1. The CHEESE.
Specifically, Oaxacan cheese. Similar to mozzarella in flavor, it’s a fresh cheese made from cow’s milk and is sold in a compact ball that looks like string cheese. It melts magically and produces the most perfect “cheese bridge” you ever did see.
It’s found in quesadillas, tacos, tortas, taquitos, and pretty much everything it touches becomes instantly more delicious. You can find it easily in the U.S. so what I’m saying is: Buy some immediately.
3. Tlayuda, which are kind of like if a pizza and a quesadilla had a child, and that child was grilled.
Typically filled with lard, black beans and Oaxacan cheese, these insanely large and delicious pockets of heaven are the things street food dreams are made of. They’re grilled, not fried, and get super crispy and charred on the outside, while the cheese melts on the inside.
This is the inside of a tlayuda. LOOK AT ALL THE CHEESE.
4. The rotisserie chickens, which put rotisserie chickens everywhere else to shame.
GIMME ALL THE BIRDS.
5. The mezcal.
Mezcal is like tequila’s older, cooler, more sophisticated cousin. It’s made by roasting the heart of the agave over fire, mashing it, fermenting it and distilling it. This is simplifying the process, of course, but luckily there are plenty of spots around Mexico that specialize in the stuff and would be glad to educate you.
The place pictured above, Mezcaloteca, located in Oaxaca, is pretty much the world’s greatest place to learn about what it is, how it’s made, and sip lots of different varieties to find out which one is your favorite.
6. The corn.
This corn is not like the corn you’ve had. It tastes like what you imagine cartoon corn to taste like. When biting into a cob, you might exclaim “Wow, it’s so….CORNY!” and you would not be wrong. You will have to try this corn to understand what I’m talking about.
You can find it sold grilled (like the one pictured- which tastes like you’re eating popcorn off the cob) and also turned into esquites (kernels of corn tossed with lime, crema, chiles and cilantro). Both are great.
7. The mole.
“Why is mole so fucking good?” is arguably one of the greatest questions of our time. I’m going to assume it’s because there are like, 56 ingredients involved, long cooking times, and generations of skill involved. But IDK.
9. Some of the best things are vegetarian (and fried, duh).
These taquitos from Mexico City are filled with a sort of garlicky mashed potato situation then topped with sour cream, cotija cheese and a crazy spicy salsa. I think about them so often that I’m beginning to worry I’ll never love anything as much as long as I live.
12. Real chilaquiles.
The chilaquiles I had in Oaxaca were undeniably lighter, fresher and better than anything I had ever experienced back home, which made me think I could truly eat these every day without feeling like I need 400 naps afterwards.
These were made by barely simmering freshly fried corn tortillas in a tomatillo salsa and garnished only with sliced white onion, cilantro, crema and a bit of cheese, and yes I WILL marry you.
Who can I talk to about making this happen in New York?
14. Tacos, duh, but specifically tacos al pastor.
Everywhere in Mexico City there are taco spots that specialize exclusively in al pastor- a garlicky pineapple-y marinated pork roasted on a spit. (Like what you’ve seen at a shawarma spot.) The pork is sliced super thin, garnished with a slice of pineapple, some cilantro and onion. That’s it. And they’re perfect.
15. The micheladas.
Sure, you can get a michelada here in the states, but in Mexico they are cheaper, spicier and much easier to find. What you find in a michelada will depend on where you are, but typically you can expect beer, lime, salt and hot sauce. Occasionally, other citrus juices, Worchestershire sauce, Maggi sauce or tomato juice will also make an appearance (not mad).
16. The posole.
You can get a bowl of this posole (pork or chicken stew with chiles, hominy) for like, $2. It gets garnished with fresh limes, cilantro, chopped onion, crispy tortilla chips, oregano, radishes and sometimes shredded lettuce or cabbage. It’s truly the type of life-giving soup that is required after a night of heavy drinking.
17. The chocolate.
For chocolate that’s not made by a bearded man, wrapped in fancy paper and sold for $12/bar, it’s definitely some of the best you can find. At lots of the markets, you’ll find women grinding the beans, mixing the paste with cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla to suit your taste. Less vanilla! More sugar! No sugar! They have it all.
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