Mexico is a culinary dream destination. Try a quesadilla with creamy Oaxacan cheese, a spicy taco from a street stand in Mexico City, or top-shelf tequila served on the edge of agave fields: gourmet food and drink await travelers throughout the country. Read on to find out where to sample Mexico's tastiest offerings, from Baja California to the Yucatán Peninsula.

Cheese in Oaxaca

Oaxaca cheese with tortillas and salsa
Oaxaca cheese with tortillas, pico de gallo, and salsa

The southern region of Oaxaca (including its capital city, also called Oaxaca) is paradise for foodies. Thanks to its geographic and cultural diversity—Oaxaca has mountains, coastline, and 17 indigenous groups with distinct culinary traditions—the area isn't famous for just one dish or product. Cheese, chocolate, mezcal, tamales, and mole sauce are among Oaxaca's gourmet specialties.

Oaxaca cheese, also known as quesillo, is a mozzarella-like white cheese with a stringy, creamy texture. All around Mexico, it's used as an ingredient in dishes from empanadas to quesadillas to tortas (Mexican-style sandwiches). In Oaxaca, you'll find it pressed together with flor de calabaza (squash blossom) inside handmade tortillas, or melted with shredded beef, refried beans, avocado, lettuce, and salsa inside a fried tortilla in a regional dish called a tlayuda. 

Where to Eat It

You'll find these dishes and plenty of others featuring Oaxaca cheese at the city's busy marketplaces, like Mercado 20 de Noviembre, or at a cheap and cheerful eatery like Tlayudas El Negro, with several locations in the city.

Interested in visiting this part of Mexico during the region's liveliest festival? Check out this itinerary that takes you to Oaxaca for the Day of the Dead.

Fish Tacos in the Baja Peninsula

Grilled fish tacos with cilantro, lime and jalapeño in Baja California
Fish tacos with cilantro, lime, cabbage, and jalapeño in Baja California

Fresh seafood is one of many compelling reasons to visit the peninsula of Baja California, extending 800 miles from Tijuana in the north to Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip. The classic Baja taco features fresh white fish (sand bass and shark are two popular options) that are lightly fried and served with cream, cilantro, cabbage, jalapeño, salsa, and a squeeze of fresh lime on a homemade corn tortilla. Many variations exist: it's possible to get a grilled fish taco, or one made with battered shrimp (tacos de camarón). 

Where to Eat It

For the best fish tacos, skip those touristy cities and plan to spend time in one of the laid-back beach towns in between, like Todos Santos, San José del Cabo, and Ensenada. Along these quieter stretches of coast, you'll see fisherman bringing in the catch of the day to taco stands and restaurants.

But if you're in one of the classic taco joints in Ensenada, considered the birthplace of the dish—locals swear by Tacos Corona and Tacos Fenix—do yourself a favor and go for the house version. 

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Tequila in Tequila

Agave plants in Tequila, Jalisco
Agave plants in Tequila, Jalisco

The name spells it out clearly: Mexico's signature spirit originated in the town of Tequila, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the central state of Jalisco. Needless to say, tequila remains the town's main attraction, bringing waves of travelers eager to see the region's agave fields and to see how the liquor is made. 

Where to Try It

One option to consider is the José Cuervo Express, a tequila tasting-themed train that departs from Guadalajara on weekends, transporting passengers through the countryside on a two-hour journey to Tequila. On arrival, you'll check in at Mundo Cuervo, where guests can ride horses through a historic agave farm and sample tequila flights.

Another possibility is a visit to Hacienda La Cofradía, featuring hands-on demonstrations with tequila farmers and a boutique hotel where the rooms are shaped like oak tequila barrels. Several travel agencies in town offer guided tours of tequila distilleries, too. 

Whether you prefer añejo (vintage), blanco (white), or reposado ("rested"), good tequila brands to look for in Tequila and elsewhere in Mexico include Don Julio, 1800, and 7 Leguas.

Carnitas in Michoacán

Tacos with carnitas and chicharrón
Tacos with carnitas and chicharrón

Juicy pork carnitas are popular at Mexican restaurants all over the world. But the dish originally comes from the western state of Michoacán, which is still the best place to try it. Traditionally, carnitas is made with a thick cut of pork that's slow-cooked in a copper pot with salt, chili, oregano, cumin, rosemary, thyme, and garlic. Once the pork has cooked for several hours, the heat is turned up, making the edges crispy. The final result is flavorful and textured, tender enough to pull apart with just a fork.

Where to Eat It

Carnitas form the basis for tacos, tamales, burritos, and tortas. In Michoacán, there are countless places to try the proud locals' signature dish: in Morelia, the capital, try Carnitas Don Raúl and Carnitas Los Tabachines. Or just go into any carnitas joint with a line outside.

If you're on the other side of the country, look for carnitas' east coast cousin, cochinita pibil (also a slow-cooked pork dish) on the Yucatán peninsula. Visit the highlights of southern Mexico, including the Yucatán peninsula, on this 12-day trip plan.

Red Snapper in Veracruz

Huachinango a la Veracruzana, or Veracruz-style red snapper
Huachinango a la Veracruzana, or Veracruz-style red snapper

Blending Spanish and indigenous traditions, Huachinango a la Veracruzana—a special preparation of red snapper—is the signature dish of Veracruz, a state in eastern Mexico. Typically, it's a whole fish seasoned with nutmeg, garlic, salt, pepper and lime juice, then baked in a sauce of olives, capers, tomato, onions, jalapeños, and herbs. It's usually served with rice and potatoes, ideal for soaking up the rich, savory sauce.

Where to Eat It

You won't have to try hard to find this iconic dish while traveling in Veracruz. In the state's capital, also called Veracruz, locals love the version at Villa Rica Mocambo and Palapa Perea.

Can't get enough of Mexico's gourmet offerings? Try this 9-day gastronomic and cultural tour of the country.