Top 20 Yucatan Food and Drinks we Recommend you Try

Top 20 Yucatan Food and Drinks we Recommend you Try

If there’s anything we have learned from living on the Yucatan Peninsula on and off for 3 years it’s this; Yucatan food is the bomb. We just can’t get enough of it. We’ve lived all over Latin America and we both agree that food in Mexico, especially on the Yucatan, is some of the best you will find anywhere.

Where do you go to get tasty, authentic Yucatan cuisine? Our suggestion is to stay away from the resorts, or anywhere you see a bunch of gringos eating. Chances are, Senor Frogs isn’t making the kind of Mexican food Mexico is famous for.

senor frogs
“Welcome to Senor Frog’s! Prepare to be disappointed”

Instead, find a local market, food stall, or concina economica for some of our below suggestions. The food is all top quality there and way more tasty than in any of the higher priced restaurants that cater to tourists.

Yucatan Food We Consider Must-Try

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We’ve narrowed this list to 15 of our favorite Yucatecan foods and 5 of our favorite drinks. That’s not to say we don’t recommend other foods or drinks in the Yucatan, only that if your time on the peninsula is limited, these are the foods and drinks we suggest you focus on.

Our first three suggestions below are all basically pulled pork dishes. All three are completely different, and all three should definitely be tried. We suggest looking for these pulled pork dishes in the late morning or very early afternoon.

It’s been our experience that these first three dishes sell out pretty quickly. Usually before early afternoon.

Lechon (Roast Pig, Yucatan Style)

Pronounced – lay-CHONE

torta de lechon
Torta de lechon.

Lechon is basically a whole, slow roasted, suckling pig. And it’s freakin’ delicious. Most vendors put the whole roasted pig under glass where everyone can judge for themselves just how perfectly it was cooked.

When an order is placed they will pull off some of the fall-off-the-bone meat and place it into your taco or torta (we suggest tacos). Then they clip off some of the perfectly crispy skin to place on top of the taco or torta. The crispy skin gives the meat an added texture, plus a lot of flavor.

When we lived in Progreso we ate this nearly religiously for breakfast. Our favorite Lechon restaurant in Progreso is a place called Lechon El Cheel. It’s on Calle 78 right near Calle 25. Once you try their authentic lechon, we think you’re going to be hooked.

Cochinita Pibil (Pulled Pork, but Better)

Pronounced – co-chee-NEE-ta PEE-beel

cochinita pibil
All of the pork will be pulled and mixed with its juices.

Cochinita pibil is chunks of pork marinated and cooked in sour orange juice, limes, achiote, cumin, garlic, oregano, and cinnamon. The result is a delicious and juicy pulled pork that is oh-so-tasty packed into tacos or tortas (since it’s so juicy we recommend a torta).

Traditionally all of the ingredients were wrapped in banana leaves and slowly cooked underground (in a pibil). Most restaurants that cook cochinita these days still wrap everything in banana leaves, but few actually cook it in a traditional pibil. Don’t worry though, you won’t notice.

This is another one that sells out pretty early. If you’re looking for a traditional Mexican breakfast, get to your local market early and find the cochinita pibil vendor. This is some authentic Yucatan food you’ll return for more than once.

Carnitas (Pulled Pork, but Much Much Better)

Pronounced – car-NEE-tas

Pork chunks bubbling away in pork fat. Delish!

Ok, we promise, this is the last pulled pork dish. They’re all so damned tasty. We just couldn’t leave one of the three out. Carnitas though is the king of pulled pork. You can find this Authentic Yucatan food all over the peninsula and we suggest eating it anytime you can find it.

Carnitas is giant chunks of bone-in pork simmered for hours in pork fat (sounds healthy huh?). The result is melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork that is highly addictive. We were (un?)fortunate enough to have a neighbor cook this right in her front yard four days a week. We bought it by the kilo.

When ordering carnitas you can either order it by the kilo to go or in tacos or tortas. Both are delicious and both should be tried. If you’re not a big fan of chunks of fat make sure to ask for your canitas “sin grasa (seen gra-sa). Once your meat is cut off the bone is will be finely chopped up and placed into your vessel of choice. Do not miss out on this special dish.

Coctel de Camaron (Shrimp in a Tomato Juice Bath)

Pronounced – KOK-tail day ca-MA-ron

yacatan food coctel de camarones
Coctel de camarones.

And now onto something a little lighter. Coctel de camaron is one of our favorite snacks after a long hot day of sightseeing. There are a number of different cocteles you will find in the Yucatan; fish, octopus, conch, and mixed. All are basically made the same with the exception of the seafood used. Shimp is our favorite by far.

Coctel de camaron is a staple Yucatan food and can be found in most restaurants on the peninsula. It starts with a cold tomato-based sauce (think V8 juice) tossed with chilled poached shrimp, onions, cilantro, tomatoes, diced avocados, and maybe chilis depending on the restaurant. 

Ceviche de Camaron (Shrimp in a Lime Bath)

Pronounced – say-VEE-chay day ca-MA-ron

yucatan food ceviche de camaron
Our ceviche de camaron in Playa del Carmen

This is another great dish on a hot afternoon. Ceviche de camaron is kind of similar to the coctel de camaron above except instead of tomato juice, lime juice is the base. It makes for a very refreshing dish.

Again, like the cocteles there are numerous kinds of ceviche; fish, conch, octopus, etc. The reason we suggest the shrimp ceviche is that we hear from a lot of visiting Americans that they won’t eat “raw” seafood. The shrimp in ceviche is poached before mixed with the other ingredients, so no “raw” seafood here.

Elotes (Corn on the Cob on Steroids)

Pronounced – aye-LO-tays

yucatan food elote in Merida
Natasha chowing down on an elote in Merida.

I doubt you’ll ever find an elote in a restaurant in Mexico. This delicious Yucatan food is normally served from carts which can be found all over any city in the Yucatan. An elote is an ear of starchy corn, slathered in mayonnaise, cotija cheese, chili sauce, lime, and salt.

I can hear a lot of my readers now, “corn and mayonnaise?!”. It works, I promise you. Go to any main park in any city in the Yucatan and you will see people chowing down on this tasty treat.

Elotes to messy for you? Try their less messy little cousin, the esquite. All of the ingredients are the same, except that the corn is shucked from the cob and simmered in a giant vat of herb and butter infused water. The corn is then drained and put into a little cup with the rest of the ingredients. Delish!

Pollo Asado (Grilled Chicken Yucatan Style)

Pronounced – PO-yo a-SA-do

yucatan food pollo asado
Pollo asado grilling to perfection.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “I can get grilled chicken at home”. You could, it probably won’t be this good though. There is just something special about the pollo asado on the Yucatan.

I’m not sure if it’s the marinade they use, the carbon they use to grill it, or the seriously hot fire they grill it over. Whatever it is, I’ve never had a better grilled chicken anywhere. Not in the states, or anywhere else in my travels.

When you order pollo asado you can get the whole chicken, half, or quarter (white or dark meat). No matter how you order it it will be cut into bit-size pieces and served with grilled onions, rice, tortillas, and handmade hot sauces.

Rosticeria de Pollo (Boston Market, but Better)

Pronounced – rosti-say-RIA de PO-yo

Chickens, potatoes, onions, & peppers all roasting away.

You may be thinking, “pollo asado and rosticeria de pollo must be similar, right?”. Nope. They’re both chicken, but that’s where the similarities end. The pollo asado mentioned above is heavily seasoned, smoky, and slightly dry due to the high temps.

Rosisarry chicken in the Yucatan is totally different. It’s lightly seasoned, slow roasted, and oh-so-juicy. The chicken is usually served with potatoes, onions, and peppers. All of which have been roasted in the bottom of the rotisserie in the juices from the chicken. IT. IS. HEAVENLY!

Al Pastor (Lebanese Inspired Yucatan Food)

Pronounced – al PAS-tor

yucatan food al pastor in Merida
Al pastor vendor in Plaza Grande, Merida.

We love us some al pastor. We may even be obsessed with it. It’s that good. Al pastor is thinly sliced pork marinated in fruit juices, chilis, herbs and spices.

The pork is then layered carefully onto a vertical spit and roasted. Once the outside of the pork has been roasted the guy working the spit will carefully shave it into your tacos or tortas.

The above pastor is from a guy we go to on Sundays in Merida’s Grand Plaza. His pastor is delicious, but oddly enough he’s one of the only pastor guys without a pineapple roasting on top of the spit.

Kibis (Lebanese Inspired Yucatan Food, Part 2)

Pronounced – KEE-bees

kibi in the yucatan
Kibi stuffed with pickled coleslaw.

The best way to describe this Yucatan food is to says it’s very similar to a Middle Eastern falafel. Kibis are cracked wheat mixed with liquid, herbs and spices. They are then deep-fried to a crunchy goodness.

Kibis can either be made “normal” which is just the deep fried dough, or stuffed with meat or cheese before being deep fried. Personally, we each like the normal ones. When your kibi vendor serves them he will slice them open and fill them with the topping of your choice.

Finding kibis is fairly easy in any part of the Yucatan. Chances are, they’re more likely to find you. Vendors walk up and down the streets with huge boxes filled with kibis and toppings. You can hear them most anywhere calling out, “kibi, kibi, kibi, KIBI”.

Alambres (Cheesy Fajitas)

Pronounced – al-AMM-brays

yucatan food alambre
Yucatan alambres in Bacalar.

Fajitas aren’t exactly considered Mexican food. Their cheesy cousin, the alambre, definitely is. Alambres are really nothing more than deliciously cheesy fajitas.

When ordering alambres all you have to do is decide what meat you want; chicken, beef, pork, or if you’re really lucky, al pastor. Your cook with then saute your diced meat with onions, peppers, and bacon. Once cooked through they’ll top your fajitas with a giant handful of cheese, and steam it until melted.

This is such a great dish if you can find it. Problem is, it’s not so easy to find. I’m not sure why. The three places we go for it are regularly filled with Mexicans chowing down on it. If you find yourself in or passing through Bacalar, definitely stop at Taqueria Alambres 13 for a plate.

Poc Chuc (Yucatecan Pork Chops)

Pronounced – poke-chuke

yucatan food poc chuc
Photo courtesy of La Casa del Poc Phuc in Playa del Carmen. Our favorite.

Poc chuc is thin slices of pork that is either salted or brined. The pork is then rinsed and marinated in the juice of sour oranges along with herbs and spices. After marinated it is cooked very quickly over an open fire.

The poc chuc can be served whole with rice. Usually, though it’s diced up and served in a taco or torta. Poc chuc makes a great light alternative to some of the heavier pork tacos we mention above.

If you find yourself in Playa del Carmen we recommend La Casa del Poc Chuc. It’s one of our favorites and we get there whenever we can.

Tamales (Stuffed Corn Bread)

Pronounced – ta-MA-lays

Tamales ready to be steamed.

I’m fairly certain everyone knows what tamales are. I’m less certain if anyone from the state has ever had a really good one though. If you’re interested in trying great Yucatan food, I strongly suggest starting with tamales.

In order to get a good tamal find a person or place that specializes in only tamales. For some reason tamales in restaurants, even authentic Mexican restaurants, just aren’t as good as what the “tamales lady” sells on the corner.

The tamales in the Yucatan consist of a corn dough placed into a banana leaf, stuffed with a filling, and steamed or roasted until firm. They’re so damned tasty. The filling in tamales can be anything; sweet, spicy, or savory.

Chilaquiles (Sloppy Nachos)

Pronounced – cheela-KEY-lays

chilaquiles rojos
Chilaquiles are a breakfast staple in the Yucatan.

Chilaquiles, one of Paul’s favorite Yucatan foods, can usually only be found on breakfast menus. If you come across them in your travels, definitely order them.

Chilaquiles are crunchy (but not for long) tortilla chips covered in either red or green chili sauce. They’re then topped with crumbled cheese, cilantro, onions, and your choice of pulled chicken or fried eggs. The chicken is good, but the eggs make for something really special.

This is a sloppy, hard to eat dish, but totally worth it. Once you try chilaquiles I have a feeling you will be going back for more.

Our Favorite Yucatan Food? Pescado Entero Frito (Fish Gringos won’t Eat).

Pronounced – pes-KA-doe ent-AIR-o FREE-toe

yucatan food pescado entero frito
Pescado entero frito in one of our favorite restaurants in Playa del Carmen; el pirata

One of our favorite Yucatan foods of all time; whole fried fish. We absolutely love it and get it as often as we can. When we recommend this to tourists or travelers we run across their reactions are almost always the same; no, nope, no way. They’re really missing out.

Everything about this dish is fantastic; super crispy skin, delicate white fish underneath, and no taste or smell of fish. Just the clean flavor of the ocean. You can pair your fish with one of a half dozen or so sauces if you like ranging from creamy garlic sauce to firey al diablo.

No matter how you order it, we’re confident you’ll love it.

5 Refreshing Drinks we Love with our Yucatan Food

Planning your first trip to the Yucatan? Here’s a quick tip; it’s hot. Like really effing hot. Like, over 100 degrees in the morning hot. We still love living in the Yucatan though, despite the heat. One thing we always make sure we do while living here; keep hydrated.

hot in the yucatan
104 degrees at 10:30 in the morning. Tulum, Mexico.

We are always with a drink in hand. Mostly water. We’ve calculated we drink well over a gallon of water each day. And that doesn’t include all of the other drinks we have throughout the day made with water. Water does get a little boring though. 

If you’re looking to hydrate while you’re here, or looking for something tasty to wash down some of the above Yucatan foods, we’ve compiled you a list of our favorite drinks that can be found in the Yucatan.

Horchata (Milk for People who Hate Milk)

Pronounced – or-CHA-ta

Sweet and delicious horchata.

I do love me some horchata. For anyone not familiar with this Mexican staple horchata is made from rice milk (vegan), sweetened with sugar and flavored with cinnamon. It’s delicious and pairs great with spicy foods.

You can buy this in nearly every restaurant on the Yucatan, as well as from vendors on the street. No matter where you get it you’re in for a treat.

Agua de Jamaica (Southern Sweet Tea, but Mexican)

Pronounced – ha-MY-ka

agua de jamaica
Agua de Jamaica

This is our go-to drink when heading out to a cocina economica for a quick bite. We were first introduced to this drink while living on the island of Jamaica. In Jamaica, they call it sorrel. In Mexico, they call it Jamaica. I have no idea why the named it after the island.

Agua de Jamaica is a sweetened tea made from hibiscus flowers. It’s slightly tart, a little fruity, and a little sweet. All of this makes for a great thirst quencher for those hot Mexican afternoons. You should have no problems finding this drink. It’s served in every restaurant and in every market.

Agua de Tamarindo (Hmmmmm?)

Pronounced – tam-are-EEN-doe

agua de tamarindo
agua de tamarindo

Another delicious and refreshing drink you can find all over the Yucatan Peninsula is agua de tamarindo. Tamarindo is made from the fruit of the tropical tamarind tree. Tamarind is considered to be quite healthy and is very delicious on its own.

To make agua de tamarindo they just boil and mash the tamarind seeds, strain, and add sugar. That’s it. The result is a deliciously sweet and sour drink that goes well with any food, or just on its own. Definitely grab yourself a glass if you see it on the menu.

Michelada (Bloody Mary, but with Beer)

Pronounced – me-chay-LA-da

Michelada w\ ceviche
Michelada w\ ceviche

Micheladas are definitely one of the most popular drinks on the Yucatan Peninsula. Go into any beachside restaurant and you will find numerous happy Mexicans sipping contently on their micheladas. They are definitely one of Paul’s favorites.

When you order a michelada you will also order what kind of beer you want with your michelada. As you can see above, Paul prefers Victoria with his. Your michelada will consist of a glass of ice with about 3-4 ounces of a michelada mix at the bottom.

Nearly every place makes micheladas differently. As a general rule of thumb a michelada consists of:

  • tomato juice or Clamato
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Maggi seasoning sauce (kind of like a more delicious soy sauce)
  • lime juice
  • hot pepper sauce
  • a glass rimmed with lime and Tajin powder (Mexican seasoned salt)

When your glass and beer arrive, just pour the beer in, sit back, and relax. There is nothing more tasty at the end of a long hot day than a delicious, ice cold michelada. Try one. You won’t be sorry.

Chelada (Margarita, but with Beer)

Pronounced – chay-LA-da

yucatecan chelada
yucatecan chelada

Think a michelada might be too much for you? Still interested in a way to take that cerveza up a notch? Then what you need is a chelada. Cheladas are simple, yet refreshing beer drinks. A chelada is a glass of ice, rimmed with lime and salt, with about 3-4 ounces of lime juice in the bottom.

That’s it. Nothing fancy. Just delicious. Pour your beer of choice into the glass, sit back, and relax.

There is so Much More Delicious Yucatan Food not on This List

There just isn’t enough time to list all of the delicious Yucatan food available on the peninsula. There’s the sopa de lima we didn’t get to, as well as all of the delicious sopes. We would be writing all day trying to describe how awesome food in the Yucatan is.

We made this list just to get you started with some of our favorites. The best way to find your favorite Yucatan food is to just get out there and be adventurous. I doubt you will be disappointed.

Have a favorite food from the Yucatan that we didn’t list? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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