Mexican Restaurant Recipes:

How to Make Classic, Authentic Mexican Restaurant Recipes at Home

by Josh Day

If I had to choose only one type of cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, it would be Mexican food. I wouldn't even have to think about it.

And I'm not talking Americanized, franchised crap like the baby food from Taco Bell. I'm talking the real deal: the stuff you get at the little taquerias that are often nothing more than a hole in the wall.

One of my favorite restaurants offers tacos that are so good that it's worth the 2 hour drive just for them. They're nothing extravagant; in fact, there's not much to them at all. They consist of bite-size pieces of steak marinated in olive oil, salt and pepper, lime, and a touch of beer, mixed with fresh onions and cilantro and served over two thin flour tortillas. Garnish and additional flavor is 1/3 of a key lime. There is no cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, or sour cream. They would take away from the delicious and simple flavor.

Before the tacos a basket of chips with three distinct salsas arrive at your table. These chips and sauces are very different from the usual complementary appetizer you get at most Mexican restaurants, including the ones that claim to be "authentic." As you'll read below, I have perfected that standard tomato-rich restaurant salsa, but I'm not even close to duplicating the wild fresh flavors of the three sauces this restaurant offers.

Speaking of salsa, let's get started with this signature, cornerstone item of Mexican food. You can't have good Mexican food without good salsa. On top of salsa for chips, you also need it for your Mexican rice as well as beans.

Mexican Salsa -- Restaurant Style

1 28 oz. can diced fancy tomatoes, petite (open can and empty out as much water/juice as possible)
4 Tbs bottled HOT jalapenos, finely minced
1 Tbs pickle juice from jalapeno jar
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

3 Tbs fresh cilantro, finely minced
1/4 cup red onion, finely minced
2-3 dried chili peppers, finely minced

Finely mince jalapenos, cilantro, and onion. Soak dried peppers in hot tap water on the counter for 15 minutes then prepare. Chop peppers as finely as possible -- a food chopper is ideal.

Note: Remember, the seeds are what really add the heat, so use as many or as few as you'd like. I used all the seeds from 3 peppers but only used the skin of 1 whole pepper.

Put all ingredients into a blender and fold in and then blend to desired consistency. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.

Now that our salsa is good to go we can start talking about the spread. We'll be breaking down a combination of meals and platters, which can be enjoyed over the course of several days.

Fresh ingredients are the key to good Mexican food. We'll be using onions, tomatoes, cilantro, bell peppers, and hot peppers. High quality meat is also important. We use grass-fed beef as it's less greasy and more tender. Once you try real organic, grass-fed ground beef, the factory-farm variety will never taste the same again.

You can also make vegetarian burritos and tacos with beans and rice.

Another cornerstone of Mexican food is the tortilla. They come in a number of sizes from small for tacos to grande for stuffed and rolled burritos. They're also available in corn, flour, or whole wheat. The important thing with tortillas is to warm them in a toaster oven or in a pan with a little oil because they'll fold so much easier.

Cilantro is key to authentic Mexican food. Some people don't care for the "soapy" taste of cilantro, so you can leave it out or substitute Italian parsley. But you're just not going to get the classic flavor if you don't use cilantro.

Tomatoes and onions are also required, along with garlic. You can use fresh hot peppers or bottled jalapenos. Personally, I like to incorporate both.

Before we get started with the recipes, here is a handy list for the grocery store. If you're not setting up a weekly meal plan and grocery shopping plan, I encourage you to start. You'll find you save time and money and will always be having a good meal every night of the week.

Pick and choose from the below items. You don't have to get everything, unless you want Mexican food several nights of the week.

  1. Fresh tomatoes
  2. Red onion
  3. Jalapeno or serrano peppers, optional
  4. Zucchini, optional
  5. Tomatillos (little green tomatoes with a paper-like sheaf), optional
  6. Green onion
  7. Green bell pepper
  8. Bunch of cilantro (quick storage tip: open the bunch when you get home and let dry on a paper towel for twenty minutes. Then tightly roll cilantro in paper towel like a tortilla and return to bag.)
  9. Limes
  10. Garlic
  11. 2 cans of fancy petite-cut tomatoes
  12. Can of Rotel tomatoes with chilies
  13. Can of good Mexican refried beans, or pintos, or black beans
  14. Long grain rice
  15. Chili powder
  16. Dried oregano
  17. Cumin, optional
  18. Package of tortillas (one Grande and one taco-sized)
  19. Ground beef and/or your favorite chopping steak (I use shoulder but any steak that's good cut to bite size pieces will work)
  20. Mozzarella cheese
  21. Mexican beer like Corona, XX, Tecate, Modelo, or Sol (my favorite), optional

Here's how to make a classic burrito. Note there are multiple recipes below for the "fillings," so you can make tacos, enchiladas, etc. another night.

I prefer steak meat in tacos and I keep them simple, having beans and rice on the side.

Stuffed and Rolled Burritos

Ground beef or steak, cut to bite size pieces
Mexican rice
Refried, black, or pinto beans
Chopped fresh cilantro
Fresh lime juice
Mozzarella cheese
Cilantro, optional
Pico de gallo, optional
Diced green onion, optional
Tortillas, large or Grande

If using steak, chop into bite size pieces and marinate in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper, minced garlic, and dried oregano. You can also add an ounce or two of beer for added flavor. Let sit in refrigerator for ten minutes to an hour.

If using ground beef, brown beef in pan and season with the following: salt, black pepper, minced garlic or garlic powder, chili powder, dried oregano, cumin, and cayenne pepper powder. All seasonings are added to taste.

Prepare rice per instructions on bag. However, before cooking, add a tablespoon to 1/4 cup of salsa and 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of chili powder (depends on how much rice you're making). Stir well and cook as normal.

Heat beans in saucepan. Add 1/2 cup salsa and 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese. Stir well and heat until cheese has fully melted and beans are hot.

If making pico de gallo, follow these directions:

Pico de Gallo

4-6 plum tomatoes, deseeded
1 red onion
1/2 jalepeno, deseeded (or a whole one if you want it HOT)
1 zucchini
Juice of one lime
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

The best way to make pico de gallo is in a vegetable chopper. But you can slice the vegetables manually too; just be prepared to spend half an hour getting everything minced.

Chop all vegetables as finely as you can.

Cut jalepeno in half and remove seeds. The seeds are the true source of the pepper's heat and can overpower the pico de gallo.

Squeeze the lime, add the garlic and cilantro, and season to taste. Stir well and let sit in the refrigerator for an hour before serving.

Once your meat, beans, and rice are heated and ready, chop green onion and cilantro.

Grate cheese into a bowl.

Heat tortillas in toaster oven or pan -- if using steak, remove steak from pan and heat the tortillas in the pan. They will soak up a lot of flavor.

Sprinkle cheese on warm tortilla. Then fill with meat, beans, rice, cilantro, salsa, green onions, and pico de gallo, if desired. Slightly fold up ends and then roll tortilla top to bottom, ensuring the folded ends seal the burrito.

Be careful when you serve Mexican food. It can become very addicting. You may start eating it every night!

Leftovers can be used in tacos, more burrito shells, and even form a Mexican casserole with corn chips.

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