Croquetas are fried, breaded little morsels of creamy ground ham or chicken or cod fish. They’re great finger foods at parties, and positively transcendent in sandwich form between two slabs of buttered Cuban bread. Then again, you could place literal garbage between buttered Cuban bread and it’d be delicious.
If you don’t mind your home smelling like “fried stuff” for the next several years, you can try to make them yourself.
2. Papas Rellenas
Essentially “potato balls” (stop), papa rellena translates to “stuffed potato.” These are fat, breaded little spheres of velvety mashed potato, lovingly surrounding a generous spoonful of ground beef, usually mixed with onions, peppers, and chopped olives. And angel smiles.
“Pupusa” is a fun word to yell out your car window, and it’s also a delicious treat comprised of a warm, fluffy corn cake that transports delicious fillings straight into your face. You could make a pupusa out of anything, really, but I’d recommend serving with any combination of soft cheese, shredded pork, and refried beans. Top your pupusa with curtido (a slaw made of shredded, pickled veggies) and tomato sauce and you’re golden.
4. Pastelitos de Carne
“Pastel” can mean different things across Latin America (cake for some, pastries for others). In this case, it refers to a flaky, sweet layers pastry filled with goodness. For a savory treat, try pastelitos filled with chopped, spicy chorizo sausage or ground beef with onions and olives. These are quintessential party foods, and also great for a hearty midday snack.
Tequeños are, essentially, next-level cheese sticks made by wrapping a slightly sweet dough around a thin log of white cheese, and then frying it until tiny cartoon hearts form in your eyes. These are great to serve at weddings, parties, at home while watching Netflix, at work under your desk, in your bag during your commute, or while Facebook stalking. Basically, they’re great whenever.
If you’ve never tried an arepa, stop, get one, and then return to this list. Arepas come in two basic varieties: Sweet, buttery, fluffy yellow corn arepas, which are awesome with cheese as a breakfast food, and a less sweet version split open to act like what would happen if a sandwich learned to really apply itself. Fill that ish with black beans, avocado, pork, beef, chicken, sweet plantains, white cheese, or anything your little heart desires.
A little wheel of smashed, twice-fried plantain, a good tostón (or patacón) will be crunchy at its outer edges, and slightly softer at its center. They’re great as a snack (topped, for instance, with some salty white cheese and shredded meat, or dipped in mojo), as a side dish, or as a salty, crisp vessel to transport you into paradise.
Make some yourself with this recipe.
Adapted over time from an original African dish called “fufu” (and, in fact, some countries, like Cuba, still refer to this as fufú), mofongo is made of starchy, fried plantains (or possibly yuca, if you’re so inclined) mashed together with garlic, oil, and, because life is for living, pork cracklings, then usually stuffed with beef or chicken or pork or shrimp, really, anything you want. Some restaurants will serve it as an appetizer, others as a main course, but don’t let social conventions keep you from eating this all day every day.
Chances are, you’re well acquainted with empanadas. They’re essentially a hand pie, fried or baked, and filled with all manner of delicious things. Every country has its own unique spin on the type of dough, method or prep, and fillings used to make empanadas, so I suggest you try one of each. You know, for research. My favorite? Baked empanadas stuffed with ground beef, onions, olives, and raisins, and plenty of hard-boiled egg.
Here’s a recipe to make some at home.
Mariquitas are fried plantain chips, cut either into rounds, or length-wise into long strips. You can eat them plain, or use them like nacho chips, topping them with ground beef and cheese. The best way to eat them, however, is with mojo (in Spanish the “j” is pronounced like an “h” in English), a sauce with oil, lots of garlic, and a splash of citrus. It’s so good you’ll want to bathe yourself in it, but please. Save it for the chips.
A popular dish that’s ideal for summer, ceviche is more a method of preparation than one specific dish. Very, very fresh raw fish (or any kind of seafood, really) is essentially “cooked” by citrus juices. Traditionally served with ají — an intensely spicy, citrusy Peruvian sauce — and starchy accompaniments like sweet potato and corn, this dish is refreshing, light, and packed with flavor. Though it is most closely associated with Peru, several countries will offer their own spin in the form of different sauces and accompaniments.
If you make it at home, make sure to use the freshest seafood possible. Here’s a recipe to start things off.
12. Papas a la Huancaína
Great as an appetizer or to eat continuously throughout the day until you literally explode, this dish is made with sliced, boiled potatoes drenched in a thick, velvety sauce made primarily of queso fresco and evaporated milk. Serve with plump black olives and maybe a hard-boiled egg or six and you’re good to go.
Learn how to make it, then use the sauce for… anything, really. Drinking even.
Essentially the poutine of Latin America, salchipapas is a dish made of french fries and fried slices of sausage or hot dog. You can top it with cheese, pair it with coleslaw, slather it in mayo, drizzle it with ketchup, drench it in hot sauce, or just unhinge your jaw and drop it all in.
You take a chorizo and you sandwich it between some crusty bread: Boom. Choripán. Top it with onions and a drizzle of chimichurri if you want to get fancy with it.
Chivito translates to “little goat,” which makes sense since small goats are notoriously good at making sandwiches. Served on a round bun, chivitos are typically made with thinly-sliced grilled beef and mozzarella, then dressed up with things like tomatoes, olives, eggs, mayo, or whatever you’re feeling.
This is essentially a flatbread made with chickpea flour. Eat it as a snack or an appetizer, with or without toppings, or layer it on top of a pizza, “a la caballo” style. You know, because the faína looks like it’s riding the pizza. Sort of.
If you have an oven and an hour, you can make it for yourself using this recipe.
A torta is a big Mexican sandwich you need two hands and possibly help from a friend to eat. Made with a crusty, oval-shaped loaf of bread, tortas can be filled with all sorts of magical things, like ham, breaded cutlets, avocados, and dreams. Try them grilled for a little extra something-something.
Let’s get one thing clear: There’s no such thing as a tamale. It’s tamal. Or tamales, if you’re stuffing a number of them into your face. Tamales vary from country to country, but they’re usually made with a yellow or white corn-based masa and served either plain or stuffed with meat, cheese, and/or vegetables. The presentation can vary as well, but they look great served on the corn husk or plantain leaves in which they’re sometimes boiled.
Make one or 187 of ‘em with this recipe. (Or your grandma’s. Preferably.)
Pork cracklings. PORK CRACKLINGS. Pork? Cracklings? Pork! Cracklings! You can find a “meaty” version or the lighter (“lighter”), puffy versions sold in bags, not unlike chips. Both are worth your time.
Carimañolas are big ol’ yuca fritters often stuffed with cheese and shredded meat and usually served with a creamy, dairy-based sauce called suero. The juxtaposition of a hot, dense, fried starch with flavorful meat, gooey cheese, and thick, cool sauce is why we’re on this planet. This is the meaning of life.
Shucos are hot dogs, elevated. And while “shuco” means dirty, these dogs are actually pretty fancy (and, hopefully, hygienically sound.) Made both with traditional hot dog links and other sausages, these are best enjoyed piled high with toppings like avocado, cabbage, hot sauce, mustard, and peppers.
A fugazza is Argentina glancing at Italy, eyeing their focaccia up and down, and saying “we got this.” Great as a sandwich bread and just shoved into your mouth while crying because it’s so beautiful.
23. Pão de Queijo
Cheese buns! These are cute little spheres of chewy, buttery, corn or yuca-based dough that hold a special secret: CHEESE. CHEESE IS THE BEST SECRET OF ALL.
Speaking of cheesy, doughy goodness, chipá is essentially a cheese bun that has struggled loose from its bun-y confines to take on a ring or horseshoe shape, showing that beauty really does come in all shapes and sizes.
Baleadas are made by topping a thick wheat tortilla with refried beans, folding it in half, and paying to have its likeness painted onto black velvet. You can add yummy things like cream, cheese, plantains, chicken, beef, avocado, or, you know. Whatever you like.
Take a corn tortilla — I don’t care from where you get it — and cut it into quarters, then fry it. Cover those with sauce. Maybe a mole sauce? Maybe a red sauce? You do you. Simmer the whole thing. Add eggs. Add meat. Top with cheese. Place into face. These are a great brunch or breakfast dish but, really, we both know you’re going to eat it whenever you want.
Take a large, round tortilla chip (Fried, not baked. Because come on.), refried beans, cheese (You can fry that too, I guess, if you really wanted to), and hot sauce. Put them together. Eat them. Preferable after a long night of drinking. Alternately, you can dip your fried tortilla into a little clay pot full of melted cheese and beans. I mean, I won’t make you do it. But you could.
Because everything tastes better on a stick — even beef hearts. Marinate some meat, like steak or chicken or goat or that aforementioned heart, place it on a wooden stick, and grill that baby up. You can add some potatoes or crusty bread to make a meal out of it, because yum.