you wander the city, you will find food carts in almost
every neighborhood, but especially in the older parts of
Cancun. Eating fresh-made tacos and quesadillas on the
street is a way of life here for dinner, lunch, or snacks…and
an economical choice as well. Look for where the locals
are eating…they’ve probably tried many different
carts and have decided this one is the best. If your knowledge
of the language isn’t quite perfect, don’t worry.
Hold up 3 fingers, point to which type of meat you want
on the grill, and you’ll get three perfect, fresh
tacos. Don’t worry about where they wash the dishes…your
plate is covered with a fresh disposable plastic bag.
Here’s a list of the common offerings
of meat: Carne Asada is grilled or fried
beefsteak. Pastor is beef cooked on a vertically-rotating
spit; looks like greek gyros. Usually served with a chunk
of roasted pineapple. Puerque is pork,
Tripa is tripe, Jamon
is ham, and Pollo is Chicken. Birria
is Goat meat. Not very common, but VERY tasty, even if it’s
a bit greasy.
here’s the different ways you can have your meal or
snack: Tacos made with a small soft corn
tortilla. “Hard shell” tacos are virtually unknown
here.Quesadillas are soft flour tortilla
filled with melted cheese. If you don’t order any
meat, it will come with just cheese. Gorditas -
Some stands offer “the little fatty”
as a thick corn tortilla covered with sauce and your choice
of meat, and topped with cheese…sort of like a little
Mexican pizza Tortas are sandwiches made
with a French-bread style roll. A favorite is the ‘Cubana’,
an ‘everything’ sandwich with ham or bologna,
pork, at least one kind of cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, chilies
(if you want), and mayonnaise. Burritos - flour
tortillas wrapped around the fillings are common here and
you may also find ‘Burritas’ which are small
rolled and fried tacos. Tostadas are hard-fried
corn tortillas; here in Cancun they are commonly topped
with seafood ceviche - fresh chopped seafood mixed with
onions, tomatoes, and a few spices.
Every cart has a supply of soft drinks,
typically Coke or Pepsi plus all those companies’
other products (Sprite, 7-up, Fanta Orange, etc.). One you're
probably not familiar with is generically called 'manzanita'
which is a delicious apple soda, not unlike carbonated apple
juice. But the best deal and the best refreshment is the
cart’s ‘agua’. The word means ‘water’,
but it’s typically one of two types of flavored water.
“Jamaica” (say “Ha-MY-ee-cah”) is
a cold tea made from the flowers of the Jamaica plant, deep
red in color, sweetened, and delicious. The other is Horchata
(say “Ore-CHA-tah”), a milky-white drink made
from rice milk, vanilla, and cinnamon. Cold, tasty, nutritious,
and absolutely refreshing.
Speaking of refreshments, try “tuba”
wherever you might encounter it. This traditional drink
is a concoction of coconut milk and palm sap with little
chunks of apple and nuts, served over ice. You’ll
carrying a pole over their shoulders, a large gourd on one
end and a bag of ice and cups on the other. Usually 8 to
12 pesos depending on size. Sweet, refreshing, and very
tasty. You might also encounter vendors of ‘tejuino’,
another native drink, which we don’t know what it
is but once we tried it we were not impressed. Fermented
something, and quite bitter. If you’ve got an adventurous
streak, try it out just to say you did so, then let us know
what you thought of it.
We’re aware of many guidebooks that
advise against eating from the street carts and vendors
on the basis of health and sanitation reasons, but feel
that their views are a tad over-paranoid. All the carts
are regularly inspected for sanitation, and carts serving
poor quality food simply don’t stay in business long.
There are a few things you might want to do if you’re
concerned. Squeeze some lime (“limon”) on your
tacos before eating them…every cart has limes, and
the juice is a natural anti-bacterial, and adds a flavorful
‘zing’ to your food. Also, if your stomach tends
to be sensitive, take some Pepto-Bismal before your meal.
Finally, most stomach problems aren’t from the food
itself, but rather the excessive use of spicy sauces the
diner is not familiar with. You can ask in advance which
sauces are spicy/not spicy by pointing and asking: “Picante?”
or “No picante?”
the edible offerings are more mobile than the typical stationery
food cart...look for 3-wheeled bikes with pots of hot corn
or tamales, or roving vendors with all the fixings for gorditas
or empenadas kept in coolers and plastic buckets, all strapped
to a two-wheel dolly. You’ll also find carts selling
hot dogs wrapped in bacon, giant (if a bit thin) hamburgers,
and snacks of all types. A fried-corn snack is sold on the
beach and in the plazas…you’ll see vendors with
huge baskets of these multi-shaped snacks which taste a
bit like ‘Fritos’ but lighter, and it’s
common to douse them with the provided lime, salt, and/or
hot sauce. Don’t be afraid to buy a bag and try them.
You’ll also find corn-on-the-cob, but it’s not
nearly as sweet and juicy as the sweet corn ‘up north’.
They make it work here with a liberal slathering of butter,
sour cream, lime juice, dry cheese, and/or chili powder.
All these things together mixed in a cup (as it is commonly
offered) is a very tasty, inexpensive, and satisfying snack.
of the best ‘street foods’ is actually on the
beach - Fish on a Stick is only 20 pesos (or 3 for 50 pesos),
and you’ll get several nice chunks of freshly-grilled
white fish on a stick, with lime and hot sauce if you want.
Also available in shrimp, but served un-peeled, which makes
it a bit messy…so grab plenty of napkins. You’ll
see vendors carrying the goods on most of the beaches...
Best bet is to get yours straight from the grill.
You can also get plates of freshly-shucked raw oysters on
the beach…again, best bet is to go find them at the
source, rather than take a chance on oysters that have been
walked around in the sun for too long.
are absolutely sinfully delicious, better than a Krispy-Kreme
any day. This is basically a stick-like donut, dough squeezed
out of a giant stainless-steel caulk gun, fried in oil and
then coated with cinnamon and sugar. Just say “cinco
pesos” or “diez pesos” (5 pesos or 10
pesos), and you’ll get a nice paper bag of fresh,
hot, greasy, sweet, tasty, diet-busting delight.
Fruit stands are common in Cancun, and
are a great source of snacks or vegetarian meals. For the
typical price of 10 to 15 pesos, you‘ll get a plastic
bag or cup of freshly sliced fruit.
Fresh juice is a staple of Cancun street
food, and a great way to start your day. Once you’ve
had sweet fresh-squeezed orange juice you’ll never
be able to enjoy that stuff you buy in a carton back home.
There are fresh juice stands all over Cancun, sometimes
operated for a few hours each morning in front of the squeezer’s
house. Say “Para llevar” (“Pah-rah Yah-var”,
meaning ‘to go’) and they’ll pour it in
a plastic bag with a straw for a portable drink. Check the
glossary below, or simply point at what you want.
FRUIT and VEGGIE GLOSSARY: