All too often tourists will arrive at a restaurant in Mexico at noon hungry for lunch and end up waiting an excessive amount of time to be served. We can't chalk it all up to poor service, so what's the deal? Restaurants that cater to tourists will have service throughout the day, but others that are mainly geared toward locals may only serve during typical mealtimes - and noon is not one of them. Mexican mealtimes seem to adhere more closely to the old adage: "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and supper like a pauper." Although it may take some effort to adapt, in order to make the most of your dining experience in Mexico, it may be a good idea to try to stick to Mexican mealtimes during your stay. You might just find these mealtimes make more sense than your usual schedule. Here's a list of the names of the meals in Mexico and the time of day that they're usually eaten.
The desayuno is a light breakfast that is taken first thing in the morning - perhaps just coffee, hot chocolate or atole (a thick hot drink that is thickened with corn, rice or oats) and sweet bread or fruit. You'll find these drinks available from street carts or in cafes and restaurants, but a heavier morning meal is usually referred to as el almuerzo.
Here's what you should know about ordering breakfast in Mexico.
The almuerzo is a heavy breakfast or brunch, which may be eaten anytime between 9 am and around noon. This morning meal may consist of an egg or meat dish, or a dish made with fried tortillas and a spicy sauce such as chilaquiles or enchiladas. There are no strict rules about which foods are for breakfast and which are for later in the day, so you may find foods that you wouldn't consider having for breakfast served at this time of day, and those dishes that are usually eaten at breakfast time are sometimes consumed for other meals.
Generally eaten between 2 and 4 pm, la comida is the main meal of the day (it can be confusing because the word comida also just means food in general). This meal may consist of several courses, including soup (sopa) or salad (ensalada), a main dish (guisado) and dessert (postre). It is often accompanied by a fruit flavored water (agua fresca), and of course tortillas and salsa.
Many restaurants offer comida corrida, a set meal with a few options. This is often the most economical choice, though prices can vary greatly (from around 40 up to 100 pesos or more). Many businesses and offices close between 2 and 4pm, not necessarily for "siesta", but for comida, so that workers can go home to enjoy the main meal of the day with their families. Correspondingly, traffic in cities may be heavy between 1:30 and 4:30 pm on weekdays.
For many Mexicans, the final meal of the day, la cena (pronounced "seh-na"), may consist of just a hot drink and some bread, but it could also be a nice meal eaten in a restaurant, or a chance to try out some authentic Mexican tacos at a street stand. This meal is usually eaten between 7 and 9 pm, but can be taken any time during the night, depending on people's activities. On weekends, a late night trip to a taco stand is a good way to end an evening out on the town.
Botanas, antojitos and tentempiés
These are different terms that are used to refer to snacks and you'll find plenty to snack on as you go about your day in Mexico. Botanas generally accompany drinks and can be as simple as salted peanuts or nachos and salsa. An antojo is a craving and antojitos satisfy those cravings for yummy Mexican snacks - these vary regionally throughout Mexico.
Mexican Drinks at Mealtimes
At mealtimes, Mexicans may drink alcoholic beverages such as beer or cocktails, but they are more likely to choose agua fresca, cool non-alcoholic drinks made with fruit or other flavorings. Agua de limón or naranja, which are also referred to as limonada or naranjada and prepared with either mineral water (agua mineral), or flat water (agua natural) are very popular, as are agua de jamaica (cold hibiscus tea), or agua de horchata (a drink made with rice and cinnamon). If you would prefer just a glass of plain water, ask for "agua pura."
Here are some more popular Mexican drinks.