Mexican food is a global phenomenon, but no other place except Mexico gives an authentic taste of the complex flavors of this savory cuisine. Many people travel to the country to learn Mexican Spanish and enjoy the delicious food at the same time. Dining in Mexico is a fun experience interacting with the locals and seeing food prepped in front of you.
There’s only one problem – you don’t know how to order food in Spanish. Luckily, we’ve put together the perfect guide to get you up to speed. Soon, you’ll be able to walk into any restaurant or street food vendor and order food in Spanish like a local!
The People in a Restaurant
Everybody in a restaurant plays a role, so it’s important to know who to speak to when placing your order. Some of the familiar personnel you can expect to encounter in a Mexican restaurant are:
|Cocinero/cocinera||Chef or cook|
In a restaurant setting, you’ll interact with a lot more people. You’ll typically be seated by the mesero/a when dining in and place your order with them. If you visit a fast-food restaurant, you’ll place an order with the cajero/a.
Street food carts are unique because there is typically only one person playing a variety of roles to serve your food. The cocinero/a is often the same person that takes your order and your money when it’s time to pay.
When referring to a person working at a restaurant, be mindful of the masculine and feminine versions of the words. Learn to use both forms and save yourself some embarrassment.
Dining in or Take Out
The big question you’ll hear before placing your order is always whether you’ll be eating in or taking out. In Spanish, you’ll say:
|Para comer aquí||To eat here|
|Para llevar||To take away|
Restaurants in Mexico City and other towns around the country and street food carts pretty much everywhere offer both options when ordering your food.
You should already be familiar with a standard restaurant set up where if you sit down, you’ll be dining in, but you can also tell your waiter that you’d like to take your order to go. In Mexico, they might still seat you as normal, but your food will arrive already bagged up. Feel free to order a drink while you wait.
You might not be so familiar with the Mexican street food culture – you also have the two options for how you want your meals.
It’s common in Mexico for locals to “dine-in,” usually in an outdoor setting. Some of the popular food cart areas have small tables set up where they’ll bring you your food to enjoy onsite. Don’t be shy to try out some of the spices and salsa in the middle of the table for extra flavor!
Ordering food in Spanish
For non-Spanish speakers, it can be intimidating to order food for the first time – we’ve all been there! Let’s take a look at some of the typical Spanish phrases you should use when making your order:
|Me gustaría||I would like…|
|Yo quiero||I want…|
|¿Tiene una recomendación?||Do you have a recommendation?|
|¿Tiene un menú?||Do you have a menu?|
|¿Que es eso/esto?||What is this/that?|
If it’s your first time at a restaurant, you’re probably want to check out the menu to see what they have. If you don’t see one available, you could always ask, “¿tiene un menú?” – do you have a menu?
In popular areas with lots of English-speaking tourists, the restaurants make it easy by adding pictures next to each of the items. Don’t expect to understand everything on the menu, and your waiter will do their best to assist.
Some of the questions to keep in mind when deciding what to eat is “¿tiene un recomendación, por favor?” and “¿que es esto?” The phrases translate to “do you have a recommendation, please?,” and “what is this?” respectively.
The restaurant will generally recommend their most popular dish, so you’ll always get the best option. Many eateries display some of their food in a buffet-style. Mexico has a unique cuisine that foreigners aren’t used to, so you should ask what something is before ordering it.
In Mexico, if it looks good, chances are it’s delicious!
The hard part about ordering food in Spanish is deciding what to eat. When you’ve made your choice, there are a few ways to place the order.
To say, “I would like to order” in Spanish, you can use “me gustaría ordenar.” You can also use it to make a specific order. For example:
- Me gustaría los tacos pastores
- Me gustaría ordenar un pozole
Using “me gustaría” is how to order food in Spanish politely, but you might not hear many locals using it often since it’s an everything activity for them. Locals order much faster with phrases such as “yo quiero” or “dame.” Try to avoid the latter as it might seem a bit commanding (but you can always add “por favor” to any imperative verb t make it more polite)
Always ask what something is before ordering it. But in most cases in Mexico, if it looks good, it’s probably delicious
Order like a local
Now that you know the basics of how to order food in Spanish in Mexico, it’s time to give you a few bonus words and phrases to truly customize your dining experience. Some might call you picky, but we like what we like, and now is the perfect time to learn a few things to say on your next restaurant visit to sound like an expert Spanish-speaker.
A few words and phrases worth learning and keeping in mind include:
|¿Está en la fila?||Are you in line?|
|Una mesa para…||A table for…|
If you’ve ever been to Mexico, you’ll notice that during the lunch or dinner rush, it can be near impossible to find out where the line starts. Approach someone politely and ask, “¿está en la fila?” or “are you in line?”
In some cases, with street food carts, for example, there might be a crowd of people screaming for their order of tacos – it’s amazing how the chef can keep up with all of the patrons. You have no choice but to follow suit, but you can still ask to see if the person has already ordered or whether you can squeeze into their spot.
For more classy diners, you’ll want to make dinner reservations at your favorite restaurant. When making reservations or upon entering the restaurant, you can say “una mesa para dos” or “a table for two.” Replace the number with how many people are in your party.
Two of the most common words used while ordering are “con” and “sin.” You can use the words as follows:
- Me gustaría una hamburguesa con queso – I would like a hamburger with cheese
- Quiero un perro caliente sin salsa – I want a hot dog with no sauce.
- Quiero ordenar una quesadilla con las papas – I want to order a quesadilla with fries
“Con” and “sin” are helpful with adding (or subtracting) toppings or telling what sides to include with your order.
Eating in Mexico
Mexican cuisine is very diverse, and you can enjoy it in a variety of ways. If you’re eating something quick like a few tacos, you can simply use your “manos” or hands. If you want to be a bit classier, here are some words to memorize:
When you want to ask for a utensil for eating, you can politely ask the waiter,
- ¿Tiene un tenedor para mi ensalada? – “do you have a fork for my salad?”
- Me gustaría una cuchara para la sopa – “I would like a spoon for the soup.”
As an insider tip, you generally won’t hear locals specifying what kind of utensils they need – most people refer to all utensils as plata.
“Plata” translates to silver, but in a restaurant setting in Mexico, everyone will know that you’re referring to silverware. You can simply say “¿tiene plata?” They will bring out the appropriate eatery for digging into your meal!
Tips for Ordering Food at a Mexican Restaurant
Ordering food in Spanish isn’t as big of a cultural shock as you might expect, but there are a few things to keep in mind for big city or small town restaurant etiquette. Some things to be mindful of include:
Paying for your food
In Mexico, you typically pay for your food after eating – unless you’re at a fast-food restaurant or order to go. If you’re sitting down at a street food cart table or an upscale restaurant, you’ll receive your food to enjoy before thinking about how to pay.
Use “la cuenta por favor” to ask for the bill and signify that you’re finished with your food.
Can’t finish your food?
Mexican food is cheap and delicious, so it’s easy to get carried away and ask for everything on the menu. We recommend taking it home to continue to enjoy, even if you’re stuffed. Trust us; you’ll be glad you did once you get hungry again.
You can ask for a carryout box by saying “tiene una caja para llevar,” or “do you have a carryout box?”
Leave a tip
In case you’re wondering, yes, you should always tip in Mexico. Tipping is a part of the culture, which is sometimes included in your bill for large parties.
The Spanish word for “tip” is “propina” which is typically 10-20% of your bill.
It’s Your Turn
Hopefully, you’ve picked up a few phrases to use on your next restaurant visit in Mexico. Refer to the word charts in this post if you get stuck to be sure that you’re ordering exactly what you want.
Let us know in the comments about your restaurant experience in Mexico.