Sample chalupas, tacos árabes, mole poblano, chiles en nogada, camotes, tortitas de Santa Clara, and more in the culinary heart of Mexico.

Come to Puebla to eat — anything and everything you can sink your teeth into. Its regional cuisine is a strong contender, alongside that of Oaxaca and the Yucatán, for being the best and most iconic in Mexico. “Puebla is a state with a culinary richness that carries serious weight throughout the Republic,” write the authors of Mexican Cooking for Newlyweds: Part 1 (2010, Galass Bodas), which breaks down recipes by region. “A good meal should be prepared carefully and, in Puebla, they’re true experts in this area. For example, take mole poblano, which simply through the act of preparing it, becomes a cause for celebration.”

For restaurant recommendations, see Top 5 Places to Dine Like a Poblano.

Beyond mole, Puebla’s restaurateurs serve up a impressive array of delicious dishes, from classics like tinga (a chipotle-laced beef or chicken stew) to exotic seasonal specialties like escamoles (ant eggs). Looking for recommendations about where to eat? Check out our top five places to dine like a Poblano. The casual food is excellent, too; try tacos, tortas, and other typically Poblano fare at street-side puestos or in market stalls and other locales. Whether you’re a picky eater or an adventurous one, you’ll find plenty to satisfy your tastebuds.

More Must-Try Menu Items

Chile en nogada. This rich, sweet entrée features a Poblano chile pepper that’s stuffed with picadillo (ground pork or chopped beef paired with locally grown fruits such as apples, pears, and peaches). The pepper is then dipped in egg batter, deep-fried, and covered with a walnut cream sauce, parsley leaves, and pomegranate seeds. The white, green, and red toppings represent the colors of the Mexican flag. The seasonal dish is generally available from mid-July to early October, when its fresh ingredients are at their peak.

Pipián verde. Pumpkin seeds, tomatillos, chiles, and various leafy veggies give this green mole sauce its hue. Diners who prefer savory to sweet tastes may enjoy pipián verde more than entrées like mole poblano or chile en nogada. Pipián verde is typically served atop chicken or turkey pieces; many restaurants offer a choice of pechuga (breast) or pierna (thigh/leg). Other popular local moles include pipián rojo and manchamanteles.

Chalupas, cemitas, and tacos árabes. Puebla’s street food is distinct from that of any other, much of it influenced by early and more recent immigrants. Chalupas date back to Colonial times, when Spanish settlers spent a good part of their days washing clothes by the Almoloya (San Francisco) River. It’s said that the women carried everything to the river in big baskets made of wood called chalupas, after which they’d rush home and quickly fry up corn tortillas in lard, top them with salsa, shredded beef or pork, and chopped onion — and call it dinner. Today, chalupas are usually served as an antojito, or snack. Cemitas and taco árabes (Arab-style tacos) were created by cooks from the Middle East. Cemitas, which the state government calls “part of the gastronomic identity of Puebla,” are the local version of a torta, Mexico’s take on the sandwich. Tacos árabes pile spit-roasted pork slices on pita-like flatbread, to which diners add salt, a squeeze of lime, and salsa to taste.

Camotes and tortitas de Santa Clara. Visitors with a sweet tooth will not want to miss trying some of the local desserts. Camotes are yam-based candies flavored with various fruits (lime, strawberry, orange, etc.) that come wrapped up like cigars. Tortitas de Santa Clara are a round, shortbread-like cookie topped with a sugary pumpkin-seed glaze. To try both, head for Calle de los Dulces, or “Sweets Street” (6 Oriente between 5 de Mayo and 4 Norte), which is lined with shops selling all sorts of treats.

Shattering Stereotypes

Puebla’s cuisine should make you forget everything you thought you knew about Mexican food, which is not, as U.S. comedian Jim Gaffigan jokes, all the same. In restaurants, do not expect to be served a giant basket of tortilla chips — unless, of course, you decide to dine at the local Chili’s franchise — or to dig into an entrée that’s being pushed off the plate by a heap of rice and refried beans. You’re more likely to receive bread accompanied by salsa and a dollop of beans on the side. On the street, do not expect to find a burrito the size of your head. Tacos are the standard fare in Puebla, and they usually consist of grilled meat wrapped in small corn tortillas or pan árabe. If you want a flour tortilla and cheese, you’ll have to order a gringa. No kidding. Oh, and as you’ve probably gathered, pretty much everything Taco Bell’s talking chihuahua (may he rest in peace) told you about chalupas was a lie.

Tips for Vegetarians

Despite sharing a border with the cattle-loving state of Tlaxcala, Puebla is relatively veg-friendly. If you eat eggs and dairy products — and speak a little Spanish — you should not have a hard time finding sustenance. Some suggestions: Order breakfast, where available, all day long. Huevos a la mexicana (scrambled with tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños) is a popular choice. Ask for enchiladas without any filling or substitute panela cheese for the meat. Request a plate of arroz blanco or rojo (white or red rice), which often incorporate corn and peppers or carrots and peas, topped with slices of fresh banana. Eat street foods. Elotes and esquites (corn on and off the cob) and quesadillas with huitlacoche (corn smut) or flor de calabaza (zucchini blossom) are all vegetarian, as long as they’re cooked in oil, not lard. You can find tasty meatless meals at La Zanahoria restaurant, which features freshly squeezed juices, three-course fixed-price lunches, and a la carte items at its two locations (5 Oriente 206 and Avenida Juárez 2104-C). The organic eateries Green Me (Circuito Juan Pablo II #1751, Col. La Noria) and Green Roof (3 Norte #414, San Andrés Cholula, atop Amma Yoga) offer ample vegetarian items, too. If you’re vegan, you’ll have a tougher go of it, but Shanti Roots in San Andrés Cholula (10 Oriente at 6 Norte) offers inexpensive Mexican and Middle Eastern-style vegan dishes.

How to Avoid Getting Sick

Many visitors to Mexico fear Montezuma’s revenge, but most gastrointestinal problems can be avoided by using some basic traveler’s common sense. Tap water nationwide is typically non-potable, so don’t drink it, even if the sign above the sink says it’s OK. (If you’re paranoid, don’t brush your teeth with it, either.) Beware of any raw foods that may have been washed in unpurified water, such as vegetables, fruits, and herbs, particularly chopped cilantro. (If you’re paranoid, order street food to go, then disinfect the garnishes in your hotel room. Bottles of Microdyn, a nontoxic colloidal silver, are available at any grocery store.) Keep in mind that eating lots of spicy or fatty foods can cause digestive distress, even when they’re prepared properly, especially if you wash them down with alcohol. Take it slow — and pack reflux meds and some Immodium AD. Choose restaurants and street vendors that do steady business: There’s a reason people flock there, and lots of customer traffic usually means fresher ingredients. If you’re paranoid, eat only in places that bear the Distintivo H seal of approval, which signifies that the establishment meets the state’s highest-quality hygiene standards.

Page last updated July 17, 2012.