Mexican food is diverse and complex, and there’s so much more to it than what you’re able to find at your local restaurant or taquería. For home cooks who are just starting their Mexican cooking journey or those who want a deeper dive, there are certain recipe collections that belong on your shelf. Learn how to make everything from taquitos and tamales to salsas and cocktails with the help of the best Mexican cookbooks.
The Essential Cuisines of Mexico: A Cookbook
Combines 3 cookbooks in one
A comprehensive dive into Mexican cuisine
Not a lot of photos
Some recipes are complicated, time-consuming
Diana Kennedy is one of the English-language authorities on traditional Mexican cooking, having lived in Mexico and studied Mexican cooking for the better part of 50 years. This book combines three of her most popular books—“The Cuisines of Mexico,” “Mexican Regional Cooking,” and “The Tortilla Book”—plus 30 additional recipes in one volume.
"The Essential Cuisines of Mexico: A Cookbook" features more than 500 classic recipes that Kennedy sourced from traditional Mexican cooks, plus in-depth, multiple-pages-long descriptions of cornerstone techniques, such as making corn tortillas from scratch, how to make diverse styles of tamales, how to stuff and fry chiles rellenos, and how to choose and use Mexican chiles, broken down by each specific chile type.
The book also spotlights key Mexican ingredients, such as cactus, beans, corn, and chorizo, letting readers know the best way to source and cook them.
Pages: 544 | Recipes: 500+ | Published: 2009 | Available: Hardcover, paperback, and e-book
Best New Release
Treasures Of The Mexican Table: Classic Recipes, Local Secrets
More than 150 recipes
Wonderful culinary history and regional recipes
Not all recipes have photos
Some recipes take time, are labor intensive
The latest cookbook from award-winning host Pati Jinish is the perfect companion to her popular PBS show, “Pati’s Mexican Table.” Some are better-known recipes, while others are local specialties passed down through generations, some little-known outside of their home region. The background of each is told in Jinish’s warm voice, and each recipe has been tested in her home kitchen.
The recipes are broken down into 11 logical sections, from soups to desserts. Some of them feature particularly beautiful photos, too. The book is available in both print and e-book pretty much anywhere books are sold.
Pages: 416 | Recipes: 150+ | Published: 2021 | Available: Print and e-book
Best for Beginners
The Mexican Home Kitchen: Traditional Home-Style Recipes That Capture the Flavors and Memories of Mexico
Not many complicated ingredients
Logically laid out with color photos
Not a modern or comprehensive cookbook
Not many regionally diverse dishes
Born and raised in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mely Martinez started her blog “Mexico in My Kitchen,” as a way to preserve her family recipes for her teenage son. This book collects the best of her home cooking in a beautiful volume. Her recipes are simple and easy to follow. It’s great for people who want to recreate the taste of their mom’s or abuela’s dishes or those just getting started bringing the flavors of Mexico into their own homes. The dishes are familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in Mexican cuisine. The recipes were written in a clear fashion with manageable ingredient lists, making this an accessible volume for anyone.
Pages: 192 | Recipes: 80+ | Published: 2020 | Available: Hardcover and e-book
Best Oaxacan Recipes
Oaxaca, Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico
Contains family recipes from Oaxaca
Includes cultural background
Both complex and simple recipes
Not available in soft cover
Some hard-to-find ingredients
Oaxacan cooking is highly prized within Mexico, known for its devotion to local ingredients and recipes that are still passed down from generation to generation. This book, written by Bricia López (López, along with her siblings, owns Guelaguetza, a Oaxacan restaurant in Los Angeles) and journalist Javier Cabral, shares the homestyle bean and egg dishes, moles, and stews that López grew up with, plus typical Oaxacan salsas and snacks.
Oaxacan cooking is complex, but in López’s familiar voice, everything sounds doable. The gorgeous photos whisk the reader directly to Oaxaca, showing the dishes, the people, and the overall culture that makes Oaxacan food so memorable. An added bonus is López’s own stories about growing up in an immigrant, restaurant-owning family and how she straddles both sides of the border.
Recipes: 140 | Pages: 288 | Published: 2019 | Available: Hardcover and e-book
Best for L.A.-Style
L.A. Mexicano: Recipes, People & Places
Written by one of the country’s experts in Mexican cuisine
Plenty of photos
Includes restaurant profiles and local history
Has some recipe duplications
Not a straight-up cookbook
If you’re even slightly curious about Mexican food in Los Angeles—one of the Mexican food capitals of the United States—it’s worth picking up this book. Author Bill Esparza, who won a James Beard award for his coverage of the L.A. taco scene, includes both recipes and insightful stories about the people who have built Los Angeles’s thriving, historic Mexican food scene. (It’s a side of the city that’s often missing from mainstream depictions of L.A., which is also what makes Esparza’s book so valuable.)
His recipes, sourced from the city’s best-known Mexican restaurants, street-food stalls, and restaurants, include everything from taquitos to tamales to cocktails, plus dishes from the city’s more upscale Alta California-cuisine restaurants. But where the book really shines are in the profiles of local chefs and food personalities and in Esparza’s helpful tips on where to eat and buy ingredients.
Pages: 240 | Published: 2017 | Available: Hardcover, paperback, and e-book
Chicano Eats: Recipes from My Mexican-American Kitchen
Modern take on traditional dishes
Lots of wonderful photographs
Not available in soft cover
Not a comprehensive cookbook
Esteban Castillo’s bright, whimsical book has real substance, ushering readers into his life as a queer first-generation Mexican-American, who uses his genre-bending cooking to express his own identity. He pulls from memories of his favorite Mexican candies to create dishes like Duvalín Jello (a three-layer gelatin of chocolate hazelnut, vanilla, and strawberry) and Alitas de Gusano (chicken wings slathered in a tamarind-chile sauce).
He reimagines the simple cheese and tomato tortas that his mother made for his father before work as toasted telera rolls piled high with his own chorizo-spiced delicata squash. You’ll find traditional recipes from Castillo’s family roots in Colima, too—the crispy-fried potato tacos piled with lettuce, tomato and cheese look particularly enticing—plus beverages, cocktails, and snacks.
Recipes: 85 recipes | Pages: 224 | Published: 2020 | Available: Hardcover and e-book
Best for Regional Texas-Style
Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage in Recipes
Uses pantry staples and easily obtained ingredients
Includes history of cuisine, local people
Author Adán Medrano’s detailed cookbook explains why the term Tex-Mex doesn’t apply here. Medrano’s 100 recipes are regional Texas specialties, handed down by generations of Mexican families in Texas who, he argues, eat these foods at home, not Tex-Mex combination plates.
In a patient tone, he walks readers through foundational Texas-Mexican dishes, such as carne guisada (beef stewed with a serrano chile-cumin-peppercorn spiced gravy), flour and corn tortillas, homemade chorizo and eggs, potatoes with roasted poblano strips, and even a simple plate of roasted chiles smeared with cheese, stuffed into a tortilla. There’s also an informative historical section that describes the roots of Texas-Mexican cuisine and how it has evolved.
Pages: 256 | Recipes: 100 | Published: 2014 | Available: Flexibound and e-book
Best for Entertaining
Casa Marcela: Recipes and Food Stories of My Life in the Californias
Includes both modern and traditional dishes
Inspirational anecdotes, other thoughtful content
Beautiful visuals, photography
Only a few photos of the recipes
Not available in soft cover
Food Network host and cookbook author Marcela Valladolid crafts fun, inventive dishes in this book, which offers readers a peek into her busy home life and the things she serves for family and friends. Her cooking style isn’t traditionally Mexican—Valladolid grew up in Tijuana and San Diego and spent a stint in France.
What carries each of the recipes is an emphasis on freshness (Valladolid’s expansive garden is featured heavily in the book) and a desire to be playful and brainstorm in the kitchen. You’ll find recipes for classic dishes, such as green pozole, traditional salsas, and fish tacos, plus more imaginative dishes, such as a huitla waffle (a huitlacoche-infused waffle benedict), salmon with tangy roasted tomatillos, and candied popcorn slathered a chipotle-honey-butter syrup.
Pages: 288 | Published: 2017 | Available: Hardcover and e-book
Best for Desserts
My Sweet Mexico: Recipes for Authentic Pastries, Breads, Candies, Beverages, and Frozen Treats
Beautiful travel photos
Covers everything from beverages to frozen treats
Not available in soft cover
Not all recipes have photos
For this book, author Fany Gerson scoured Mexico’s bakeries, candy shops, and ice cream parlors for the most traditional and unique sweets. The result—which was nominated for a James Beard Award—is a detailed look, perhaps the only one in English, at the diverse types of treats available in Mexico. Part scholarly research, part travel guide, the recipes are 100 percent delicious.
This book includes recipes for some of the best-known Mexican-bakery goodies, including conchas, garibaldis, campechanas, and pan de muerto, plus classic Mexican desserts, such as tres leches cake, rice pudding, flan imposible (a layer of chocolate cake topped with a layer of flan), and regular flan.
Gerson also shines a light on Mexico’s centuries-old candy culture, which was created by the nuns during the Spanish colonial era. She shares recipes for iconic candies, including jamoncillo de leche (milk fudge) and camotitos poblanos, a sweet-potato candy sold widely across Puebla.
Pages: 224 pages | Published: 2010 | Available: Hardcover and e-book
La Vida Verde: Plant-Based Mexican Cooking with Authentic Flavor
Healthy vegan recipes that don’t compromise flavor
Beautiful photos for each recipe
Only 60 recipes
Some recipes can be labor intensive
Plenty of Mexican foods, including corn tortillas and salsas, are naturally vegan. In this book, author Jocelyn Ramirez reconstructs traditional Mexican favorites as entirely plant-based dishes, creating ceviche with hearts of palm instead of fish, tacos al pastor with jackfruit instead of pork, and sopes with walnut meat (infused with sundried tomatoes and spices) instead of chorizo.
Ramirez has already found success cooking this way—she runs Todo Verde, a plant-based Mexican catering business and pop-up in Los Angeles. With Ramirez’s detailed instructions and gentle encouragement—she warns that she’s not trying to foist vegetable soup and kale salad on everyone—the idea of making potato-carrot, nutritional-yeast cheese for nachos or soaking cashews for cream suddenly seems fun and interesting and a worthy alternative to the more typical way to cook Mexican food.
Pages: 160 | Recipes: 60 | Published: 2020 | Available: Soft cover and e-book
We’re so lucky to have a plethora of Mexican cookbooks to choose from, but the hardest part is navigating through so many wonderful books. Our favorite was Diana Kennedy’s classic “The Essential Cuisines of Mexico: A Cookbook,” but we also loved Pati Jinish’s modern dishes in “Treasures of The Mexican Table.”
What to Look for When Buying Mexican Cookbooks
Abarrotes El Primo owners Adriana Amador and Fernando Mora recommend scanning the back (or interior) of cookbooks for the following words before buying:
- Fresh epazote
- Queso fresco
- Poblano peppers
- Pork lard
“People should give credit to the people who are traditionally from Mexico. There could be a lot of important Native Mexican figures that they haven’t gone to school to be “chefs,” but they know how to work the land and how to use main ingredients,” Amador states. “In my country, recipes have been passed for generations to generations. We know how to work the land and we love with our ancestors, cultures, flavors and traditions.”
Mexico has different food cultures that vary from state to state. “The flavors, ingredients and cuisine vary based on how the weather is in each area. For example states that are closer to the sea, usually have a wider variety of fruits and fish available,” say Amador and Mora. “Whereas in central Mexico, street food and enchiladas are more popular. And in the North, people eat more dry meats and chorizos.”
What are some common spices and pantry items used in Mexican cooking?
Making Mexican food at home is easy, since most ingredients are readily available at your friendly neighborhood grocery store.
Let’s start with chiles, since the names and varieties can be overwhelming. They are available dried, fresh, canned and pickled. Fresh chiles, like jalapeños, serranos, and habaneros, are used to add heat (a little or a lot), texture and color to your dish, like fresh salsas. Other fresh chiles (like Anaheim or poblanos) are used in dishes themselves (like chiles rellenos, papas y rajas, and the like). The true workhorses in Mexican cuisine are the dried chiles (that’s why you’ll see a whole wall of them in most Mexican grocers). There are bright, fiery ones (like pequin and chiles de arbor), milder red ones (like guajillos or chiles negros), and those that add a smoky warmth (like anchos, cascabels, or pasillas). And then these dried chiles are ground up to make the corresponding chile powders.
To add a milder, smoky flavor to your dishes, use chipotles (which are actually smoked jalapeños). Or just serve some pickled peppers and vegetables (in encurtido) on the side as a condiment.
Other common plants include avocados, tomatoes (and their cousins, tomatillos), cilantro, oregano, onions, garlic, corn, and squashes of many kinds. Less common ones include hoja santa, avocado leaves, and epazote (which is added to frijoles, another Mexican staple).
Spices that are used often in Mexican recipes include cumin, coriander, clove, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, paprika, achiote, garlic and onion powders, vanilla, and cacao—yes, chocolate!
What are must-have kitchen tools for Mexican cooking?
If you want to get serious about making Mexican cuisine at home, there are a few things you need. However, most dishes can be made with tools and appliances you probably already have on hand. For instance, it’s nice to have a comal to cook on, but a cast-iron pan can double as one. A tortilla press makes short work of your handmade tortillas, but a rolling pin will work in a pinch. Molcajetes are great for making authentico salsa, but you can use a food processor, blender or any other large mortar and pestle for your salsa and guacamole. A cazuela is great for making soups and stews, but any thick-bottomed pot (like a Dutch oven) works, too. All you need is a large frying pan, a couple of good pots, and a sharp knife to get started on your Mexican cooking adventure.
What is al pastor in Mexican cooking?
“Al pastor” means “shepherd-style” in Spanish—think of it like “from the pasture.” It’s usually pork cooked on a rotating spit. Mexicans got that form of cooking from shawarma brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants. Instead of lamb, Mexicans use pork, and the seasoning is adobado (adobe seasoning), which combines cumin, chile powders, oregano, achiote, onion, and some sweetness, usually from pineapple.
What is mole in Mexican cooking?
Mole comes from the Nahuatl word “molli,” which means “sauce.” Nahua molli was usually made with some variety of chiles, but today, there are so many different varieties of mole that the choices can be dizzying. Modern mole is said to have originated from Puebla or Oaxaca and sometimes combines dozens of ingredients. Each region and family usually makes several different types of moles. Each one has its own specific ingredients, although there are several common ingredients, like chiles, onions, garlic, and some kind of nut and/or seed. Common spices found in moles include cumin, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Some include herbs, such as oregano or hoja santa, while others may be sweetened with fruits, like raisins.
The main types of mole are as follows:
Mole Poblano: the most famous, dark brown mole, made with chocolate and about 20+ other ingredients, usually served over poultry.
Mole Negro: the Oaxacan version of mole poblano, but darker (hence the name), with more chocolate and contains hoja santa, a local medicinal herb.
Mole Colorado: a red Oaxacan mole that gets its color from fire-blistered tomatoes. It usually contains raisins, cinnamon, clove and allspice, and is used often on enchiladas
Mole Verde: a green Oaxacan mole that contains fresh herbs and greens, tomatillos, and pumpkin seeds—probably the easiest mole to make.
Mole Almendrado: a mole that originated near Mexico City, in San Pedro Atocpan, where a lot of Mexico’s mole is produced. It’s a tomato-based mole that gets its distinguished flavor from blanched almonds (hence the name).
Making homemade mole can be a laborious task, but it’s so rewarding when you taste the results at home. If you’re pressed for time, pre-packaged moles are available in Latinx grocery stores or online.
What kind of rice is used in Mexican cooking?
Mexican recipes usually use long-grain white rice, since the grains don’t stick together and cook nice and fluffy. The trick to getting that wonderfully fluffy texture is to toast the rice in a frying pan first, before adding the seasoning and liquids. Cover and let it boil, and you’ll soon have perfect Mexican rice to serve on the side of your enchiladas or stuff inside your burritos.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Lesley Téllez is a freelance journalist and recipe developer. Her own bestselling cookbook, "Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets and Fondas," is currently in its third printing. The food tour company she founded, also called Eat Mexico, offers a curated look at Mexico City’s street food and market scene.
Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee is a food and travel writer, recipe developer, and restaurant reviewer. A James Beard nominee, her own bestselling cookbook, "Quick and Easy Mexican Cooking: More Than 80 Everyday Recipes" was published by Chronicle Books. She helped run her family’s Mexican grocery store in her teens, lived in Mexico in her 20s and recently ran a Korean-Mexican restaurant in East Hollywood.