A Guide to Ordering Mexican Food

There’s more to Meh-HEE-koh than tacos and fajitas…

Cochinita Pibil

 Mexico has heavily influenced eating habits worldwide since colonial times through the indigenous cultivation of the tomato and avocado, but as our neighbor to the south, its culinary traditions have probably had the largest impact on modern American cuisine.

Click here for the How to Order Mexican Slideshow.

At this point, there’s no doubt you likely know how to pronounce "burrito," and maybe you can even trill the double RR, but every once in a while a customer’s order of fajitas sounds like "fah-GEE-tahs" because they were unaware that the J in Spanish is pronounced as an H sound.

That’s where this guide to pronunciation comes in: What are those pitfalls that non-native speakers of Spanish tend to fall into? Generally, the phonetics of Spanish are pretty similar to English, but certain letter combinations can be tricky, like the double LL in quesadillas and chiles rellenos, pronounced as a Y sound, as in "you" and "yield." Then, words ending in E like pozole usually have an "ay" sound like "hay" or "may."

Sure, you know that the C in tacos is a hard K sound and that the "qui" in taquitos sounds like "kee." But as more regional Mexican dishes find their way over the border and onto menus across the world — or should you be so lucky as to travel to Mexico — it’s important to expand your repertoire.

Ever seen a Mexican-style corn on the cob slathered with cheese and chili powder? That’s called elote and is pronounced "eh-LO-tay." Once part-owned by the McDonald’s Corporation, Chipotle (chee-POHT-lay) is thoroughly American but serves one of Mexico’s most traditional styles of meats, barbacoa (bar-bah-KOH-ah), which actually refers to the long, slow method of cooking meat until it’s fall-apart tender. Hungry yet?