Mexican restaurants are great. They typically give you complimentary chips and salsa, hearty portions of guac, and offer large menus with countless options. It's pretty easy to get tempted by fried, cheesy options that are more of a guilty pleasure (nachos, anyone?). To help you navigate the menu better next time, here are some healthy ordering ideas from our favorite nutritionists, health coaches, and physicians.
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Grilled Salmon, Black Beans, Rice + Veggies
“I'll admit, a frozen margarita and creamy guac are a must ... but if I'm looking for a dish that's guilt-free and flavor-full, then I go for grilled salmon with black beans, rice, and veggies," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, owner of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It. "You can really pack on the pounds if you choose dishes that are fried or smothered in cheese. I prefer to keep a limit on the chips and make my meal lighter, leaving room for the main dish ... the margarita!”
“My Mexican restaurant go-to is veggie fajitas. I always request soft corn tortillas rather than the flour ones, since they're higher in fiber and other nutrients. I have one tortilla, load up on vegetables, and top it with some guacamole and pico de gallo," says Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RDN, and author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian book and blog. "I skip the cheese and sour cream, since guacamole adds a similar creaminess and is better-for-you.”
Chips, Salsa + Ceviche
“I am a huge fan of chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants, so if I want to eat plenty of it, I'll order something with less starch. Ceviche is one of my favorites! Fresh raw fish or shrimp marinated in lemon or lime juice, served with diced cucumber, avocado, tomato, and sometimes fried plantains,” reveals Emily Hein, RDN and author of the blog Zen & Spice Nutrition.
“The first thing I look for is a good seafood appetizer or entrée. Frequently, you can get amazing grilled shrimp or fish at Mexican restaurants. I also like to order steak or chicken fajitas. Often, I’ll go for rotisserie chicken — and if I know that a restaurant uses high-quality pastured pork, I might opt for carnitas. I add lots of salsa to my plate, ask for guacamole and extra lettuce instead of tortillas, and I’m good to go,” says Dr. Kellyann Petrucci, a naturopathic physician and certified nutrition consultant.
“I almost always order veggie fajitas,” says Robyn Coale, RD, and author of the blog The Real Life RD. "It's the best way to pack in a good amount of veggies and you can build the fajitas in whatever way you like, which is great to avoid lots of dairy (which is always in Mexican food). I love asking for corn tortillas and topping my fajitas with lettuce, tomato, and LOTS of guacamole, which is full of healthy fats! Usually the fajitas come with rice and beans on the side, which adds a good dose of plant protein.”
“Corn tortillas are actually a whole grain, so I look for those over flour tortillas. Shrimp tacos are always a tasty and nutritious option," says Rachael Hartley, RD, and author of the blog Avocado-a-Day Nutrition. "For sides, the Mexican restaurant I go to makes an incredible slaw with lime juice and olive oil instead of mayonnaise, so I'll swap that for the extra serving of rice and beans.”
Bean Burrito With Extra Salsa
“At cheap Mexican places, I order a simple bean burrito and top it with extra salsa. I skip the full meals that include rice and beans and enjoy chips and salsa instead,” shares Jenna Braddock, RDN, and author of the blog Make Healthy Easy. “At nice Mexican restaurants, I like ordering a sampler appetizer of mini tacos (I like variety). This way, I get mini versions of all my favorite flavors and save some room for chips and salsa too.”
Grilled Fish Tacos
“This can be tough, because Mexican cuisine is so tasty, yet often very rich in cheeses, sauces, and refined carbohydrates that can make them very calorically dense. My go-to dish is a grilled fish taco with guacamole on the side. If there aren't many veggies in the taco, I will also order a side salad or grilled veggies to balance out the meal,” says Alicia Anskis, MS, RD, LDN, and registered dietitian at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Build My Own: Veggie Taco Plate
“I like to build my own veggie taco plate. I ask for a scoop of black beans, side of fajita veggies (sauteed onion, bell pepper, and mushroom or whatever they have on hand), slices of fresh avocado, grilled corn, pico de gallo, and a side of corn tortillas,” says Elissa Goodman, a holistic health coach.
“Mexican restaurants rock because they typically make everything to order! Which means that it’s usually super simple to add healthy ingredients and remove unhealthy ingredients,” says Talia Pollock, holistic health coach and author of the blog Party in My Plants. “I typically opt for veggie-full tacos in soft-corn tortillas (not fried and gluten-free) with a side of beans ('no cheese, please!') and guacamole and salsa. I usually remove one of the taco tortillas (sometimes they come doubled, why?) and load each taco with as many beans, guacamole, and salsa as can fit —and then eat all the droppings with a fork and hot sauce.”
Ceviche + Guacamole
“Mexican restaurants are actually great places to eat healthy. I love ordering grilled fish tacos, grilled vegetables, ceviche, and guacamole. And my drink of choice is always mezcal on the rocks!” says Robin Berzin, a physician and health coach who specializes in women’s nutrition and health.