What foods do Americans associate with ‘real’ Mexican cuisine? It’s likely to be nachos, quesadillas and beef or chicken tacos, but many Americans would be surprised to discover that those foods aren’t good representations of traditional Mexican dishes.

Authentic Mexican food is simple. Flour tortillas are replaced with soft corn tortillas, and three cheese tacos are almost unheard of. Here are 12 things that Americans often get wrong about Mexican food.


Americans love cheese quesadillas, and they usually include a flour tortilla. This isn’t the way Mexican quesadillas are usually made, according to Saul Montiel, executive chef of Cantina Rooftop.

Montiel say that quesadillas are not always made with flour tortillas, sour cream, guacamole, cheddar and Monterey jack cheese – that kind of cheese isn’t eaten in Mexico. The Cantina Rooftop quesadilla is made with organic blue corn tortillas, oaxaca cheese, squash blossoms, avocado, queso fresco, summer squash and tomatillo sauce.

Simplicity is at the Heart of Mexican Cooking

Real Mexican food is not heavy or loaded with cheese. It’s about simple details, but they are presented in an elaborate way. One example is a dish of stuffed and fried zucchini blossoms – simple to make, but delicious and beautiful to look at.

Bugs, like dried grasshoppers called Chapulines, are also a common menu item in Mexico.

Pico de Gallo Isn’t a Staple in Mexico

Americans tend to think that pico de gallo is a side dish that’s served with nearly every meal in Mexico, but Montiel says that the dish is actually not very common in Mexico. He discovered pico de gallo for the first time when he came to America!

Ceviche Isn’t Exclusively Mexican

Many people and Americanized restaurants state ceviche as a Mexican dish, but that’s not quite accurate.

According to Montiel, ceviche did not just originate from Mexico, but from different parts of South America such as Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Costa Rica. A more traditional Mexican dish would be Vuelve a la Vida, a seafood cocktail whose name translates as ‘return to life’. The cocktail is traditionally served as a hangover cure – hence the name.

The ingredients in the Cantina Rooftop version include Spanish octopus, hake, Ecuadorian shrimp, spicy cocktail Mexican sauce, avocado, Heirloom tomatoes and Serrano peppers.

Mexican Food Shouldn’t be so Hot it Hurts to Eat it

It seems to be a popular misconception in America that all Mexican food is spicy, says Santiago Gomez, executive chef of Tacology.

He says although Mexico has around 64 types of peppers, real Mexican food is full of flavour which the peppers help to add, and not just spicy.

Hard Shell Tacos

Americans tend to think of traditional Mexican food as having some kind of hard shell served with it. Montiel says this is not the most widely used type of shell eaten with Mexican food, though. Tostadas, which are a type of crispy, flat tortilla, are eaten with fish. Optional extras are aji amarillo, avocado, or cherry tomatoes.

Corn Chips Aren’t Common in Mexico

Corn chips are not a big thing in Mexico, says Joseph Creech, owner and chef at Hunger Street Tacos. He says the Mexicans prefer potato chips smothered in Valentina and lime, and they save their corn chips for chilaquiles.

Mexicans Don’t Eat Chicken Tacos

Americans love beef or chicken tacos, but according to Montiel, chicken isn’t an option as a taco filling in Mexico. He says it’s almost an insult to eat chicken tacos, as chicken is used to make soup, stews and tamales.

Real Mexicans love to eat tacos campechano, which are made from steak, chicharron, chorizo, morita sauce, tomatillo sauce, onions and cilantro.

The Same Dishes Will Taste Different in Each Country

America seems to think that Mexican food made in Mexico will taste identical to the same dish made in America. This is not the case, as the ingredients that Americans use are not the same as those in the regions of Mexico – there will be taste variation.

Real Mexican Food Isn’t Made on the Stove Top

Americans like to put their meat on a griddle, but most Hispanic dishes are prepared on a wood fire grill to add some smokiness to the meat.

Real Mexican Food Isn’t ‘Cheap’

A lot of people associate Mexican food with being ‘cheap’. It should be made with quality ingredients, and it’s not supposed to be covered in cheese, cream and sauce. Nachos and burritos are not traditional Mexican dishes.

Mexican Food is Always Colourful

When America makes Mexican food, all sorts of things are added and packed in that are not traditional.

Americans add too much to the dish, instead of enjoying the simplicity of fresh fruits, berries, beans and more.