Breakfast is the most important meal of the day almost everywhere in the world—but it's especially in Mexico because the next meal of the day isn't served around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. If you're visiting this North American country, make sure to start your day with a complete meal that will tide you over for a full day of sightseeing and adventures.
In Mexico, breakfast is called "desayuno," but this usually refers to a light meal that you eat shortly after waking up. A heartier meal served mid-morning (or until noon or sometimes even 1 p.m.) is usually called "almuerzo," which is basically what we call brunch in the United States.
Breakfast dishes, like other foods in Mexico, vary a great deal regionally, but eggs and corn-based dishes feature prominently on breakfast menus. Whether you wake up starving or just want to start the day with a light snack, there are plenty of reasons to stop for breakfast when visiting Mexico.
Hot Drinks and Pan Dulce
A full Mexican breakfast usually consists of a few different courses. Meals typically start with "pan dulce" (sweet bread) and a hot drink. Coffee or hot chocolate is standard, or you can try atole, a drink that is thickened with corn masa, rice (atole de arroz), or oats (atole de avena). Atole with chocolate mixed in is called champurrado.
You may also be offered fresh fruit or freshly squeezed juice before the main breakfast course. Since there's such a profusion of delicious fresh tropical fruit in Mexico, it's a good opportunity to try these at their ripest. Pineapple, papaya, cantaloupe, bananas, and watermelon are popular, but you can also try other regional fruits like mango and guava when they're in season.
Street Food for Breakfast
Street food is a big part of the culinary culture of Mexico, and there are plenty of delicious dishes you can get right on the street for breakfast every day of the year.
Across various regions of the country, locals refer to thick, round tortillas topped with beans, cheese, and various meats and vegetables as memelas, sopes, or picaditas. Huaraches are also very similar, though usually larger and more oblong so that the shape resembles a huarache (sandal). Other similar street food options that are good for breakfast include gorditas and tlacoyos, which are tortilla "pockets" stuffed with different breakfast ingredients.
Budget travelers should take note that breakfast is generally the cheapest meal of the day, so eating a big meal early in the day and smaller meals later will help you save some pesos. You can find great breakfasts for low prices in market stalls or at "cocinas economicas" or "fondas," which are small family-owned restaurants.
Huevos rancheros are fried eggs served on top of a lightly fried tortilla and smothered in a sometimes-spicy tomato sauce. This is possibly the most famous Mexican breakfast dish north of the border, but it's not as popular in Mexico as you might expect. You will still find them, though, along with a wide variety of other egg dishes at most restaurants in cities across the country.
Note: When you see "huevos al gusto" on a breakfast menu in Mexico, it means "eggs as you like them," and you can ask for "revueltos" (scrambled), "estrellados" (fried), or "rancheros" depending on which you prefer.
Chilaquiles are an extremely popular Mexican breakfast dish. These fried corn tortillas are smothered in sauce, sprinkled with cheese and a dollop of cream, and then topped with some finely sliced onion and parsley.
When chilaquiles are done just right, they are neither too soggy nor too crispy. Basic choices are chilaquiles verdes or rojos (green or red), but you may also find other sauces at some local restaurants. They're often served with refried beans and a choice of eggs or meat.
Huevos a la Mexicana
Mexican-style eggs, "huevos a la Mexicana" are scrambled eggs cooked with onion, tomato, and chile peppers, which gets its names from the colors of these ingredients matching those on the Mexican flag.
Most often, huevos a la Mexicana is spiced with jalapeños, but you'll sometimes see serrano chiles on the menu instead, which are spicier. If you don't want it too spicy, you can specify "con poco chile" ("with just a little chile"), but if you do like it spicy, you may want to specify that too by adding "con bastante chile."
The Swiss would probably not recognize this dish, but "Swiss enchiladas" (enchiladas Suizas) are a popular dish in Mexico for all times of the day.
Enchiladas Suizas are lightly fried tortillas stuffed with chicken, covered in a green tomatillo sauce that usually also has cream in it, and coated with shaved cheese. The Swiss get the credit in the name because of the cream and cheese additions, though the dish is said to have originated at Sanborn's restaurant in Mexico City.
Besides enchiladas Suizas, there are many other types of enchiladas, which vary a lot depending on the region. Sometimes enchiladas are stuffed with chicken or cheese, and other times the tortilla is just drenched in a sauce.
Tacos make a great meal any time of day. You may choose to fill your tacos with meat, but for the morning meal, there is a wide range of fillings available.
Options often include a selection of guisados (prepared dishes or stews often with eggs, chorizo, potatoes, other meats, and vegetables) presented DIY-style in clay pots that are called cazuelas. Plop your favorite in a tortilla with a bit of cheese and salsa, maybe a little guacamole, and you have a perfect breakfast in your hand.
Tamales are another traditional Mexican food that can be eaten for breakfast or any other time of day. These are made of corn masa dough with different fillings. They're most often wrapped in a corn husk but sometimes are wrapped with banana leaves.
The guajalota (or torta de tamal) is popular among workers in Mexico City for a quick breakfast on the go. This is basically a tamale (sometimes deep fried) stuffed inside a bolillo roll making a tamal sandwich. You'll find street vendors selling them in the mornings on street corners.
Just like in the United States, omelets in Mexico are served up with a variety of ingredients for breakfast. However, they are often made a little spicier in Mexico, and you can even request your omelet be smothered in one of the sauces used for enchiladas or huevos rancheros.