Most of the Mexican food incorporates local products from the pre-Hispanic era. Corn is one of the main ingredients in the Mexican gastronomy and there are other ingredients that are often used like cacao or chocolate, chilies, avocado, prickly pear cactus and beans.
Those native flavors mixed with the European culture made Mexican food to be rich, unique and well known around the world. Mexican cuisine was declared as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO in 2010.
Mexican food and Mexican restaurants are well known internationally. If you are planning to design a menu for a Mexican restaurant or you are willing to incorporate Mexican appetizers in your menu keep reading. I will show you the best Mexican restaurant appetizers. Most of them are not complicated.
Typical appetizers in local restaurants and taquerias
There are certain appetizers that are always present in Mexican restaurants and taquerias (a restaurant specialized in tacos). Here are the most common appetizers you can eat in local Mexican restaurants.
Pico de gallo
Pico de gallo literally means roosters beak? but it doesn’t have anything to do with it. It is also known as salsa Mexicana (Mexican sauce) or salsa bandera (flag sauce) because the sauce has the main colors of the Mexican flag: green, white and red.
This sauce is different from others because it is not blended. You can see the pieces of the ingredients: tomato, onion, coriander, lime or lemon juice, salt and chili most of the time.
This is a free appetizer you will always find in any Mexican restaurant. It?s normally eaten with tortilla chips before they bring your food.
This appetizer is also very common in restaurants and taquerias. It is normally grilled Oaxaca cheese and the toppings can vary. Most of the time meat is added such as arrachera which is a type of beef in Mexico. You can also add guacamole or grilled potatoes.
The king snack before starting your meal. There isn?t just one way to make guacamole. The easiest and traditional way to make guacamole (my favorite) is smashing the avocado and adding salt and lemon juice. That?s it.
Another way to make guacamole is by adding diced tomatoes, onion and coriander to the mix I previously mentioned.
If you have a fancy restaurant you can innovate by adding Greek yogurt for example or by making your own creation.
Nachos are also common in Mexican restaurants no matter where you go even at beach clubs in Mexico but also known internationally.
Nachos are made with tortilla chips, known as totopos in Mexico, and some toppings. The most common ingredients in nachos are melted cheese, jalapenos, sour cream and guacamole. If you order nachos in a restaurant you might add some meat. Other versions include beans, olives, lettuce and more.
Yes you read well. Beans are served as an appetizer in local restaurants. They are normally served as a soup. It is very tasty.
Sopa de tortilla
Sopa de tortilla is probably more common in the center of Mexico. It is a soup made of tomatoes mostly and other spices. Fried tortilla strips are added to the soup and that?s why it is called tortilla soup.
Nopales or prickly pear cactus
Nopales or prickly pear cactus is one of the products that have been used since the pre-Hispanic time. It was eaten before the Spanish arrived and it is still very popular. It is very common to find nopales in a taqueria or Mexican restaurant as a free appetizer to be eaten while you wait for your food.
It is very easy to cook nopales. Remove their spines. Dice them or cut them into strips add onion and garlic and cook them for a few minutes. To give it a special flavor just adds dry oregano and it?s a totally different experience.
Mexican appetizers for fancy restaurants
It is very interesting that there are certain dishes present in Mexican gastronomy nowadays that are considered something for luxury restaurants in cities whereas they are common and cheap in rural communities as well as they were common before the Spanish came. They are also considered exotic plates.
I will show you which ones they are and I will add other common dishes that can be elevated for a fancy restaurant.
They are also known as the Mexican caviar. They are basically ant eggs sacs or ant larvae. This dish is considered an opulent dish nowadays in Mexico. Nevertheless, indigenous people used to eat them as a protein before the Spanish era.
This interesting dish will make you think about corn kernels when you see them but they will make you remember cottage cheese because of their texture. If you have never tried and you have the opportunity I highly recommend them.
Escamoles are typically cooked with onion, butter and chili. They are sometimes eaten in tacos.
Chapulines are considered an exotic dish for foreigners but they are very common in Oaxaca and also Mexico City. You might find people selling them in the street. But chapulines are considered a fancy dish at restaurants.
Chapulines are grasshoppers natives from Mexico. They are served dried and they are seasoned with salt, garlic, onion, lime juice and of course chili powder. They taste great with guacamole. But they can be eaten without anything else. They are also a snack that can be eaten while drinking mezcal, another delight from Oaxaca. Actually, if you go to Oaxaca you will see chapulines everywhere.
If it is the first time you try them, consider that they are crunchy and salty like chips. They don?t have a strong taste that will make you feel weird.
Huitlacoche or corn smut
Huitlacoche is a common dish in some parts of Mexico but not very common in others. This dish can be elevated to be a start in a luxurious restaurant.
Huitlacoche is a grey fungus that grows under corn. It doesn?t look the best but it tastes delicious. It is mostly eaten in quesadillas or tacos.
Huauzontle is a mexican plant that can be eaten. Most of the production comes from Puebla. This plant is not so well known among Mexicans, especially outside of the state of Puebla.
Huauzontle used to be eaten by the Aztecs. They used to boil the plant to eat it and it was also used for religious purposes. Huauzontle was used by Aztecs as an important tribute. For that reason the Spanish banned its consumption and harvest.
Nowadays Huauzontle is cooked in different manners as Huauzontle cream, Huauzontle with beans and avocado or probably most people’s favorite: Huauzontle stuffed with cheese. This last option is great as an appetizer for a restaurant.
It is a delicious plant that comes from the maguey plant as well as tequila. It can be cooked with cheese, tomatoes and eggs. Great option in a quesadilla.
The interesting fact about this plant is that it only blooms once in its life and that happens at 15 years old on the top of the plant at 10 meters high. Does it sound exotic?
For our last appetizer here is a mixed seafood ceviche. Ceviche is a traditional dish at any Mexican restaurant on the beach. For this version we will use octopus to make it a bit more exotic. Add some tostadas o tortilla chips to have a crunchy dish.
Feel free to innovate on your recipe. But for this appetizer I recommend cooked octopus, diced red onion, diced cucumber, diced tomatoes, cut Serrano chili, lime or lemon juice, coriander, salt and pepper.
Mix all ingredients. Season the ingredients with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on top of corn tostadas or with tortilla chips.
These were some Mexican restaurant appetizers. I hope it’s useful!
Take a look also at the our octopus tacos recipe and at the most popular appetizers for restaurants for more inspiring ideas.