How to Order Street Food in Mexico City

Updated: Jan 22

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.***


SAYING HELLO

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:

  • Buenas

Because of this relaxed attitude, it is common to talk using the informal you: . 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?


ORDERING FOOD

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 da(s)...? - Would you give me...? (If you add the "s" you'd turn it into informal)

  • ¿Me puede(s) dar...? - Could you give me...? (If you add the "s" you'd turn it into informal)

  • 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 task with):

  • ¿Te/Le encargo...? - May I task you with... (Use "Te" for informal and "Le" for formal)

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 tenedor? - 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?


4. With the verb regalar (to gift):

  • ¿Me regala(s)...? - Would you gift me...? (If you add the "s" you'd turn it into informal)

As this verb means "to gift" as in to receive something for free, even though we don't actually mean we are not paying for what we are having, you will be exposed to pranks if you use this verb for ordering food. So, unless you don't mind being the target of these types of jokes, I would only use this phrase for ordering things like napkins, the bill, etcetera.


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 recomienda(s)? - What do you recommend? (If you add the "s" you'd turn it into informal)

  • ¿Qué te/le piden más? - What do people order the most? (Use "te" for informal and "le" for formal)

  • ¿A ti cuál te gusta más? - What do you like the most?

  • ¿Cuál es tu/su favorito? - Which one is your favorite? (Use "tu" for informal and "su" for formal)

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 saying:

  • 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.


COMMON QUESTIONS

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.

USEFUL PHRASES

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.


PAYING

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/le debo? - How much do I owe you? (Use "te" for informal and "le" for formal)

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.

SAYING GOOD-BYE

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.

*** Practice these phrases on Quizlet. Enter the password "anacrischavez".***


VOCABULARY

Nouns:

  • 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

Verbs:

  • 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

Adjectives:

  • 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.