It’s hard to choose our favorite food city in Mexico because, in a country with such a rich a food culture, there’s a lot of good food to be had. But, when it comes to a place that’s equal parts classic and creative, we’re obsessed with everything about Guadalajara — from the dynamic history to the food scene.
When we travel we’re always in search of something deliciously memorable and there’s few places better for travelers like us who are obsessed with Mexican food than Guadalajara.
Home to mariachi music, charro culture (the Mexican equivalent of rodeo), and the iconic sombrero, Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city and the capital of Jalisco state. But it’s much more than shtick and entertainment -- Guadalajara is a city that has a genuine sense of place.
The thing that always draws us back to Guadalajara is that it’s equal parts modern and classic. Case in point it’s nicknamed Mexico’s Silicon Valley but also remains majorly tied to its cultural roots. Whether you’re walking through the traditional San Juan De Dios market, or exploring the centro historico, you’ll find a juxtaposition between the influence of pop culture and traditional Mexican flair scattered throughout the city. And, as you can guess, one of the more traditional aspects we love is the vibrant food scene.
Since Guadalajara is historically home to ranchers, charros (aka gentlemen cowboys), and jimadores (or agave harvesters) working on tequila farms, the food here is by no means diet food. That being said, the local cuisine at Guadalajara is so outstanding, we stop counting calories when we visit.
Here is our list of classic foods to eat when you travel to Guadalajara:
Whether you’re sitting in nice restaurant for lunch, or wandering the streets for a snack, one classic dish you won’t want to miss is birria. This braised meat dish is so popular in Guadalajara that there are local restaurants specializing in and they’re appropriately known as “birrierias” where it can be served as a stew or in tortillas as tacos.
Depending on where you eat birria, you’ll find a variety of different spices and sauces used. The most traditional way to make birria is to make a heavily-spiced rub as well as a three-chile paste -- using cascabel, guajillo, and ancho chiles -- and then cook and cook and cook the meat until it’s tender.
You should know there’s an ongoing debate on what type of meat – goat, lamb, or beef – is best for making birria, and we say the best way to weigh in on that debate is to try them all for yourself!
Seeing as tequila hails from the Jalisco region of Mexico, it would be sacrilegious not to include the local cocktail known as the cantarito. A medley of lime, lemon, orange, and grapefruit juices and tequila, this classic Mexican cocktail is the perfect way to wind down (or up) after a long day exploring Guadalajara.
Oh, and, yes, there is a difference between the cantarito and a classic margarita. Unlike the margarita’s classic trilogy of tequila, lime juice, and agave, the cantarito uses juices from different varieties of citrus fruit and is also topped off with soda for a bubbly finish. To spot the cantarito in the streets of Guadalajara, look for stands mixing a drink in the telltale traditional hand-painted clay cups.
Carne En Su Jugo
One thing we can confidently say about the traditional Mexican dish known as carne en su jugo is that it’s translation of “meat in its juices” doesn’t do it justice. Coming from humble origins, the hearty stew features tender beef cut into strips braised in a hearty tomatillo broth along with beans and tocino (or bacon).
Different versions of carne en su jugo add other ingredients such as potatoes, but we think it’s best served in the traditional Jalisco style sin potatoes. It is said that at one point, restaurants began serving this traditional Jalisco food in traditional clay pots adorned with beautiful designs and patterns because it made the dish más tapatio or even more Guadalajaran.
No meal is complete without dessert, and Guadalajara does not disappoint. Jericalla is a baked custard dessert flavored with cinnamon and vanilla. While a lot of people mistake it for flan or creme brulee, Jericallas are baked in small ramekins and don’t have the classic burnt sugar topping of creme brulee.
Jericallas were said to have been created by a nun who accidentally left the custard in the oven for too long, creating the trademark topping of blackened custard. And ever since, jericallas have always been made with a slightly more curdled texture and signature burnt tops. Find them served at more traditional restaurants and sold at street stands across the city!
Pollo A La Valentina
We’re pretty sure all versions of buffalo wings have universal appeal, but Guadalajara’s version -- known as pollo a la valentina -- takes the recipe up a notch. This tender, fall-off-the-bone chicken is taken up several notches thanks to a spicy and tangy tomato sauce. And like its American counterpart, you often find this popular Mexican food served with fried potatoes, making pollo a la valentina the perfect appetizer to whet your appetite for Guadalajara’s other delicacies.
While pozole -- a stew made with hominy, meat, and spices -- is a dish found in several regions of Mexico, one of our favorite is en estilo Jalisco, or in the style of Jalisco. Unlike some other varieties, pozole estilo Jalisco is made rojo or in a red sauce. What gives a pozole rojo it’s distinct red color is the combination of three types of chiles — namely, ancho chiles, guajillo chiles, and arbol chiles. Served alongside lime, onion, radish, and lettuce, this stew is often served during Mexico’s Day of Independence, making it a staple party food in Guadalajara.
From tortillas to tamales and the chile mayonnaise-slathered street food that is elote, there’s a place for corn in every nook and cranny of Mexican food. However, the food scene in Guadalajara gets really creative with a not-your-everyday alcoholic beverage known as tejuino, which is made from fermented masa or corn flour.
Made by mixing masa with piloncillo — an unrefined sugar cane — and lime juice, tejuino is fermented for just a couple days, resulting in a lower alcohol concentration. Top it all off with a pinch of salt and you’ve got a tart, slightly bitter beverage, making it the perfect way to cool off during the hotter summer months. But if you ask us, tejuino tastes so good we don’t see why you can’t enjoy it any time of the year!
Pinky promise us that if there’s only one food you try when you visit Guadalajara, that it’s tortas ahogadas. Literally translated to “drowned sandwiches,” crisp French rolls (aka bolillos) are stuffed with marinated pork fried to perfection before being doused in a healthy dose of spicy tomato and chilli pepper salsa. Seeing as the origins of tequila sit just an hour north of Guadalajara, it’s no surprise that the locals consider tortas ahogadas the go-to Saturday morning hangover food.
Those are our picks for the classic dishes you must eat in Guadalajara. Have any others to add? Let us know in the comments below!
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Photo Credit: Photo of tejuino and jericallas by Kristen Kellogg