Mexican Food: Hola, What's for Dinner?

Can’t tell your pambazos from your huaraches? A helpful guide to Mexican menu basics 

The classic torta—served hot or cold on an oblong bolillo roll and stuffed with almost anything—is just the start of Mexico’s bread-based specialties

Cemita Poblana

» A sesame seed bun is key. Inside can be fried steak or chicken, cheese, and avocado.
Where: Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita, 3010 E. 1st St., Boyle Heights.

Torta Ahogda
» It’s called a “wet torta” for good reason: The Jaliscan monster is drenched in a fiery red sauce.
Where: La Chiva Loca, 7952 Firestone Blvd., Downey.

» Chorizo, potato, and cheese sit in a roll dipped in guajillo sauce.
Where: Antojitos de la Abuelita truck, near 6135 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood. 





A chile sauce and simple fillings distinguish these from tacos. Corn or flour tortillas are fried or dipped in sauce. No need to bake—that’s gringo style 

Rojo or Verde

» Cotija cheese is sprinkled over the top of these classics we all know, smothered in red or green chile sauce.
Where: La Casita Mexicana, 4030 E. Gage Ave., Bell, 323-773-1898. 

Del Suelo
» Think enchiladas need to be rolled? Think again. This style is open-face with chorizo in the center.
Where: Cenaduria Gumacus, 8646 State St., South Gate.

Estilo Apatzingan
» Cheese is the only filling for the Michoacán specialty, but veggies and a whole chicken leg come on the side.
Where: Birrieria Apatzingan, 10040 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Pacoima, 818-890-6265.





It’s the country’s defining dish: tortillas rolled or folded around fillings that vary by region. One constant is carne asada, which you can find almost everywhere 

De Birria
» Tortillas brim with slow-cooked meat—usually goat or lamb—with a side of heady broth made from the drippings.
Where: El Parian, 1528 W. Pico Blvd., Pico-Union. 

» Yep, a real burrito is a taco, long and thin, with a flour tortilla rolled around a strip of stew or beans.
Where: Gorditas la Norteña, 3309 E. Florence Ave., Huntington Park.

De Pescado
» Ensenada’s deep-fried whitefish taco—best with cabbage and crema—is inspired by Japanese tempura.
Where: Eagle Rock Señor Fish, 4803 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock. 

Al Pastor
» Pork loin or leg with pineapple seems commonplace, but the authentic version requires a spit.
Where: Tacos Leo truck, near La Brea Ave. and Venice Blvd.





In Oaxaca they’re holy (seven are considered sacred), but these ancient sauces made with chiles, seeds, nuts, fruits, and sometimes chocolate are found throughout the country

Mole Poblano
» Cacao is a flavoring in this dark Pueblan concoction, but it should bear no resemblance to Hershey’s.
Where: Moles la Tia, 4619 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., East L.A. 

» The main difference between Oaxaca’s sauce and mole poblano? State pride. Charred chiles add color.
Where: Ortega 120, 1814 Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach. 

» The reddish-orange color comes from ancho and guajillo chiles. You can thank the cinnamon, cloves, pecans, and almonds for that hint of Oaxacan Christmas.
Where: Juquila, 11619 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A.

» Fragrant strands of saffron infuse this yellow member of the Oaxacan seven.
Where: Guelaguetza, 3014 W. Olympic Blvd., koreatown, 213-427-0608.





Whether hiding spicy pork or sweet dried fruit, steamed masa wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves is a tasty holiday tradition 

Tamal Colado

» In the Yucatán, banana leaves wrap supersoft tamales. This style comes with a chicken-achiote sauce.
Where: Chichen Itza, 3655 S. Grand Ave., downtown. 

Green Chile
» At the center of the warm masa packet is a soothing mix of sweet grilled chiles and Monterey cheese.
Where: Los 5 Puntos, 3300 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., East L.A.

Tamal Sinaloense
» The Sinaloan specialty includes green beans, zucchini, and other vegetables and can have a red or green sauce.
Where: Sinaloa Bakery, 7519 Santa Fe Ave., Huntington Park.





Hulled corn is the foundation of the versatile dough for tortillas and a slew of Mexico City snack foods known as antojitos


» It looks like a sandal, hence the name. Toppings range from steak to squash blossoms.
Where: Huarache Azteca, 5225 York Blvd., Highland Park. 

» That’s right, tortillas are optional. Raw masa is grilled or fried with a cheese or vegetable filling.
Where: Nina’s Food, near 240 N. Breed St., Boyle Heights.

» It means “little fat one,” but don’t let that intimidate you. Stuffed corn cakes are baked in the style of a savory pasty or meat pie.
Where: Tacos y Gorditas Viva Villa, 2238 E. 1st St., East L.A.

» Hockey-puck-size disks of masa are grilled or fried with a crown of meats, veggies, or fish.
Where: Red O, 8155 Melrose Ave., Hollywood.





Tripe is the star of these soups, which take hours to make and are traditionally eaten only on weekends. They’re made with dried chiles, lime, fresh herbs, and sometimes hominy 

» The pale Sinaloan version of the soothing dish looks harmless enough, but watch out for the tiny red pepper balls, called chiltepin, that are scattered throughout the steamy broth. 
Where: El Sinaloense, 7601 State St., Huntington Park.

» Sunday hangovers be gone! (It’s true: Some folks crave cow stomach the morning after.) Soak up the rich crimson soup with bits of rolled-up corn tortillas that accompany it.
Where: Monte Alban, 11927 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A.

Photographs by Lisa Romerein