By Rachel Johnson
Updated January 30, 2017

When visiting a new city, the first thing I do is compile a list of where to eat. I typically ask around social media, or people I know who've been there (foodie friends have more pull) and do too much research online. When I visited Charleston, South Carolina, my list included Sean Brock's newest brick and mortar, Minero. I brought my friends who had never been to an authentic Mexican restaurant but when we sat down, it seemed as if tacos were the only recognizable menu item. Everybody can speak "margarita" but our party had to Google a few of the ingredients and ask the waitress for a run down to put in our order.

Thinking about that experience, I compiled a list of terms that you might find at a Mexican restaurant, inspired by Minero's menu. If your options for authentic Mexican are limited, try a Cooking Light recipe suggestion at home! Find ingredients at your local Mexican grocer, or opt for dried or packaged versions in case you have trouble finding anything. Don't be afraid to try something new! Anything wrapped in a tortilla and topped with fresh salsa is typically a pretty safe bet. Here are words to know so you navigate a Mexican menu like a pro, along with a recipe suggestion to master at home:

al Pastor: Meat roasted on a spit and thinly sliced, served in a tortilla. Recipe: Tacos Al Pastor with Grilled Pineapple Salsa

  • Arroz: Spanish word for rice. Recipe: Arroz con Pollo
  • Barbacoa: Spicy, shredded, slow braised beef. Recipe: Beef Barbacoa
  • Carnitas: Oven-roasted pork shoulder, pulled into shredded pieces. Recipe: Beef Carnitas Tacos
  • Chayote: A green, pear-shaped squash that can be eaten raw or cooked. Recipe: Tomatillo and Chayote Chicken
  • Chilaquiles: Fried tortilla chips topped with salsas and meats (Essentially what Authentic Nachos look like). Recipe: Chilaquiles and Eggs
  • Chorizo: Spicy Spanish pork sausage. Recipe: Beef Chorizo Tacos with Cabbage Slaw
  • Cotija: Hard, crumbly Mexican cheese made from cow's milk. Resembles Feta cheese. Recipe: Esquites (Creamy Corn Salad)
  • Enmolada: Filled, rolled tortillas in a mole sauce, similar to Enchiladas. Similar Recipe: Chicken Enchiladas

  • Hominy: Dried maize (corn) kernels. Recipe: Black Bean, Hominy and Kale Stew
  • Masa: Corn flour used to make tortillas. Recipe: Cheesy Masa Pancakes with Pico de Gallo
  • Pasilla de Oaxaca: A smoked chile from the Oaxacan region of Mexico. Recipe: Spicy Flank Steak
  • Posole: Mexican soup, often made with Hominy (see above). Recipe: Quick Pork Posole
  • Queso Fundito: Hot, melted cheese dip with chorizo crumbles. Recipe: Chile Con Queso Dip
  • Torta: A Mexican sandwich, filled with meat and fresh vegetables (this is purposely vague, it can be filled with anything!). Recipe: Seared Pork Tortas
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