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Depending on where you are in the United States, it’s probably not hard to find a Mexican restaurant. We love our Mexican food here, from tacos to quesadillas.
However, some restaurants are more authentic than others — and a select few are so authentic that you’re going to need to know how to order your food in Spanish if you want to get anywhere. So what do you do if that happens?
Don’t panic. Ordering at a restaurant in Spanish is simple if you know what to do.
Read on to find out nine tips to help you order with confidence. ¡Vamos!
If your high school Spanish classes focused on Spain, you’ll probably sound a little off when ordering in a Mexican restaurant.
Just like there are differences between the English spoken in the UK and the United States, there are clear differences between the Spanish spoken by Mexicans and Spaniards. You might be speaking the same language, but there are a lot of obvious linguistic differences.
Not everything will translate perfectly, so just make sure you keep that in mind.
It’s common to not realize the words you don’t know until you’re faced with trying to translate in real time. To save yourself from searching endlessly for a word, try learning these basic vocab words before you sit down at your mesa.
Of course, the most important phrases to know are the ones you’re going to use to order. Here’s how you tackle that.
English-speakers who are learning Spanish often stress about tú vs. usted. Which form of ‘you’ should you use when you’re ordering: informal or formal?
If you really want to be extremely polite, you can go with the usted format, or the formal “you.” However, if you’re not comfortable with this verb form, you aren’t going to offend anyone if you use the informal “tú.”
When in doubt, listen to how the waiter addresses you. If they are using the formal usted, then that’s your cue to do so, too.
When you order food in English, you usually put the focus on yourself. You say, “I would like,” or “Can I have…” at the beginning of your order.
In Spanish, saying “Me gustaría” (“I would like”) at the start of your order would sound a little formal or stilted. Instead, your sentence construction should focus on what the waiter can do for you.
For example, you would ask, “Can you bring me…” which would be translated as, “¿Me Puedes traer…?”
Two other handy phrases:
Are you looking at the menu and seeing a lot of unfamiliar dishes and words? No clue where to start, let alone what to order? Feel free to ask for recommendations, especially if you’re feeling adventurous.
To do this, just ask “¿Qué me recomiendas?”, or “What do you recommend (for me)?” If you’re stuck between two different things, you can say, “Estoy entre…” or, “I’m between…” then go from there.
It will help to know how to decipher what’s on the menu, though, so here are a few words you might run into.
How do you know what part of the cow you’re ordering? What if you hate pork but really love chicken? A big part of ordering at Mexican restaurants is understanding what meat you’re asking for.
If you want something like a rib-eye, for example, your best bet is to ask for a chuleta, which is a thick cut of meat. If you’re looking for grilled steak, you’ll look for carne asada on the menu.
Pork lovers can order something al pastor, which is pork seasoned with pineapple. This is especially popular in Mexico as a taco filling. Carnitas is pork shoulder that’s been deep fried.
Most people know that pollo is chicken, but if you want to specify that you want a chicken breast instead of a different cut, ask for pechuga de pollo.
Depending on where you are, you might have to be a little more diligent than usual if the meat isn’t in your diet. Sometimes vegetarian can be misunderstood as someone who doesn’t eat red meat, so there could still be chicken or fish in your dish.
Vegetariano/a is the word for the vegetarian in Spanish, so you know how to describe yourself. If you want to make sure there’s no meat in your dish, ask for it sin Pollo o Pescado — without chicken or fish.
Food isn’t the only thing you’ll be ordering. If you want something to wash down all that delicious food, you should know how to tell if you’re ordering lemonade or an alcoholic drink.
Here are some of the most common things people order:
Tacos are one of the most popular menu items at a Mexican restaurant. How do you order these like a local and make them as delicious as possible?
To get your taco with all the fixings, order your tacos “con todo,” with everything. This means they’ll come with onion and cilantro (cebollita y cilantro if you want to listen for how the waiter will say it).
If you want to know even more ways to customize the way you order, My Daily Spanish has a helpful list of common adjectives in Spanish.
With these nine tips, you’ll be able to order at a Mexican restaurant in Spanish without missing a beat. You’ll sound like a native in no time!
Have more trips planned for the coming new year? Discover how to act like a local wherever you are with all of our travel advice.