Mexican food is street food. Not only because it is in the streets where you'll find the best tacos and the richest sauces, but also because by eating in the streets we can experience Mexican culture in its most authentic form. Learn how to order street food like a native and make the most of this adventure.
Spanish and English subtitles are available.
***If you are not familiar with the street food of Mexico City, check out this article.***
Whereas at a restaurant we are not expected to talk to the people sitting at other tables, at a food stand we will be interacting constantly with everybody who's eating there. This is why we all say hello when we arrive. The usual greetings work just fine:
Buenos días - Good morning
Buenas tardes - Good afternoon
Buenas noches - Good evening
However, the informality of the ambience allows us to shorten these greetings and say simply:
Because of this relaxed attitude, it is common to talk using the informal you: tú. Still, when people are older, we refer to them using the formal version: usted.
ASKING WHAT THEY SELL
Street stands usually have a sign announcing what they sell but if this is not that case, we can ask these questions:
¿Qué hay? - What is there?
¿Qué tienes? - What do you have?
ASKING FOR THE DIFFERENT OPTIONS THEY HAVE
Once we know what they sell - tacos, quesadillas, tortas... - we usually want to know the different options they offer. For example, if they sell quesadillas, we'll need to know what fillings they have. Or if they sell tamales, we'll want to know if they are normales or oaxaqueños. This is what we can ask:
¿x de qué tienes? - What kind of x do you have?
¿Tacos de qué tienes?
¿Quesadillas de qué tienes?
¿Tamales de qué tienes?
ASKING FOR SOMETHING IN PARTICULAR
Maybe we are craving something in particular and we are exclusively searching for this. Me, for example, if it's a cold morning I go out to get a tamal and atole. When this happens, we don't want to listen to all the different things they sell. We only care if they have this one thing we are looking for:
¿Tienes...? - Do you have...?
¿Tienes quesadillas de queso? - Do you have cheese quesadillas?
¿Hay...? - Are there...?
¿Hay tacos de maciza? - Are there tacos of maciza?
ASKING FOR THE PRICE
As they only take cash at street stands, it's better to ask for the price before ordering to make sure we only have what we can afford.
¿En cuánto están? - How much are they?
Once we've decided what we want, we order our food in the following ways:
1. Simply saying the amount and name of what we'd like:
Dos elotes, por favor. - Two corns on the cob, please.
Tres tacos al pastor, por favor. - Three tacos al pastor, please.
Cuatro tlacoyos de frijol, por favor. - Four bean tlacoyos, please.
2. With the verb dar (to give):
¿Me das...? - Would you give me...?
¿Me puedes dar...? - Could you give me...?
Dame..., por favor. - Give me..., please.
The last example is a command (imperativo), and people usually think this is rude but it's not - unless you use an angry or impatient tone - and we use it all the time. You can always say "por favor" and "gracias" to sound more respectful.
3. With the verb encargar (to request):
¿Te encargo...? - May I ask you for...
You can use this last question to ask for anything. Here are a few examples:
¿Te encargo una servilleta? - May I have a napkin?
¿Te encargo un tenerdor? - May I have a fork?
¿Te encargo la cuenta? - May I have the bill?
¿Te encargo otro? - May I have another one?
¿Te encargo tres más? - May I have three more?
ASKING FOR RECOMMENDATIONS
I suggest asking for recommendations. This is a good way to try something different from what we are used to and to identify what the most popular dish is.
¿Qué me recomiendas? - What do you recommend?
¿Qué te piden más? - What do people order the most?
¿A ti cuál te gusta más? - What do you like the most?
¿Cuál es tu favorito? - Which one is your favorite?
If you see something you would like to try but you don't know what it's called, you can order it by pointing at it and saynig:
Quiero uno como el de él/ella. - I want one like his/hers.
Quiero lo mismo que él/ella. - I want the same as him/her.
When the taquero is preparing our food, he asks us how we want it. These are some of the most common questions:
¿Salsa verde o roja? - Green or red sauce?
¿Para comer aquí o para llevar? - For here or to go?
¿Con verdura? - With vegetables?
¿Con todo? - With everything?
The vegetables that are added to our tacos are onion and coriander. When the taquero asks if you want your tacos with everything they refer to these vegetables and sometimes also to the sauce.
Here are some other questions and phrases that will help us get our food prepared just the way we like it:
¿Qué salsa pica menos? - Which sauce is less spicy?
¿Lleva...? - Does it have...?
¿Lleva carne? - Does it have meat in it?
Con... - With...
Con verdura. - With vegetables.
Sin x ni y. - Without x nor y.
Sin cebolla ni cilantro. - Without onion nor coriander.
Once we are finished, to know how much we need to pay, we can ask one of these two questions:
¿Cuánto es? - How much is it?
¿Cuánto te debo? - How much do I owe you?
Sometimes the taquero or the waiter do not keep track of what we order, so they will ask us:
¿Cuántos fueron? - How many were they?
Besides telling the number of tacos we had, we usually specify what kind of tacos they were:
Dos de huitlacoche. - Two [quesadillas] of corn smut.
Tres de longaniza. Three [tacos] of longaniza.
Just as we say hello when we arrive, we say good-bye before leaving. The most common thing to say is:
Provecho. - Enjoy your meal.
Hasta luego. - See you later.
La cebolla - Onion
El cilantro - Coriander
La cuchara - Spoon
El cuchillo - Knife
El limón - Lime
El nopal - Prickly pear
El plato - Plate
El puesto de comida - Food stand
La salsa - Sauce
La servilleta - Napkin
El tenedor - Fork
Comer - To eat
Dar - To give
Deber - To owe
Encargar - To request
Gustar - To like
Hay - There is/There are
Pagar - To pay for
Pedir - To order
Picar - To be spicy
Picante - Spicy
Rico - Tasty
Remember, native speakers always speak super fast and it's most likely that your first interactions at a food stand will be tricky. Don't let this put you off and keep practicing. In the end, you'll be getting tacos as a reward.