We've all had that moment at our favorite Mexican restaurant (or a new one) when we've looked at the menu and felt totally stumped. For centuries, the culture and tradition in Mexico have been passed down in its dishes through generations, and when you find a truly authentic restaurant that's doing the same, well... it can be overwhelming. The questions arise about whether or not to order tacos since you can get them practically anywhere, or whether or not the chips and salsa are worth adding to the list. There might be something that sounds completely new and delicious, but is it worth ordering over something in your comfort zone?
In reality, ordering from a restaurant is not as stressful as this. However, everyone wants to get the most out of their experience with an authentic restaurant, no matter which cuisine it's celebrating. When it comes to Mexican food - true Mexican food, not Tex-Mex - there are some tips to navigating the menu in order to truly experience the flavors of Mexico. Here's some advice from the chefs who do it all the time.
Don't Bother With Fajitas Or Chimichangas
Some dishes are less authentic than others. When it comes to fajitas, there are a million recipes floating around social media from one-sheet fajitas to vegan fajitas, and they're all the same. There's nothing truly special that separates these that could be made at home or those that are made in a restaurant. Sure, some restaurants are dishing out some really good fajitas that might have homemade guac or pico de gallo, but it's still not really worth it.
The same goes for dishes such as chimichangas, which have more of a Tex-Mex appeal than anything else. If you're spending your money at a restaurant that claims authentic Mexican food, then you should also be ordering authentic Mexican dishes.
Use Chips And Salsa As A Scale
Sometimes, the chips and salsa will be free (similar to how bread and oil are used to whet the appetite at Italian restaurants) and if it's not, take a chance on it. Diners will be able to tell very quickly if the salsa is good quality, AKA if it's made from scratch. If it's not, then that's probably a sign of things to come.
With the tortilla chips, if they're not made from scratch, it's not a deal-breaker - but it is somewhat of a warning. It's not all that challenging to make tortilla chips (or salsa) from scratch and if a restaurant is claiming to be authentic, then these are two things they should have in high supply.
Go For Dishes Such As Chile Relleno
While lesser-known than fajitas and tacos, Chile Relleno is an incredible alternative to something you're comfortable with. It's a great way to branch out and explore a dish that's slightly out of one's comfort zone without being too overwhelming in terms of new flavors or ingredients because those used in this dish are quite simple.
Any other dishes on the menu, such as a mole dish, should also be tried. These are the truly authentic dishes that will show off a restaurant's skill and ability since their sauces and cooking methods are very specific. The same applies to anything that says 'homemade' or 'from scratch' such as tortillas for tacos. When we're so used to fusion food or food that's received a twist, it can truly be life-changing to experience something that's freshly made and not from a package or factory.
Avoid Overpriced (And Sometimes Watered-Down) Margs
Margaritas are how many restaurants get you. While drink specials are great, they can also be incredibly pricey which does tend to overshadow the food. It wouldn't be unusual for a diner to stick to something on the cheaper side, or a taco special (which isn't always a bad thing in every case) to make room in the budget for multiple margaritas.
The problem with this is that there's really no telling whether or not drinks are coming from a mix, which brand of alcohol is used (or whether it's worth the price), or how weak they are - which could lead to ordering multiples. These add up and in a matter of only two drinks, you've already reached $15 without any food. Going in with the mindset of ordering good dishes first and then worrying about drinks is the right way to do it.
When In Doubt, Go For The House Special
If you're really torn and aren't sure whether to go with the comfort zone tacos or try something completely new and unfamiliar, go with the house special. These often change from week to week and usually depend on seasonal ingredients or something that happened to be at a good price that week, which makes them a gold mine for diners looking to try something different and delicious.