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Good Luck Trying To Order These So-Called ‘Mexican’ Foods Off of a Menu in Mexico

As a die-hard fan of both Taco Bell and Chipotle, I’m the first to admit that I love America’s take on Mexican food. In my opinion, both are tasty and get the job done when it comes to filling me up. But make no mistake, neither one of them are actually repping true Mexican food. And they’re not alone.

There are many popularized ‘Mexican foods’ in the U.S. that look a whole lot different — or don’t even exist — south of the border. So, which ones should you know about to save yourself the questionable stare next time you go to order a gordita in Mexico? Here are some of the top differences between Mexican food in the U.S. and actual Mexican food in Mexico.

Looking for nachos in Mexico? Go to an American restaurant.

Look, nachos are great. I love ’em loaded up with everything and the kitchen sink. But they’re just not popular in Mexico. You might see them on the snack menu at a movie theatre, but otherwise, you go to places like Chili’s or Applebees to get your nacho fix.

Sweet potatoes aren’t taco fillings — they’re a simple dessert.

Vegan, vegetarian and plant-based restaurants seem to be making sweet potato a hip taco filling — and we get it because it’s a delicious veggie alternative — but it’s not tradition. In Mexico, the only time you’ll really get a sweet potato is from a street vendor in the evening who walks around with a cart that has an extremely loud whistle. It’ll usually come drenched in lechera and is absolutely mouthwatering.

Ground beef in a taco? Not happening.

Ground beef, or carne molida, isn’t really a taco filling in any part of Mexico. If you want beef, you’ll likely get carne asada. But the most popular option will vary based on where you’re located: in Mexico City tacos al pastor are king, carnitas are a close second, and along the coast you’ll want to order barbacoa or fish tacos.

If you want a cheesy quesadilla, you might have to ask for the cheese.

This one admittedly still stumps me. In some Mexican states, when you order a quesadilla it’s implied that it will come with cheese just like it would in the U.S. But in Mexico City, that’s not the case. You’ll need to specify you want cheese with it, otherwise you’ll get a tortilla stuffed with everything but the gooey queso.

Chips and salsa at a table almost never happens in Mexico.

This one is a bit of a disappointment because in the U.S., I love going to a “Mexican” restaurant and loading up on free chips and salsa. But nope, that’s not going to happen in Mexico. You’ll certainly be provided plenty of salsas but these are toppings for your tacos, tostadas, tamales, etc., not something you’ll be dipping tortilla chips in. And to add to that, tortillas are really only used for chilaquiles.

Gorditas aren’t what you think they are.

Credit: Taco Bell / Yum Brands

Taco Bell may be guilty of several abominations but their take on the gordita takes the cake. This traditional dish is more like a Colombian or Venezuelan arepa: fried masa dough stuffed with various fillings. It resembles nothing of a taco. Nothing.

And chimichangas, yeah, no, they’re not a thing down there.

Credit: Macayo’s Mexican Restaurant

I have no idea where I could go in Mexico to get a chimichanga — and, man, have I traveled around Mexico. I’m sure they’re tasty af (what’s not to love about the idea) but they just don’t exist. Perhaps in the northern part of the country where flour tortillas (and burritos) are more common?

Margaritas shouldn’t be your go to drink in Mexico.

Sure they exist, and yes, they’re delicious. But margaritas aren’t very popular on this side of the border, even less so the big frozen ones. That’s something that you’ll likely only see at American chains like Chili’s and Applebee’s. However, if you do like tequila you can order a paloma. Or better yet, just a shot with a beer.

Mexicans don’t really eat typical “Mexican” frozen meals like we do in the U.S.

With a wide variety of fresh, local, and affordable options at basically every street corner, it just doesn’t make sense to spend more money on typically less tasty, frozen food. Am I right?

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