Mexico Is Easy, Affordable & Delicious. Here’s Where to Go.

published Jun 25, 2017
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(Image credit: mdurson / Susanna Hopler)

I’m going to make a bold statement: If you’re a food-lover, there is no better vacation destination than Mexico. That’s true any time of year, but especially in summer. Allow me to make my case.

Why Mexico Is the Best Destination for Food-Lovers

For one thing, Mexico’s culinary traditions are vast and varied, with nearly every region of the country producing its own signature dishes. You could spend a lifetime eating your way across Mexico and it wouldn’t be enough time to sample the country’s full repertoire of recipes. Regions and restaurants alike consistently earn global recognition, from UNESCO World Heritage status for its culinary traditions to Latin America’s and World’s 50 Best Restaurant status.

There’s also tequila. And wine and beer, too — but mostly tequila. You haven’t had really good tequila until you’ve been to Mexico.

Mexico is budget-friendly, too. U.S. dollars go far in Mexico these days; at about 18.5 pesos to a dollar, the past year has meant major deals for Americans who want to visit. In short: That splurge on a five-star hotel or on a multi-course meal isn’t likely to induce a lick of guilt, especially in the summer, when it’s off-peak season.

Finally, Mexico really does have something for everyone — whether it’s your first time or your tenth, if you want to eat at the country’s most applauded restaurants or if you’re after something more adventurous (like bugs!).

So how do you choose where to go in this grand country? Let us help you with this guide.

The 5 Best Destinations in Mexico for Food-Lovers

If it’s your first time in Mexico …

Where to go: Los Cabos and the Baja California Peninsula

Why you should go: Yes, Los Cabos — the sister town of San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas — is an expat, tourist magnet, but visit and you’ll see that (a) it’s with good reason and (b) it’s easy enough to veer off the tourist track, dipping into the Baja California Peninsula’s pueblos mágicos, or magical towns.

Where to eat: Rent a car and venture along the coast to visit farm-to-table restaurants such as Acre, Flora’s Field Kitchen, Los Tamarindos, and, a bit to the north, Jazamango. While life in Baja is laid-back and spontaneous, reservations are highly recommended, as these are destination restaurants with excellent reputations.

Must-visit market: Not up for booking a table in advance? Pop into El Merkado, an arcade-style complex that offers lots of food and drink options, including the excellent La Carreta, an Oaxaca-inspired eatery with a communal table. Right next to La Carreta are vendors selling freshly made tortillas, desserts, and other to-go treats.

Where to stay: Book a hotel in Los Cabos that can serve as your home base (Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort and Spa is one wonderful option, with large rooms, a private beach, and a location that’s quiet but close enough to restaurants, services, and attractions).

If you love street food stalls and fancy restaurants …

Where to go: Mexico City

Why you should go: Mexico City, the country’s capital, deserves practically every single superlative — good and bad — that’s ever been applied to it. Yes, it’s chaotic. Yes, it’s loud. Yes, it’s overwhelming. And yes, it is also an absolute hotbed of cultural inventiveness and greatness, and it is at the table that this is most evident. For food-lovers, the Mexican capital is a must-visit because that culinary prowess is evident at every price point. From the humble street stall or market stand to the white-tablecloth restaurant named to either Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants or World’s 50 Best Restaurants (or both of them!), Mexico City is a food-lover’s fever dream.

Where to eat: From Pablo Salas’s Público Comedor and the Mercado Roma food hall, to the internationally renowned Quintonil and always-dependable Azul Histórico (in an utterly charming setting on a Spanish-style patio), you’ll be hard-pressed to find time to do anything other than eat in the capital (even though it’s the most museum-dense city in the world, after Paris!).

But don’t skip dessert: You can window-shop at Pastelería Ideal, a decades-old bakery known for its cakes, and Dulcería de Celaya, an even-older sweets shop that features vitrines packed with sugared fruits and other confections. For fresh-out-of-the-oil churros, stop by Churrería El Moro, which has been operating 24/7 since 1935.

Where to stay: Exhausted and need a place to lay your head (and overly full) belly? Check into Stara* Hamburgo, a centrally located boutique hotel in the newly resurgent neighborhood of Colonía Juárez.

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If you want to take a swim before dinner every night …

Where to go: Tulum

Why you should go: Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is a cultural and culinary delight, but most visitors don’t make it beyond Cancún or Tulum. And that’s okay (seriously: no judgement) because in the past five to 10 years, Tulum has come into its own as a legit food-lover’s destination. The area is also known for its cenotes, natural swimming holes in the limestone bedrock (see photo).

Where to eat: Brooklyn expats Eric Werner and Mya Henry opened Hartwood Tulum in 2010 and ever since, this strip of the peninsula has been gaining momentum among travelers who are guided, above all, by their appetites. Werner’s and Henry’s restaurant has no electricity and everything is cooked over fire, but that hasn’t discouraged anyone from showing up at the tree- and foliage- enshrouded eatery; in fact, it’s made it all the more appealing.

Getting around: The best way to navigate the four-mile stretch that runs along the beach? By bike! There are a number of outlets offering rentals by the half-day, day, or longer.

Where to stay: If you’re not intrepid enough to strap a hammock between two palm trees, let someone else do it for you and book a stay at Cabanas La Luna, which fronts the beach. You can practically roll out of your hammock and into the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico.

If what you drink is as important as what you eat …

Where to go: Guadalajara and Tequila, Jalisco

Why you should go: If you’re as much a connoisseur of libations as you are of food, then the state of Jalisco is the ideal starting point for your explorations in Mexico. Jalisco is home to Guadalajara, the birthplace of mariachi (and, locals will tell you, the messy but delicious torta ahogada sandwich and the gamey stew known as birria), as well as the UNESCO-recognized town of Tequila, which is the birthplace of, you guessed it, the spirit that’s most often associated with our southern neighbor.

Where to eat: In Guadalajara, enjoy the eclectic, delicious restaurant and cultural scene for a few days. Magno Brassserie is one must-try, and the torta ahogadas at Clements are rightly famous.

What to do: From Guadalajara, take the José Cuervo Tequila Express train (book the first-class car!) to Tequila. Along the two-and-a-half-hour route, you’ll learn all about the art and science of Mexico’s favorite spirit, and when you disembark in the town, you’ll be whisked off to see the agave fields from which tequila is sourced. You can then transfer to the town itself for a tour of José Cuervo or other local factories.

Where to stay: In Guadalajara, the Art Deco-era Casa Fayette makes for a sweet pied-à-terre. In Tequila, spend a night or two at the five-star Hotel Solar de las Ánimas, whose on-site restaurant, La Antigua Casona, not only has exceptional local fare but also, of course, delicious cocktails. Eat your entrée here and then head to the hotel’s charming Bar Chucho Reyes, where you should definitely order the Smokey Margarita, served with a flaming sprig of rosemary.

If you want to get a jump on the insect trend …

Where to go: Oaxaca or Puebla

Why you should go: If the apocalypse is upon us, you want to be ready, right? Consider a visit to Oaxaca or Puebla preparatory research. These two cradles of Mexican cuisine are both known for their mole (that complex dish with multiple spices), as well as their edible insects.

What to eat in Oaxaca: Chapulines, or grasshoppers, find their way into a number of Oaxacan dishes, including as a garnish for tacos. The insects are light and airy, not unlike popcorn, and are in season from early spring until late fall. You can find them on the menus of any number of restaurants, but also at unnamed market stalls. Need someone to guide you through the culinary world of insects? Book a table at Casa Oaxaca, where chapulines are served in guacamole and other dishes.

What to eat in Puebla: In Puebla, you’ll want to ask for a dish with escamoles, or ant eggs, which are sometimes referred to as Mexican caviar. You’ll want to book a table at top-ranked El Mural de los Poblanos, which specializes in traditional Pueblan fare, to try this delicacy.

Where to sleep: As for where to sleep in these two gastro-centric cities, try this incredible Airbnb in Puerto Escondido outside Oaxaca and the Mesón Sacristía in Puebla.

Have you been to Mexico? What’s your favorite and tastiest destination?

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