Get to know Mexico's seven unique culinary regions and the classic foods they're known for!
Carne en su Jugo (Meat in its Juices)
Carne en su Jugo (Meat in its Juices) | Photo by Allrecipes

Although tacos and tequila deserve every ounce of praise bestowed upon them, they are hardly comprehensive envoys of Mexican cuisine. The country's culinary history is as complex as it is diverse, shaped over the centuries by indigenous traditions, invasions, vast topography, native agriculture, and global flavors.

The fabric of Mexico's cuisine is an amalgamation of foods and flavors from distinct geographic regions where culinary traditions and cultural roots run deep. From the arid desert of Sonora to the lush Yucatan Peninsula, these seven regions are responsible for wide-ranging cooking methods and ingredients that make up Mexico's unparalleled gastronomy.

Let's take a look at each of the country's unique culinary regions and the classic foods they're known for:

Northern Mexico - El Norte

States: Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas

The cuisine of the sweeping northern region of Mexico, which stretches from the coast of Baja California to the Gulf of Mexico, has been shaped over the centuries by a prominent ranching culture. Many dishes are centered around grilled meat, such as arrachera (fajitas), carne asada and cabrito (baby goat). This area also boasts the largest variety of cheeses in the country due to the ranching industry.

Although flour tortillas are often thought of as an American interpretation of Mexican cuisine, they originate in northern Mexico, which is home to at least 40 different types of flour tortillas thanks to wheat production in the region. In northern Mexican cuisine, flour tortillas are used for burritos that are traditionally filled with meat and served with pork-infused pinto beans.

Other signature dishes from the North are machaca, which is dried beef rehydrated in its own juices, and filete de res al chipotle, filet mignon with tomatillo-chipotle sauce.

Lisa's Favorite Carne Asada Marinade
Lisa's Favorite Carne Asada Marinade | Photo by Julie Jackson
| Credit: Julie Jackson

The North Pacific Coast

States: Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima

It's no surprise that this region along the Pacific Coast is known for a seafood-rich culinary tradition. Octopus, swordfish, tuna, shrimp and black sea bass are common in markets and restaurants in this part of the country. Ceviche, raw fish cured in citrus juices and spices, is a regular menu item.

Along with seafood, this area produces an abundance of chiles, vegetables and grains. One of the largest exports from this region is tequila made from the copious agave plants found in Jalisco.

Dishes typical of this region are pozolecarne en su jugo (meat cooked in its juices), birria (a meat and chile stew) and torta ahogada (a sandwich covered in red chile sauce).

Mexican Mango and Whitefish Ceviche
Mexican Mango and Whitefish Ceviche | Photo by Allrecipes

The Bajio

States: Michoacán, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Queretaro

Cuisine of the Bajio region near the central part of the country is threaded with Spanish influence. Rice and pork play dominant roles in the food.

Typical of this region is carnitas – braised pork shoulder that is crisped and then chopped into smaller pieces and served by itself or in tacos. The area is also known for a rice and sausage dish called morisqueta and enchiladas mineras, corn tortillas stuffed with cheese and topped with vegetables and chile sauce.

The Bajio area is also recognized for its desserts, one of which is cajeta – caramelized goat's milk.

Crispy Pork Carnitas
Crispy Pork Carnitas | Photo by Rock_Lobster

Central Mexico

States: Puebla, Morelos, Taxcala, Hidalgo, Mexico City

Central Mexico's gastronomical hub is Mexico City where street food reigns supreme. Here in the capital of the country, taco stands and torta shops dot the streets and a confluence of influences and flavors meld together to create a vibrant food scene.

Some of the most well-known dishes from Central Mexico are barbacoachiles rellenos and chalupas.

Barbacoa-Style Shredded Beef
Barbacoa-Style Shredded Beef | Photo by Baking Nana

The South Pacific Coast

States: Guerrero, Oaxaco, Chiapas

The food in the South Pacific Coast region of Mexico is deeply tied to indigenous roots and incorporates ingredients like insects, armadillos, rabbits and chocolate along with more common staples such as pork, chicken and corn.

Oaxaca is known for its seven variations of mole sauce: negro, colordao, coloradito, amarillo, verde, chichilo and mancha manteles. Each sauce varies in color and flavor due to unique combinations of chiles and herbs. Moles are found throughout the South Pacific Coast.

In this region you can find sucking pork in adobo sauce, octopus cooked with tomatoes and chiles, and mole de jumil, which is a variety of stink bugs in a mole sauce.

Simple Tostadas with Mole Sauce
Authentic mole shows off chocolate's savory side | Photo by Meredith

The Gulf

States: Tabasco, Veracruz

This stretch of land that cups the Gulf of Mexico is heavily influenced by Carribean and African flavors and uses ingredients like plantains, peanuts, sweet potatoes and yucca to accompany a seafood-heavy diet. Vanilla, which is native to the region, is also a staple ingredient in this area.

Tabasco is known globally as the home of Tabasco hot sauce, but the state boasts a number of shellfish varieties unique to its waters making it a notable seafood destination.

Popular dishes along the Gulf are mostly seafood-focused, like huachinango a la veracruzana, which is a whole red snapper cooked in a tomato sauce with capers, herbs and olives. Arroz a la tumbada is another well-known dish similar to Spanish paella that is made of white rice and a mix of fish and shellfish.

Veracruz-Style Red Snapper
Veracruz-Style Red Snapper | Photo by Allrecipes Magazine

Southern Mexico

States: Campeche, Yucatan, Quintana Roo

The cuisine in the southern part of the country has clear Mayan roots. Pibil-style cooking, the process of slow cooking food in an underground pit, is a widely used method and tropical fruits like tamarind, bitter oranges, mamey and plums are incorporated into the daily diet.

Cochinita pibil is one noteworthy dish from the southern region. It is traditionally prepared by slow roasting pork in citrus juices. Panuchos, which are fried stuffed tortillas, also come from the southern portion of Mexico.

Many dishes from this region have a signature red hue that comes from the use of vibrant achiote or annatto seeds, which impart a peppery flavor when used in large quantities.

a plate of pulled pork garnished with red onion slices and cilantro with a clay serving bowl in the background
Cochinita Pibil (Mexican Pulled Pork in Annatto Sauce) | Photo by Allrecipes
| Credit: Chef Gaby Cervello

Check out our complete collection of Mexican Recipes.