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If you don't know a chimichanga from an enchilada, it can be a challenge to pick out the healthier options on a Mexican restaurant menu. Here's what you need to know to make the best choice.

Hannah Klinger
July 28, 2017

5 Dishes to Avoid

Extra Tortilla Chips
Complimentary chips and salsa usually hit the table as soon as you sit down, and like it or not, they're pretty much bottomless. When that first basket empties, pull back; you'll want those calories for the rest of your meal.

Queso
There's nothing light about this liquid cheese sauce. A thinner consistency also means you'll need to dip twice as many chips. Stick to salsa, guacamole, and fresh pico de gallo.

Fried Entrées
Chile rellenos, chalupas, chimichangas, gorditas, tostadas, and taquitos are all mains that will be deep-fried. Of these options, tostadas (open-faced tacos) and rellenos (poblano peppers) are best. It's easier to order one of the un-fried dishes (see below) rather than ask the kitchen to change the way a dish is prepared.

Fried Tortilla Shells
A deep-fried vessel is not a healthy start to a salad; skip it and choose a salad with a leafy green base. If you're cooking at home, try our genius taco salad makeover (crispy shell included). If you crave something sweet, see if you can order ice cream without the fried shell or sopapilla (a fried tortilla drizzled with honey).

Extra Toppings
An easy way to save calories and fat is to omit extra toppings that aren't central to the dish, like generous dollops of sour cream and guacamole or a second layer of melted cheese. Pico de gallo is a fine substitute for any of these toppers.

5 Dishes to Order

Fajitas
Grilled meats and vegetables are always a healthy alternative. Fajitas usually come on a sizzling platter with all the trimmings on the side so you can assemble your own (with a better ratio of veg to meat and toppings) and pack up the rest for later.

Un-Fried Mains
Enchiladas, burritos, tamales, and soft-shell tacos will not be fried. Choose corn tortillas over flour, if possible.  

Salads
Some combos come with a simple salad (usually shredded iceberg lettuce with tomato and guacamole). If it isn't included, you can add one on from the sides menu or ask your server to include.

Tortilla Soup or Posole
Soup doesn't usually come to mind at your neighborhood Mexican joint, but it should. Both tortilla soup and posole are relatively low-calorie and incredibly rich in flavor. Order a cup for an appetizer instead of chips and dip.

Steak, Black Beans, and Pico
These three items are healthier options than ground beef, refried beans, and heavier salad dressings or dips. Make these swaps where you can.

A Note about Margaritas:
It's not really clear whether margaritas served on the rocks are a healthier option than frozen (the latter might go down easier, but they are otherwise the same). Most restaurants will use a mix that can be high in sugar. Order on the rocks if you'd like to customize with less mix, or just ask for tequila, triple sec, and lime juice.