These places are humble, usually with no sign except someone’s name – “Gordita’s Dona Maria” – and a scrawled menu. So let’s talk about those menus – sometimes you’ll find no menu, but a row of earthenware pots (cazuelas), and you pick up the cover as the lady behind the table tells you what it is.
Pro Tip: Mexicans have separate words for hot temperature and hot spicy food – caliente means temperature hot – picante or picoso is spicy.
What they are offering are called guisados, kinda stews. And normally they will prepare you an open-face thick tortilla with that delicious stuff spooned on top. Sometimes they’re served on a long, narrow tortilla which they call huarache cuz it looks like the bottom of a sandal.
There are countless guisados, if you discover one you love tell us about it. Here are some common offerings:
Albondigas – Small meatballs in a mild chili sauce.
Bistec en pasilla – Steak chopped and simmered in a chili sauce. This can be a little spicy.
Champinones – Mushrooms. Served in various styles.
Chicharron – Pork rinds served in a casserole of tomatoes, chilies, garlic and onion.
Chorizo con papa – Mildly spicy red pork sausage. Mexican chorizo is different from the Spanish sausage that shares its name. Often served in a guisado with potatoes.
Deshebrada – Shredded, marinated, slow-cooked beef, the Mexican version of ropa vieja.
Guacamole – Finally! Something you recognize. If you are a spicy-phobic (you should be ashamed); check they didn’t chop up some fresh jalapeno in there. Jalapenos are way hotter when they are fresh and not pickled.
Huevos – Scrambled eggs with tomato, garlic and onion. Sometimes chopped up hot dogs. Umm, yeah.
Huitlacoche – A delicious grey/black/purple fungus that grows on corn. It is often prepared as a casserole with onions, garlic, chili and corn kernels.
Nopales – Cactus. This veggie looks and feels like stewed green pepper, but the flavor is milder. Usually stewed with onions, garlic and tomatoes. Nopal is an excellent anti-cancer agent.
Picadillo – Ground beef with potatoes and carrots sometimes with tomatoes – kind of like a fine-textured hash
Pollo con Mole – Chicken in mole sauce – moles are the curries of Mexico – as some moles have more than 20 ingredients, there are numerous versions. If it is almost black, that is the famous mole poblano that uses unsweet chocolate in the mix.
Rajas de chili poblano – Rajas is a special spelling of the word for strips, so when you see this it’ll be sliced strips of something. Here it is the wide, not-too-spicy chili you may have seen stuffed (relleno). They simmer the strips of the pepper in a creamy cheese sauce with corn.
Salchicha – Hot dogs are an honored member of the Mexican table. Often the guisado will be a casserole of chopped hot dogs and potatoes, chilies, or other ingredients.
Salsas – The steak or chicken or other things sometimes will be con Salsa – with salsa – these are the two colors.
Salsa Roja – Red sauce. Some form of chili serrano, tomatoes, garlic and stuff. There are as many versions as grandmas in Mexico. And the color does not indicate how spicy or not it is. Ask for a taste first.
Salsa Verde – Green sauce. Some form of tomatillos, lime, chilies, garlic and stuff. There are as many versions as grandmas in Mexico. And the color does not indicate how spicy or not it is. Ask for a taste first.