It’s no secret . . . the food in Mexico is incredible! But if you haven’t been to Mexico before, you might not know that each of the 32 states have very different cuisines. And it’s a huge part of the culture that the people of each region identify with. At Life in Mérida, we absolutely love trying new food! For us, it’s an extremely important part of moving to a new place. Learning about the deep connection that people have with dishes that have been passed down through generations will bring you closer to the community. So we’ve compiled a list of our absolute favorite, traditional Yucatecan dishes in Mérida plus where you can try them.
A quick note, this article excludes favorites that hail from other parts of the country. Sorry chilaquiles, flan, ceviche and burritos!! But let’s focus on the best of Yucatan . . .
This article was updated in June of 2023.
1. Huevos Motuleños: Yucatan’s finest breakfast.
This might honestly be one of the strangest breakfast dishes but it’s also the most satisfying. This dish consists of tortillas bathed in spicy red sauce and topped with fried eggs, refried beans, onion, cheese, ham, plantain, peas and habaneros. Huevos motuleños is truly a spectacle of a breakfast. But what might seem like a plateful of simple and random ingredients, they actually come together in perfect harmony.
Find the best huevos motuleños at Doña Evelia’s in Motul, of course. Motul is a small town about half an hour from Mérida (add another 20 minutes if you’re coming from the center of the city). If you head to the main square of this town and wander up the stairs of the indoor market, you’ll find a very open canteen-like space. This is Doña Evelia’s; characterised by the many tables and lots of waiters rushing around. You will be attended to quickly and efficiently as the only thing on the menu is, you’ve guessed it, huevos motuleños!
You can also find huevos motuleños on the menu in most breakfast establishments and hotels in Mérida!
2. Cochinita: Does it get any more Yucatecan than this?
The answer is no, it does not. This is MOST traditional Yucatecan dishes in Mérida you will ever eat. And it’s not like cochinita that you might try in the U.S. Cochinita pibil is, put simply, roasted pig in achiote. It’s the closest you’ll get to a Mayan style BBQ. It’s typically served in a tortilla with beans, red onions and some spicy sauce or peppers. Smokey and distinctly flavored with local spices, it’s a hit with the locals.
You can find cochinita anywhere and everywhere. We say don’t be afraid to try this from a cocina economica or small street vendor. The best days are Sunday mornings. These guys know what they’re doing and the quality is high pretty much wherever you go. But do be careful if you have a sensitive stomach. It’s also a staple at Yucatecan weddings.
3. Sopa de Lima: The answer to all your prayers.
Believe it or not, sopa de lima (or lime soup) is perfect for pretty much any time of day. Need a quick lunch? Sopa de lima. Need a late night snack? Sopa de lima. A breakfast to cure your hangover? Sopa de lima! It’s a really simple soup made with chicken or turkey broth, lime and lots of seasoning and toppings such as lettuce, strips of tortillas and peppers. Eat it the local way and crush your tortillas up and let them soak in the soup. Mmmm que rico!
Our favourite spot in Mérida for sopa de lima is in the mercado of Santiago park. Get comfy on one of the red plastic chairs and soak up the evening while locals catch up over a beer and children play in the park. We recommend heading over on weeknights to watch people dancing salsa in the warm evening breeze.
4. Papadzules: You either love them or you hate them…
You might be surprised to hear that this is one of our fave traditional Yucatecan dishes in Mérida. Why? Because it’s completely vegetarian. Imagine enchiladas coated in a white sauce made from pumpkin seeds but with a filling of boiled eggs. We’ll admit, it doesn’t look like much but it’s surprisingly creamy and filling. And it’s often a good breakfast option when going to restaurants with a lot of meat-heavy dishes.
Many blogs will tell you that it’s hard to find a really good plate of papadzules but we recommend Kinich. You might have already heard of this establishment. Tucked away in the golden town of Izamal, about 45 minutes from Merida, Kinich is in fact one of our favourite restaurants for Yucatan food in the whole peninsula.
5. Relleno Negro: Yes it’s black. You might be surprised!
Food shouldn’t be black, right? Well, relleno negro (it’s in the name) is a surprising dish that will play with all your senses. So, don’t judge it before you’ve tried it. Another meaty favourite, this is shredded turkey soaked in a striking black sauce with a boiled egg on top. And when we say black sauce, we mean black. It’s like looking into the depths of space in your bowl. The color comes from the charred, dried chiles which are then ground to make black recado negro. The flavors are fantastic as it’s usually a little spicy, quite rich and a touch smokey.
For the best relleno negro in town, pop over to hotel Mansion Mérida located in Parque Hidalgo on the corner of Calle 60 and 59. A family-run hotel, the restaurant here serves amazing local dishes with top quality ingredients.
6. Tamales: A Mexican favourite with a dash of Yucatan.
You’ve probably heard of tamales already. Popular across the country, they are a staple Mexican dish. In Yucatan, they are super popular. Stuffed with chicken or turkey, the corn dough is wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed, often underground. They can be a little heavy so go easy if you’re trying them for the first time. Notably, it’s one of the most authentic dishes you can try here.
The most common time to try tamales is around Halloween. In Yucatan, the celebration is Hanal Pixan. Day of the Dead celebrations take place over the last week of October and first week of November. We recommend trying pib which is actually the method of cooking food in a pit. These are large tamales cooked on stones heated from the fire in the pit beneath. If you’re in town for this time of year, don’t forget to try some.
7. Panuchos and Salbutes: But what’s the difference?
Now this is where we often get confused. What are panuchos and salbutes? How are they different to tacos, sopes, gorditas or any other dishes with a tortilla base?
Well, both panuchos and salbutes have a corn base and are topped with similar ingredients: lettuce, avocado, tomato, onions and meat (often chicken). The difference is that the base of panuchos are filled with frijoles or refried beans. The base is then lightly deep fried so they are deliciously crispy. Salbutes, on the other hand, are plain tortillas which are less crispy as they puff up when immersed in oil. They can be starters or a meal in itself, perhaps a good lunch option if you’re out for the day exploring the sights.
One of our favourite restaurants located in the center of the city for traditional Yucatecan dishes in Mérida is MUGY – Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca. They have some fantastic salbutes and panuchos with different toppings to try. It’s centrally located and the decoration of the dining rooms and courtyard is very traditional. They have a demonstration of how cochinita is cooked around 3:00 pm every day.
8. Polcanes: Yucatan’s best snack.
Also spelled pol’kanes, these are perfect little deep fried snacks that you can find at market stalls throughout the city of Mérida. Meaning “snake head” in the Maya language, they are oval in shape and are made from corn, beans and local squash. When fried, they look like little golden dough balls. Simply mouth-watering! Eat them with some toppings such as salsa, onions, lettuce or cheese.
We love strolling around the Lucas de Galvez market close to the center of Mérida. It’s always bustling with activity and is the perfect place to try some local snacks. As you wander around, enjoy some polcanes and feel like a local.
9. Poc Chuc: Yucatan’s comfort food.
Wood fired, marinated thin pork, this simple dish encapsulates the most basic elements of traditional Yucatecan food – pork, marinated in Seville orange. Quick grilled on open coals and served with typical condiments, purple pickled onion and chiltomate, a salsa made of onion, roasted tomatoes, habanero and cilantro.
We love going to Wayan’e in Mérida for a poc chuc torta, kinda like pork in a subway sandwich. There are a number of Wayan’e stands in the city but you’ll always find a spot at the bar and receive a warm welcome.
10. Sikil Pa’ak: The dip you need to eat. Now.
We could eat sikil pa’ak with a spoon. If you’re looking for the equivalent of Mexican hummus, this is it. Made from ground pumpkin seeds, boiled tomatoes and habanero peppers, it’s a simple yet rich and flavorful dish. Somewhere between the consistency of chunky guacamole and smooth hummus, scoop up your sikil pa’ak with some freshly fried tortilla chips and forget all your worries.
Find this yummy dip in most cantinas where it is served as a botana (snack) with your drinks. Spend an afternoon at La Negrita or one of the other bars scraping out the bowl and ordering more.
11. Longaniza: For the sausage lovers.
Longaniza is the chorizo of the Yucatan Peninsula. In a menu you might see different options but the best longaniza comes from Valladolid, a couple of hours from Mérida. It’s fabulously smokey and quite rich. It is typically served with tortillas so that you can create your own tacos. It can also be a little dry so add whatever additional ingredients you like to compliment your longaniza including tomatoes, egg, salsa, beans, avocado, lettuce, and anything else you like.
Try some awesome longaniza in, you guessed it, Valladolid! Pop into the little food stall canteen on the corner of the central square or try some amazing longaniza in the restaurant at the Meson del Marques hotel.
What about dessert? Well, much like other hot climates, Yucatecans are not big on dessert. However, here are a couple of things that they do really well.
12. Dulce de papaya: Diet starts tomorrow.
If you have a sweet tooth then this is absolutely perfect for you. Papaya is cooked in sugary water with cinnamon and vanilla giving it a very festive flavour. You will receive your dulce de papaya cold, coated in syrup and topped with, wait for it, cheese. It sounds odd, we know. But little cubes of edam cheese (popular here in Yucatan), are actually the perfect topping for this very sweet dessert.
We’ve tried many dulce de papaya dishes in Mérida and one of our most enjoyable experiences was at Hacienda Teya, just outside the city to the Southeast. Another fab option for trying authentic traditional Yucatecan an flavours, we recommend Hacienda Teya for a Sunday lunch with dulce de papaya for dessert. The perfect way to finish your meal! After, take a delightful walk around the grounds and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Bonus: Marquesitas: If the French only knew…
Okay we’re scraping the barrel by calling this a dessert, we know. But if you find yourself strolling around Centro after your evening meal then stop at one of the colorful roadside stalls for this delightful treat on our traditional Yucatecan dishes in Mérida list.
Marquesitas sound a bit odd if you’re not used to them. A crispy crepe filled with cheese and optionally topped with nutella. We were skeptical too, at first. But once you’ve tried it there’s no going back! They are super popular here with locals so you can’t leave without trying them.
Where can you find marquesitas? Any little marquesita stall or cart in the city will make standard marquesitas. Occasionally, you find one on Paseo de Montejo with extra exciting toppings. Take a walk up the main avenue of the city in the evening and browse the marquesita stalls until you find one you like. A tip: if there’s a line of people, it’s a hit with the locals. Therefore, this is your stand!
Final Thoughts on Traditional Yucatecan Dishes in Mérida
That’s our list of some of our favourite traditional Yucatecan dishes in Mérida! Enjoy exploring the peninsula and trying some of these incredible flavours along the way. There are so many wonderful restaurants in Mérida – known for its gastronomy – that we couldn’t include all of them. But we hope our list helps you and possibly points you in the direction of a place you might not have previously tried.