Don’t skip Guadalajara if you want to really take a deep dive into Mexican cuisine.
Oaxaca hogs the foodie limelight in Mexico, with Mexico City and its swell of world-class dining options coming in close second. But Jalisco and, in turn, the state capital of Guadalajara remain tragically overlooked, despite gifting the world with some of Mexico’s most iconic dishes, drinks, and desserts. (Tequila, anyone?)
So, if you’re keen to seek out some of the most delicious, traditional, and underrated Mexican food on your next trip, this is where to dine and what to order in Guadalajara.
WHERE: Tortas Ahogadas Mr. Paco’s
Of all Guadalajara’s classic dishes, the spicy tomato sauce-doused torta ahogada with its infamous hangover-curing reputation is perhaps the best known. Served in slightly salty birote bread only found in and around Guadalajara, the torta ahogada bursts at the seams with deep fried pork (carnitas) topped with crisp, sliced onion and radish. Then, as the name ‘drowned sandwich’ implies, it’s soaked in a puddle of the aforementioned spicy tomato sauce. For the mess-averse, a torta ahogada is perhaps best avoided.
WHERE: Birrieria de las Nueve Esquinas
Another hangover-busting Guadalajara favorite is birria. While rolling those ‘r’s’ might take some effort, guzzling down a steaming bowl of goat-meat stew, a.k.a. birria, does not. One of the best-known spots for a bowl of traditional Guadalajara birria is downtown’s famed Birrieria de las Nueve Esquinas.
Carne en su Jugo
WHERE: Karne Garibaldi
Carne en su jugo is one dish that can sound—how can I put this?—questionable in translation. ‘Meat in its juice’ doesn’t give off a particularly appetizing vibe, after all. However, this typically Jalisciense dish is essentially a beef, bean, and bacon-filled broth, served with—as is common across the board of Mexican cuisine—onion, cilantro, and fresh lime. When in Guadalajara, the iconic (and Guinness World Record holder for fastest service) Karne Garibaldi is easily the best place to give it a try, and you have to order the equally impressive refried beans too. Even non-frijol fans will be converts.
WHERE: Pastelería Santa Teresita
Similar to flan, Guadalajaran jericallas combine milk, eggs, and sugar, plus cinnamon and vanilla, before being baked in a slow-cooker until they develop a crème brulée-esque burnish on top and a creamy custard texture below. Jericallas tend to be served cold, often from tiny corner shops and abarrotes around Guadalajara, but you can also find portion-sized pots of jericalla at most bakeries, like Pastelería Santa Teresita.
WHERE: Las Nueve Esquinas (between April and May)
Pitayas are vibrantly-colored cacti fruits that look like brains but taste far better. Harvested up and down the west coast of Mexico, pitayas are perhaps most prevalent in Sinaloa state; however, local legend states that the sweetest, most delicious pitayas hail from the numerous small towns outside the Jalisco capital, Guadalajara. Sweet and petite, pitayas are best eaten freshly peeled after being bought from the vendors of Las Nueve Esquinas.
WHERE: Pastes Minería
Pastes (pasties) don’t technically originate in Guadalajara, or even Mexico for that matter. However, they find their spiritual Mexican home in the state of Hidalgo, just northeast of Mexico City, where they were originally brought over by British miners before being adapted to local tastes and ingredients—out with the turnip and in with the mole! However, when in Guadalajara you should head to Pastes Minería, for some of the most amazing, freshly-baked pasties in the city.
INSIDER TIPOrder the tuna and potato version, or go for a well-filled and lightly spicy mushroom and cheese paste instead.
Agua de Horchata Rosa
WHERE: La Michoacana
Agua de horchata is the refreshing Mexican rice water flavored with cinnamon and cemented in the pop culture lexicon thanks to a certain Vampire Weekend song. In Guadalajara though, plain white horchata is considered far too basic…which is why many places turn it pink with strawberries, strawberry ice cream, or even just good ol’ artificial ingredients. Either way, the pastel tinge remains the same. Agua de horchata rosa was doing millennial pink before it was cool.
WHERE: Roadside, or on ranches, early in the morning
You won’t find true pajaretes in any bar, fonda, or city-center street stall, given that they’re the OG energy-drink for ranch hands in rural Jalisco. Made from freshly-milked milk, a.k.a. leche bronca, plus chocolate powder, coffee grounds, and sugar, trying a pajarete makes for a true Mexico experience, but you’ll likely need some local connections to get your hands on one. And if the idea of unpasteurized milk makes you feel funny, do as the locals do and top up your pajarete with licor de caña (cane alcohol) to “kill” the bacteria (or your nerves).
WHERE: Mercado San Juan de Dios
Little-known and incredibly local, toritos could quite easily be confused for a Tex-Mex dish, not least because they’re covered in an obscene (read: delicious) amount of melted cheese. However, Tex-Mex they aren’t. Rather, toritos are a Guadalajara speciality best found within the confines of the Mercado San Juan de Dios. Consisting of the meat of your choice, plus onion, cilantro, and beans bundled inside a flour tortilla, they’re sprinkled liberally with cheese before being baked. You’ll never want a chimichanga again.
WHERE: Tequila, Jalisco
OK, tequila isn’t typical of Jalisco’s state capital, but it would be impossible to discuss the culinary prowess of the region without touching on its most famous export. While you can get great tequila in most places throughout Mexico (sidenote: José Cuervo is not great tequila), there’s nowhere else you should go when it comes to taste-testing some of the best than the tequila-producing town of, you guessed it, Tequila itself. An hour or so outside of Guadalajara, it’s worth the trip.
WHERE: Tejuino Don Marcelino
Throw out the kombucha and give tejuino a try. Made from a base of fermented maize and piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar), tejuino is a drink typical of regions inhabited by the Huichol people, such as Jalisco and Nayarit. Nowadays, you’ll find vendors selling it by the cup from street carts across the Jalisco capital. Notable for the scoop of nieve de limon (lime-flavored shaved ice) which bobs happily atop the drink, tejuino is very much an acquired, but refreshing, taste that is even considered a natural probiotic.
WHERE: La Chata
Pozole, a lightly spicy broth containing fat corn kernels and pork, sprinkled with onion, lettuce, radish, and lime, is served up by the gallon during Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations, and you can expect to find a pot of pozole lurking at any and all Mexican fiestas. Not all pozoles (of which, rather appropriately, red, white, and green versions are available) are created equally, though. In Guadalajara, red pozole rules, whereas green and white pozole versions are more common in Guerrero.
WHERE: Mary Biónicos
Despite sometimes being billed as a dessert, biónicos are probably best enjoyed for breakfast rather than after dinner. After all, what is a dish combining fresh fruit, granola, and a triple-threat mix of evaporated milk, cream, and condensed milk if not an excellent way to start the day? Often sprinkled with raisins, desiccated coconut, nuts, and even chocolate chips, biónicos are deceptively simple and 100% jalisciense.
Lonches de Pierna
WHERE: Lonches Lisboa
Crispy baguette-esque bread sets Guadalajara’s sandwiches apart from a sea of other Mexican tortas, and lonches filled with pierna (pork leg) are easily the most typical of all those on offer in Guadalajara. Order jamón y panela (ham and panela, a fresh Mexican cheese) and don’t forget the rajas (strips of pickled chili and carrot).