Mexico Family Travel

13 Essential Mexican Food Phrases: Guide to Ordering Food in Mexico

December 28, 2023

Nothing is worse than being at a restaurant in Mexico and not knowing the right Mexican food phrases to order exactly what you want! If you’re traveling to Mexico on vacation, understanding the basics of ordering food in Mexico, as well as some basic Spanish phrases and Mexico table manners, can help make your trip memorable and fun.

We’ve been visiting Mexico as a family for many years now. And before my first visit to Mexico, I didn’t speak any Spanish at all! But I knew that if I really wanted to fully enjoy my time in Mexico, I would need to know at least a few phrases of basic Spanish.

Fortunately, you don’t need a PhD in Spanish to know how to order food in Mexico. All you need is a list of the essential Spanish phrases that can help you get by at restaurants. This post offers thirteen phrases that you can use today to order Mexican food in Spanish, as well as a guide to some customs in Mexico surrounding food and restaurants.

Enjoying chilaquiles in Campeche City, Campeche (photo credit Clint Bush)

In addition to reading through this Mexican phrases food list, be sure to also brush up on some basic Spanish phrases for travel. These words will help you a lot during your vacation!

This article was originally published on August 17, 2022.

This post may contain affiliate links. That means this blog will receive a small commission if you click on the link and purchase something. However, this will not result in any extra costs to you.

Top tips for learning Spanish

Before jumping into the Mexican food phrases you need to know, here are some quick tips for learning Spanish for newbies. These are my top recommendations for learning basic Spanish for travel in Mexico.

Apps for language learning

The best way to get started on ordering food in Mexico is by learning some Spanish phrases. A helpful paid app is Lingopie, which offers Spanish language tv shows and movies to help you learn Spanish through immersion.

Vocabulary words and transcripts accompany the videos, and there are basic level videos geared towards kids too! You can search up "Mexican food" to watch food shows that can help you learn some useful Mexican food phrases.

Another good app to use is the Duolingo, which comes in free (with ads) or paid (without ads) versions. Other apps you can download, such as Busuu and Lyrics Training, are also helpful for training your ear to hear Spanish words. Busuu is a paid subscription, while Lyrics Training is free, though it requires an email address to sign up.

Phrase books for practicing Spanish

Phrase books are super helpful for allowing you to communicate your basic needs quickly. While they don’t always go in depth into grammar, they’re good references to have if you’re trying to understand a phrase you hear or want to say something simple.

Enjoying our time in Puerto Vallarta (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

If you’re trying to remember some Mexican food phrases while you’re traveling, you’re sure to find them in a pinch in a phrase book. Take a look at these Spanish phrase books and flash cards for helpful phrases for ordering food in Mexico.

If you don't have time to learn hundreds of phrases and want something free and simple to get started with learning Spanish, you can download my 25 Essential Spanish Words and Phrases guide. I’ve compiled the Spanish words and phrases that were most helpful for me during my first ever trip to Mexico to help you navigate traveling through Mexico.

Check out these budgeting tips for a Mexico vacation.

Tours to build your Mexican food vocabulary

If knowing what food to order during your first time in Mexico seems intimidating, you can sign up for a food tour to help build up your Mexican food vocabulary and knowledge of Mexican food phrases. 

We’ve done many food tours during our trips to Mexico. They’re a great way to introduce your family to Mexican culture, and are often very kid friendly. 

Taking a cooking class in Puerto Vallarta with Juan More Tacos (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

Taste of San Miguel offers a fantastic food tour through downtown San Miguel de Allende. We like that you can sample food from all around Mexico while also learning about historical sites of the city.

In Cabo San Lucas, we loved the Downtown Food and Taco Tasting experience from Juan More Tacos because it gives you a taste of the diversity of Mexican cuisine. 

Juan More Tacos also offers similar tours and classes in other cities around Mexico (we did a cooking class with them in Puerto Vallarta!). 

Essential Mexican food phrases 

As you’re traveling in Mexico, knowing a few basic food-related phrases can be helpful during meal time. This is especially helpful if you're traveling to off the beaten path places like Isla Holbox, where local residents may not know much English.

Beef tacos from El Nero in Merida, Yucatan (photo credit by Astrid Vinje)

Here are thirteen essential Mexican food phrases to use on your next Mexican vacation.

1. Una mesa para cuatro personas, por favor.

English translation: A table for four people, please.

A table at Tacos Revolucion in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco (photo by Astrid Vinje)

This is one of the Mexican food phrases that is helpful for getting a table at a restaurant. You’ll need to know your basic Spanish numbers from one to ten, so you can appropriately say the number of people in your party.

Brush up on your Spanish numbers with one of these sets of flash cards: 

2. Podemos sentarnos aquí?

English translation: Can we sit here?

Tacos at a beach cabana in Cozumel, Quintana Roo (photo by Astrid Vinje)

If you want to choose your seat at a restaurant, use this phrase. Many restaurants in Mexico allow you to seat yourself. So this is one of the Mexican food phrases that will come in very handy.

3. Podemos sentarnos a fuera/a dentro?

English translation: Can we sit outside/inside?

Outdoor seating at a restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato (photo by Astrid Vinje)

Most of Mexico enjoys great weather all year, so outdoor seating is often available at restaurants. Whether you’re in Mexico City or Merida, if you’re at a restaurant, some helpful Mexican food phrases to know are how to request outside (a fuera) or inside (a dentro) seating.

4. Me/nos gustaría pedir …

English translation: I/we would like to order …

Salbutes from Merida, Yucatan (photo by Astrid Vinje)

Use this phrase to begin saying your order, and then end the phrase with the name of the dish you want. Me gustaría and nos gustaría are polite ways of ordering food in Mexico. A less polite phrase to use is quiero/queremos (I want/we want), though servers generally won't be offended.

5. Bebidas, entradas, platos fuertes, postres

English translation: Drinks, appetizers, main dishes, desserts

Ceviche on fried tortillas in Cozumel, Quintana Roo (photo by Astrid Vinje)

These are some helpful Mexican food phrases to know when looking at a menu. Not all Mexican restaurants have English versions of their menu, so it’s useful to know what the sections of the menu are called.

6. Con, sin, solo, todo

English translation: With, without, only/just, all/everything

Cafe de olla in Oaxaca City, Oaxaca (photo by Astrid Vinje)

Asking for special changes to a menu item can seem intimidating, but these Spanish words can be extremely valuable. Use con, sin, or solo at the beginning of Mexican food phrases, such as con azúcar (with sugar), sin sal (without salt), solo agua (just water). 

Todo can be used at the beginning of a phrase, such as todo bien (everything okay). Or you can use todo at the end of a phrase, as in tacos al pastor con todo (al pastor tacos with everything).

7. Tiene/tienes … ?

English translation: Do you have … ?

Vegetarian and fish tacos in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato (photo by Astrid Vinje)

Use this phrase when you’re asking the server if they have an item such as a specific dish or a vegetarian menu (una menu vegetariana).

Something to keep in mind on grammar, in Spanish, the endings of verbs change depending on who the speaker is speaking to. So the verb, tener (to have) can be spoken as usted tiene (do you have, formal) or tu tienes (do you have, informal) when you are saying it to someone. It’s also common in Spanish to drop the pronoun and just say the verb in its conjugated form.

If you have a more advanced grasp of the Spanish language, take note that the vosotros form of verbs is rarely used in Mexico. Instead, use the usted or ustedes forms of verbs in your Mexican food phrases.

8. Puede traer … ?

English translation: Can you bring … ?

Decor at a restaurant in Oaxaca City, Oaxaca (photo by Astrid Vinje_

One of the most helpful Mexican food phrases for travelers is puede traer …? Use this phrase when you’re asking the server to bring you something such as a menu (un menu), a fork (un tenedor), a spoon (una cuchara), a knife (un cuchillo), or a napkin (una servilleta).

9. Puedo pedir más … ?

English translation: Can I order more … ?

A tamal topped with mole and beans in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco (photo by Astrid Vinje)

Another set of helpful Mexican food phrases is knowing how to ask for more food. Servers will understand you if you say, “dos tamales mas, por favor” (two more tamales, please). But if you want to be polite, it’s helpful to add “puedo pedir” (can I order) first.

10. Estuvo delicioso!

English translation: It was delicious!

Tortilla soup at a cooking class in Mexico City, Mexico (photo by Astrid Vinje)

Some other helpful Mexican food phrases to know are how to talk about your meal. Your server may ask, “Todo bien?” (Everything good?), and you can respond with “Estuvo delicioso!” (It was delicious). 

Other adjectives you can use are rico/rica (tasty), dulce (sweet), perfecta (perfect), muy bien (very good). Additionally, if you want to know how to say I like food in Spanish, you can say, me gusta comida (I like food) or me gusta esta comida (I like this food).

And if you really love the food, one of the best Mexican food phrases you can say “me encanta esta!” (I love this!). That will surely put an appreciative smile on your server.

11. Para llevar, por favor.

English translation: To go, please.

Gorditos to go at a loncheria in Merida, Yucatan (photo by Astrid Vinje)

If you want to order food to go, one of the most useful Mexican food phrases to know is “Para llevar, por favor” (to go, please). This phrase is helpful at taquerias (taco stands), fondas (small food stalls), loncherías (lunch counters), or street food carts where food is usually served quickly. You can also use this phrase if you can’t finish your meal and want to take the rest home with you.

12. La cuenta, por favor.

English translation: Check, please.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Once you’re done eating, some helpful Mexican food phrases to know is how to pay for your food. A good phrase to know to ask for the check is “La cuenta, por favor” (check please). Another helpful phrase you can use is “cuánto cuesta?” (how much does it cost?). 

13. Pago con efectivo/tarjeta.

English translation: I’m paying with cash/card.

Mexican pesos (photo by Astrid Vinje)

Not every restaurant accepts credit cards. Some places only accept cash. So it’s helpful to know the words for cash (efectivo) and card (tarjeta). When you get the bill at a restaurant, you can say “Pago con efectivo” (I’m paying with cash) or “Pago con tarjeta” (I’m paying with card). 

Tipping is not necessary. But if you do tip, 10% is sufficient. Some fancier restaurants in Mexico may also add an automatic gratuity to your bill.

Bonus Mexican food phrases: Para mi, para el/ella, para compartir

English translation: For me, for him/her, to share

Kids sharing a meal in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato (photo by Clint Bush)

When ordering food for a family, some helpful Mexican food phrases to know are how to identify who is getting each dish. You can say, “para mi” (for me), “para el” (for him), or “para ella” (for her). 

If you want to be more specific you can say “para mi esposo/esposa” (for my husband/wife) or “para mi hijo/hija” (for my son/daughter). And if you’re sharing a dish with someone, you can say “para compartir” (to share).

Practice your Spanish in these top safest cities in Mexico for travelers 

Going beyond the basic Mexican food phrases

Now that you know the basics for how to order food in Spanish at a Mexican restaurant, you’re ready to go beyond the basics.

Ice cream from Pola in Merida, Yucatan (photo by Astrid Vinje)

Besides Mexican food phrases to use at the restaurant, it’s also helpful to build up some knowledge of Mexican food vocabulary too. This will help make reading a menu much easier! Take a look at these Mexican food words to know for your next Mexico vacation.

Mexican food words: types of protein

Most Mexican meals will include some kind of protein. So as you’re looking at a menu, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the various types of proteins. If you’re vegetarian, one of the useful Mexican food phrases to know is “soy vegetariano/vegetariana” (I’m vegetarian).

Tacos al pastor at a taqueria in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato (photo by Astrid Vinje)

There are also regional specialties for meat. In the Yucatán, for example, you’ll find cochinita pibil (slow cooker pork) or pavo negro (slow cooker turkey). And in Baja Sur California, tacos de pescado (fish tacos), ceviche (lime marinated fish), and almejas (clams) are the specialties. Cities like Veracruz on the Gulf Coast also have special styles of cooking seafood.

Here are some additional Mexican food phrases and words for types of protein:

  • Carne = meat
  • Pollo = chicken
  • Res = beef
  • Cerdo = pork
  • Pescado = fish
  • Queso = cheese
  • Huevo = egg
  • Frijoles = beans 
  • Frijoles refritos = refried beans
  • Soya = soy

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    Mexican food words: types of tacos

    Tacos are a staple in Mexican cuisine. There are over thirty different types of tacos you can find in Mexico, but below are a few popular ones. Most tacos use corn tortillas, but in some tourist-popular cities, you can also find flour tortillas. 

    Various types of tacos at Tacos Revolucion in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco (photo by Astrid Vinje)

    Familiarize yourself with these Mexican food phrases and words related to tacos:

    • Tortilla de mais = corn tortilla
    • Tortilla de harina = flour tortilla
    • Al pastor = marinated pork cooked on a spit
    • Asada = roasted meat (usually beef)
    • Birria = stewed meat (usually goat)

    Mexican food words: types of drinks

    For hot Mexican destinations, knowing Mexican food phrases related to drinks is super helpful. Some of the best drinks to order in Mexico are house made horchata (rice liquid and cinnamon), jamaica (hibiscus drink), or tamarindo (tamarind drink). They’re usually made that day and stored in large jars on the counter.

    A specialty licuado at Mundo Ceiba in Oaxaca City, Oaxaca (photo by Astrid Vinje)

    Other fun drinks to order in Mexico are the aguas frescas and licuados, which are made with fresh fruit. A note on mixed or blended drinks, tap water in Mexico is not potable. So make sure, when ordering drinks mixed with water or ice, that it is made with agua purificada (purified water) from the garrafones (20 liter bottles). At the very least, make sure your drink is made with boiled water.

    • Refresco = soft drinks
    • Agua fresca = sweetened drink of fruit and water
    • Licuado = blended drink of fruit, sugar, and ice, much like a smoothie
    • Cerveza = beer

    Ordering food in Mexico at restaurants

    Restaurants in Mexico are much like restaurants in other parts of the world. Depending on the type of restaurant, you may be sitting down and ordering food in Mexico with a server. Or you might order your food at a counter. 

    Mexican food ingredients for practicing cooking and saying Mexican food phrases
    Dishes and ingredients in a Mexican cooking class in Mexico City, Mexico (photo by Astrid Vinje)

    Some servers can understand a little bit of English, but it’s best to try ordering food in Spanish when possible. Even if you fumble with your Mexican food phrases, the servers will appreciate the effort.

    When ordering food in Mexico, remember that prices are usually in peso, the currency of Mexico. At the time of this writing, $1 USD is roughly 20 pesos. Tipping is not customary. But if you want to leave a tip, 10% is generally sufficient.

    Food is usually served as they’re prepared. And there are no special utensils other than spoons, forks, and knives. Servers are generally attentive, and will check from time to time to see if you need anything.

    Understanding basic Mexico table manners

    Besides knowing the general process for ordering food in Mexico, it’s helpful to understand some basic Mexico table manners. Gracias (thank you) and por favor (please) are good phrases to know. 

    A selection of salsas and toppings for tacos in Mexico (photo by Astrid Vinje)

    Another one of the Mexican food phrases to know is provecho. This word generally means, “have a good meal” and is one of the popular Mexican sayings spoken as you’re passing a table where people are already eating their meal. The next time you’re eating at a Mexican restaurant, keep your ears open for someone saying "provecho" to you! You can reply to them with a simple, "Gracias!"

    Another tip on Mexico table manners is to avoid dipping your chips in the salsa or guacamole. Restaurants will serve salsa and guacamole with a spoon in the bowl. This is to allow you to scoop the salsa or guacamole onto your chip, taco, or nacho. Be courteous (and hygienic!) and use the spoon rather than your chip to dip the salsa.

    Read more posts about Mexican culture here.

    Using your Mexican food phrases to help you enjoy your trip to Mexico

    Having basic knowledge of Mexican food phrases can do wonders in making your restaurant experiences in Mexico positive and enjoyable. This how to order in Spanish Mexico guide is a useful tool to have for you and your family.

    Practice these phrases before your next trip to Mexico.  Knowing how to order in Spanish at a Mexican restaurant is the key to opening the doors to a unique and diverse world of culinary delights. So don't be afraid to dive right in!

    Are you planning a vacation to Mexico? Take a look at these fun cities to visit to practice your Mexican food phrases:

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