We'll show you the healthiest choices (and splurge-only dishes) to help you order wisely at Mexican restaurants.
Credit: Illustration: Serge Bloch

Here's the trick to keeping your healthy-eating intentions from taking a siesta at the cantina: Many of the ingredients highest in sodium are also high in calories and saturated fat, which means that cutting back on cheese, sour cream, and chips solves three problems at once.

Speaking of chips, let's start with the starters: margaritas, salsa, and chips (a combination quite possibly created by the culinary gods). Twelve chips and a little salsa are around 300 to 350 calories, and a margarita can range from 150 calories (small and on the rocks) to more than 400 calories for a great big frozen slurpy drink. So before you even start your meal, you can easily consume upwards of 700 calories. Our advice? Choose the drinks or the chips during this visit, and leave the other for next time.

The numbers below are estimates derived from averaging nutritional info from many national Mexican restaurant chains. Unless otherwise noted, the numbers refer to the main dish only—not the rice and refried beans that are often served alongside. Dishes marked with a red light aren't untouchable (no food is) but can be a really big splurge.

Splurge Only:

  • Cheese and Bean Enchilada
    910 calories
    You might think this is a healthier, vegetarian option, but a typical serving delivers at least one-and-a-half days' worth of saturated fat and nearly 1,600mg of sodium.
  • Shrimp Fajitas
    980 calories
    It's amazing that innocent-sounding shrimp can get the red light, but this dish delivers around 3,200mg of sodium—more than you should have in four dinners.

Ask Your Server:

  • Chicken Burrito
    790 calories
    Tons of cheese and refried beans are stuffed inside, and they're topped with sour cream and queso. That all averages 16g of saturated fat and 2,000mg of sodium. Split it—sans topping.
  • Taco Salad
    920 calories
    This is salvageable. Order without cheese and sour cream—it should still have plenty of flavor. And we don't need to tell you that eating that fried taco "bowl" is loco.

Healthy Choice:

  • Chicken Enchilada
    270 calories
    Enchiladas are usually offered in multiples as part of a combo platter with rice and beans. Share it all with a like-minded friend, and you'll each enjoy a satisfying, not stupefying, portion.
  • Beef Taco
    320 calories
    Red meat eaters, rejoice! Beef tacos, on average, actually have fewer calories and less sodium than their fish counterparts, which leaves room for rice and beans.