffle cone, with hints of vanilla and almond, but it’s all about what sweet and savory fillings you choose: Nutella, cajeta (caramel), lechera (sweet condensed milk), banana, queso de bola (Edam cheese). The marquesita originated in Mérida. As one story tells it, an ice cream vendor devised it in 1938 during a cold winter when ice cream sales were down and he needed a cold-weather treat to entice customers. Luckily for beachgoers, it has since spread to other parts of the Yucatán Peninsula.
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