13 Old-School Mexican Recipes Your Grandma Used to Make
Mexican-ish food has inserted itself into all of our lives, whether it’s our weekly Taco Tuesday date with the girls or the fast-food burrito bowls that we rely on for a quick dinner on the way home from work. But if you grew up with a Mexican abuela, you know that there’s so much more to the traditional cuisine than nachos and margs. When we’re in the mood for the real thing—warm, freshly made tortillas, crispy carnitas and rich mole sauces—these are the recipes we turn to.
1. Slow-Cooker Pork Carnitas
OK, so your abuela might not have used a slow-cooker to make her carnitas. But we can’t recommend it highly enough; it gets the meat so nice and tender without any of the fuss.
2. Mexican Posole
Everyone knows that chicken soup has healing powers, and this Mexican version is basically penicillin in a bowl. The secret is hominy—big corn kernels—and plenty of crunchy toppings like tortilla strips and sliced radishes.
3. Tacos Al Pastor
Traditional al pastor is made by roasting pork on a spit with pieces of pineapple on top, so the juices marinate the meat as it cooks. Since most of us don’t have a spit roaster handy at home, we love this version, which uses chile-marinated boneless pork shoulder and caramelized grilled pineapple. We think that abuela would approve.
4. Roasted Chiles Rellenos with Black Beans
Chiles rellenos can be heavy and greasy, but not this recipe. The peppers are roasted, rather than fried in oil, and filled with black beans and healthy veggies. Feel free to leave out the cheese to make it fully vegan.
5. Chilaquiles with Poached Eggs and Spicy Honey
Chilaquiles might be Mexico’s best kept secret—it’s basically nachos masquerading as a protein-packed breakfast food. In this take, a drizzle of spicy honey cuts the richness of the eggs and fried tortillas for a beautifully balanced dish.
6. Mexican Grilled Corn
Forget plain melted butter—as everyone’s abuela knows, grilled corn on the cob is about a thousand times better when it’s rolled in spicy mayonnaise and topped with crumbly cheese.
7. Chicken Tinga Tacos
Abuela used to spend all day perfecting her chicken tinga. We can’t quite do that on a busy Tuesday night, but thanks to store-bought rotisserie chicken and a quick blender sauce, we can get pretty close.
8. Carne Asada Torta
Tortas are often the forgotten Mexican sandwich (thanks to those attention-hogging tacos). But we love the combination of crusty bread, slow roasted meat, pickled jalapenos and plenty of cool avocado.
9. Mole Sauce
We’re of the opinion that chocolate improves everything ... even savory dishes. We love this rich, tangy sauce on everything from enchiladas to scrambled eggs to a simple bowl of rice and beans.
10. Baked Chicken Quesadillas
Your abuela always somehow made a big batch of quesadillas on the stove for the whole family without breaking a sweat. But when we have a crowd, we love this method — one sheet pan in a very hot oven gets us five crispy, gooey, chicken-stuffed quesadillas at once. And guac is never extra at our house.
11. Crispy Baked Chicken Burritos
We tend to think of burritos as overstuffed gut bombs filled with rice and beans and all sorts of other things. But traditionally, burritos are actually pretty manageable—these ones just have shredded chicken, cheese and a tangy salsa verde on top.
12. Huevos Rancheros
OK, so we’d never tell our abuela when we were sleeping off a killer hangover. But we would hope desperately that she’d make us a plate of these lifesaving huevos rancheros, with warm tortillas, refried beans and plenty of spicy salsa.
13. Churro Bites with Chocolate Sauce
Abuela would never forget about dessert, and neither will we. There’s nothing better than ending a meal with a piping hot, cinnamon-sugar-crusted churro, dipped in creamy, bittersweet chocolate.