Americans love Mexican food — or at least Tex-Mex or Cal-Mex food that we all misidentify as Mexican food. Even though you can make many popular Mexican appetizers at home, you probably end up meeting your friends for dinner and drinks at Mexican restaurants at least occasionally. And while you’re there, you’re probably ordering foods that are a major waste of money.
Want to know which foods to skip the next time you find yourself at your neighborhood Mexican place? Read on to find out.
When your server asks whether you want to start your meal with an order of nachos, or another appetizer, the most budget-friendly answer is no. Most appetizers at Mexican restaurants and other eateries are inexpensive for the restaurant to make. But they cost a lot for you to buy. Just snack on the free chips and salsa, and skip straight to your meal instead. And if you’re watching your weight, don’t order nachos for dinner either. They’ll likely come drowned in too much queso and served with calorie-adding meat — while you’re still overpaying for a pile of chips with toppings you could make at home.
Another money-wasting appetizer we all love at Mexican restaurants? Queso. You don’t need a bowl of queso to enjoy the free chips. And you definitely don’t need the extra calories and fat added to your meal. Plus, you don’t really know what’s in your Mexican restaurant’s queso. Is it all real cheese or cheese products, such as Velveeta? If you want to save money and eat a little cleaner, skip the queso, and stick with salsa.
We all know guacamole costs extra. But should you pay the added charge, or skip it? Mic reports even if you round up the cost of the avocado, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro the restaurant uses to make guacamole, you’re definitely overpaying. Guacamole might sound like a healthy choice thanks to all those avocados. But you can easily find something else on the menu that incorporates a wider range of veggies — and doesn’t waste your money.
4. Avocado toast
Has your local Mexican restaurant decided to capitalize on the widespread popularity of avocado toast, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with Mexican food? Good for the chef — so long as you don’t fall for it. Again, avocados probably cost the restaurant very little to purchase wholesale. And it takes almost no work to toast a piece of bread and mash an avocado on top of it. You can easily make this dish at home. So don’t order it when you go out to eat.
5. Cheese quesadillas
When you go out to eat — whether at a Mexican restaurant or elsewhere — it stands to reason that you shouldn’t order something you can make at home. A cheese quesadilla is composed of just a tortilla and cheese. So even if you tend to burn anything you put on the stove, we’re pretty confident you can handle this one. When you go out to eat, skip the quesadilla, and order something that you wouldn’t make at home.
6. Taco salad
Unless the salads on the menu at your local Mexican restaurant have some really great ingredients, you might want to skip them. Many restaurants overcharge for salads that have little more than lettuce, cheese, and dressing. Think carefully about whether that taco salad will really be worth it. If you just want something relatively low in calories, the restaurant likely has plenty of other options that won’t be nearly as boring.
7. Refried beans
A side of refried beans sounds innocuous enough. But did you know you can buy a canned version of the side at the grocery store, probably for the same price or less than the cost of the serving at your local Mexican restaurant? Refried beans get prepared with lots of oil and salt, so they don’t do your health any favors either. Want to pick a side worth paying for? Try the restaurant’s regular pinto beans instead.
Want to try some authentic Mexican food when you go out to eat? Then, skip the fajitas, which will just be a waste of your money. Serious Eats reports fajitas originated in south and west Texas in the 1930s. Fajitas are supposed to be made with grilled skirt steak. But each cow only yields about 8 pounds of skirt steak — so most restaurants use other cuts of meat. Serious Eats thinks you have a better chance of making great fajitas at home than finding them at your local restaurant. Just follow the publication’s directions — and order something else at your local Mexican place.
OC Weekly counts churros as one of the Mexican foods that “hipster chefs need to get over already.” Like the other food items on the list, the flavor of authentic churros usually gets “lost in translation,” and your local restaurant is probably serving a version that’s nothing like the real thing. The publication explains, “No matter how many times young chefs travel to Spain or Guadalajara to try and emulate the dessert, the results are almost always rubbery, over-fried and over-sugared, and no amount of cajeta or chocolate to drown them in changes that.”
10. Trendy chile peppers
Another complaint from OC Weekly? Buzzy Mexican restaurants in the U.S. often create dishes around trendy chile peppers without really working with the unique characteristics of those chiles. “Heat freaks have made it so that chefs overload on the use of chile de árbol, jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, ghost peppers and all the other trendy chilies. The problem is that said chefs only treat peppers as fire missiles, instead of the distinct vegetables each are.”
It turns out many of the foods at your local Mexican restaurant, even if it’s a popular spot, probably aren’t as authentic as they appear. To avoid wasting money on disappointing and badly prepared food, you might want to steer clear of the ceviche. This dish, which is made of raw fish cured in citrus juices, sounds good — but not when it’s “inevitably destroyed (even in mariscos spots) with bad seafood, too much tomato juice, and clamminess,” as OC Weekly puts it.
12. Boring burritos
It should go without saying the burritos you order at Taco Bell or Chipotle don’t count as authentic Mexican food. But don’t assume the burritos your local Mexican restaurant serves up are authentic either. According to Zagat, some chefs who want to offer only authentic Mexican food refuse to put burritos on the menu. But a boring burrito without authentic Mexican flavors or ingredients is just as big an offense on the money-wasting front, too. Don’t order a burrito unless it has something really interesting in it. Rice, beans, and grilled chicken? You can definitely make that at home.
Just as bad as yawn-inducing burritos? Chimichangas that don’t have anything interesting going on. A chimichanga is essentially a fried burrito that’s slathered in cheese and sauce. Between the cooking oil and toppings, you won’t really taste much of what’s inside (though, to be fair, you’d likely be disappointed if you could). This dish doesn’t win any awards for authenticity either. If you care about your wallet or waistline, stay away.
14. Tacos with sour cream, cheese, and lettuce
If you want to spend your money on real Mexican cuisine, never order tacos that include sour cream, cheese, and lettuce — especially not on a flour tortilla. Matador Network reports that “in Mexico, it’s practically impossible to find a self-respecting taco stand that would allow these ingredients to be put together.” What should you look for instead of this Americanized version of a taco? Try corn tortillas, for starters. And consider tacos al pastor, look for a taco with mole, or try gringas.
15. ‘Street corn’
Any Mexican restaurant trying to sell you grilled corn on the cob by calling it “street corn” is wasting your money. Even if the restaurant refers to its corn as “elotes,” or makes it the same way it’s prepared in Mexico, it doesn’t offer a good value for your money. Anybody with a small grill can make it at home. And particularly during the summer, your local grocery store probably offers some pretty great deals on sweet corn. Do yourself a favor, and prepare this one at home instead of ordering it at your favorite Mexican restaurant.
We know margaritas aren’t technically a food. But many people make a habit of ordering a margarita every time they go out for Mexican food. If you want to save money, now’s the time to kick that habit. Restaurants routinely make their cocktails and alcoholic beverages a high-margin item. And Mexican restaurants are no exception. Few make their margaritas from fresh ingredients. In fact, restaurants often use a mix — the same kind of mix you can buy at your grocery store or liquor store. And margaritas aren’t even an authentic Mexican cocktail.
17. Soda and beer
So if you’re not ordering a margarita, you need to pick something else, right? Just be aware both soda and beer come with high markups at your local restaurant, too. Mic notes that “restaurant soda clocks in at an average 1,150% markup, with mixed drinks charged at the same elevated rate.” Plus, “bottled water is also an indulgence, with a typical 2,000% markup; domestic beer’s 694% markup is nothing to scoff at.”
18. Anything you don’t finish or don’t take home
One of the best ways to waste money — and food — is to order something at a restaurant, fail to finish it all, and then decline to take the leftovers home with you. When you pay for a meal, you should want to get your money’s worth. By declining a take-home box, or taking the leftovers home and forgetting to eat them, you’re throwing away money. Don’t let your leftovers go to waste.