The Best Mexican Food Side Dishes

The tortilla is only one of several unique Mexican side dishes we’ll be covering today, as there are many other Mexican side dishes also worth noting. So, let’s dive into Mexican side dishes and how the unique blend of Spanish influence meshes so well with Mexico’s vibrant food culture.

Mexican food is well-loved around the world. Its complex and bold flavors are legendary due to its freshness and unique ingredients used. Mexican food is a culinary melting pot of food culture from Spain and along with traditional elements from their deep ancestral history, you’ve got a recipe for one of the most dynamic dishes you’ll ever taste.

Side dishes aren’t exclusive to Mexican cuisine. Many food cultures around the world are known to pair certain foods with one or more side dishes. Side dishes complement the main dish by adding complexity and variety, which can enhance the overall gastronomic experience. Examples of side dishes include rice in Asian cooking and potatoes and vegetables in Western cuisine.

However, two characteristics that make Mexican side dishes unique are flavor and versatility. For example, the Mexican tortilla is well-known as a wrap for ingredients when making burritos or tacos; but, cut into pieces, it can be fried to make a side of chips, or left whole, it can baked to make the foundation shell in tostadas.  The versatility of Mexican dishes is obvious in its side dishes.

The tortilla is only one of several unique Mexican side dishes we’ll be covering today, as there are many other Mexican side dishes also worth noting. So, let’s dive into Mexican side dishes and how the unique blend of Spanish influence meshes so well with Mexico’s vibrant food culture.

What are Side Dishes?

Side dishes are dishes that accompany the main course. It’s not an appetizer since it's not served before the main course; rather, side dishes are meant to go together with your main dish. The thing about side dishes is that they aren’t included as an afterthought or added just for the sake of adding something—they are there to complement the dish it accompanies. Filipino adobo (and virtually every Filipino dish, for that matter) cannot be served without rice. Saffron basmati rice and barbecued tomatoes go perfectly with koobideh. Korean barbeque should always be enjoyed with banchan. And the list goes on and on.

In other words, sides make the dish complete. And while you can argue that side dishes aren’t strictly necessary to make a successful and tasty dish, it would be remiss for any cook worth their salt to omit them completely. Yes, there are amazing dishes that do not require side dishes, but the degree of elevation in taste and flavor that side dishes bring to the table is fantastic to the point of necessity.

Side dishes are typically added to main dishes to add variety to the food, but a more creative and artistic sentiment can also be achieved to showcase the culture and origins of a dish. Take steak, for example. Many cultures worldwide have some form of steak in their repertoire of recipes, but by using side dishes, diners can gain insight into the origins of the staple food item.

Steak with potatoes? It’s probably of Western origin. Steak with rice? Asian influences must be at play. Steak with beans and bell peppers? Now that’s surely Mexican or South American. These side dishes are usually born from the surplus of ingredients that a community or culture has an abundance of. They are incorporated into the main dish to give it a more medley persona while intentionally (or unintentionally) giving it an identity along with flavor.

In Mexican cuisine, we can experience abundant agriculture through side dishes that enhance and transform the taste and texture of dishes.

Mexican Agriculture

Mexico is known for its cuisine and its agriculture. Its tropical climate is perfect for growing a wide variety of produce including corn, wheat, tomatoes, chili peppers, beans, lemon, lime, avocados, and a host of tropical fruits native to Mexico, such as the tomatillo, a main ingredient in salsa verde.

Because of this assortment of ingredients, Mexico's culinary possibilities are endless. The best ingredients to use are produce that’s fresh and grown locally. Fortunately, Mexico does not have a shortage of fresh produce. This allows Mexican cooks to make fantastic dishes that make Mexican cuisine a juggernaut in the culinary world.

Common Mexican Crops

Chili Peppers

Chilis are an absolute favorite in Mexico. Production of chili and pepper in Mexico is expected to rise to 4.5 million metric tons by 2030. It's added to practically anything. While chilis are known to add a spicy kick to food, their subtle notes and complex flavor profiles are underrated. Chilis complement umami flavor, which is why you might notice them used as seasoning for Mexican pinto beans or rice.


Similar to chili peppers, tomatoes are also a staple in Mexican cuisine. Mexico is the number one exporter of red tomatoes worldwide, and production is projected to reach 7.56 million metric tons in 2030. Borrowed from the Aztec word “tomatl,” which means “the swelling fruit,” tomatoes are also an abundant crop in Mexico. However, tomatoes aren’t native to Mexico as early South Americans initially farmed them in Peru. Nevertheless, tomatoes are among the most abundant crops in Mexico.

Due to the versatility of this humble ingredient, it is used in several Mexican dishes. From the use of its sweetness and tartness in salsa, stews, salads, and enchiladas, to adding savoriness to stir-fried food like fajitas. Tomatoes are an absolute star in Mexican cuisine.


Corn is a native ingredient in Mexico that was cultivated as early as 7,000 years ago. Moreover, corn does not naturally occur in the wild and is a crop invented by humans. It cannot survive on its own and must be constantly aided by human intervention and planted manually for it to grow.

Corn is one of the most widely used ingredients in Mexican cuisine, and much of it is turned into tortillas, a quintessential staple in many Mexican dishes. Because of this, corn consumption in Mexico is staggering. In fact, a 2022 statistic on Mexico’s corn consumption in the years 2010-2021 showed that Mexicans used about 44.2 million metric tons of corn in 2021 and 43.2 million metric tons in 2020.


Beans are widely used in Mexican cuisine, and it’s one of the most popular side dishes that accompany many Mexican foods mainly because of its abundance. Bean production numbers in Mexico are also astronomical and are expected to reach 2.38 million metric tons in 2030. Mexico is also one of the leading producers of beans worldwide.

You can practically turn anything into a side dish, but there are favorites based on the side dish's popularity. Popular Mexican side dishes stem from abundance and cultural influence, and their versatility is also undeniable as they are often used interchangeably with many recipes.

Spanish Rice

Because of Spain’s occupation during colonial times, Mexican cuisine is filled to the brim with Spanish influences. From cooking methods to the variety of ingredients they use, many Mexican dishes are inspired by Spanish cuisine—and one perfect example is Spanish rice.

Along with pasta, rice is one of Spain's most widely consumed foods, and there have been many speculations about how it arrived there. Some say that it came from Rome, while others say that the Moors brought it. Nevertheless, whatever the case may be, rice has remained a mainstay in Spanish cuisine.

Aside from its taste, rice is an excellent source of carbohydrates and is filling. Just one cup of rice, and you’ll feel instantly satiated. Rice can take on many forms in cooking. Like many Mexican ingredients, it too shares a substantial amount of versatility which caused many rice dishes to originate from Spain—one of which is paella.

Paella is a Spanish dish that originated in Valencia, an area widely considered the leading rice producer in Spain. This dish is an excellent example of adaptation and versatility. It is a dish that’s rice mixed with whatever ingredients are available. That’s why you’ll get many variations depending on where you are in Spain.

Meat and vegetables are usually more prevalent in inland areas (which have beef and sheep), while in coastal areas, they make it with seafood such as crab, shrimp, and mussels. But, no matter what type of paella you’re eating, you’re in for an absolute treat as this dish is packed with bold flavors and complexity, mainly due to the variety of ingredients that are used.

Because of this, Mexicans have since acquired an inclination for rice in their cuisine and added paella or rice dishes to their repertoire. From rice in burritos to pairing rice with fajitas as a means to balance its intense flavors, rice plays a vital role in elevating Mexican cuisine as a whole.

Mexican Coleslaw

Who doesn’t love a nice and refreshing serving of coleslaw with their grilled meat or poultry? Mexicans take it up a notch in making the perfect coleslaw by incorporating it with a uniquely Mexican twist of strong flavors, made with some of their commonly used vegetables, herbs, and spices.

This turns the Mexican version of coleslaw into one of the most flavourful and complex side dishes worldwide. Aside from cabbage and mayonnaise, it’s also mixed with tomatoes, corn, coriander, red bell peppers, onions, and lime juice. If you haven’t already noticed, these are also ingredients in making Taco fillings which is a testament to the versatility of Mexican cuisine.

Aside from its impeccable taste, coleslaw also offers lots of benefits, mainly from its fresh ingredients. Cabbage, the primary ingredient of coleslaw, is packed with Thiamin, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Potassium and is a fantastic source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate, and Manganese.

And that’s only cabbage. We also have to add the other main ingredient, mayonnaise, into the equation as well. Mayonnaise is made from eggs, and it’s widely considered as a superfood attributed to its countless benefits as a source of Protein, Selenium, Riboflavin, Vitamin B12, and Phosphorus.

Black Beans

Black beans aren’t only popular in Mexico but in many parts of Latin America as well. From Guatemala, Venezuela, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, this side dish is well-loved and adored due to the simplicity of its preparation and its abundance. Beans have always been a staple in Mexican cuisine, and black beans are one of the most widely used and cultivated.

It’s usually just prepared as is or mixed with any vegetables or spices that the cook prefers. It has a very deep taste because of how well it absorbs the flavor from the ingredients it’s mixed with, like onions, cilantro, and cumin—which are commonly found ingredients in any Mexican pantry.

The benefits of black beans should not be overlooked as it is a great source of protein which is excellent for vegetarians, and fiber to help in digestion. One of its most unique benefits is that it stabilizes your blood sugar, which helps regulate mood and prevent tiredness during afternoons—which is very helpful if you’re working.


Tortillas are flat, round, unleavened bread produced from corn or wheat, both of which can affect the structure, taste, and overall appearance of the tortilla. Corn tortillas are manufactured from a pregelatinized and cohesive dough, whereas wheat tortillas are developed with much closer similarities to preparing bread by developing the gluten in flour with shortening or fat.

Nevertheless, whichever tortilla you prefer, its role in Mexican cuisine as a side dish is immeasurable and its uses are limitless. From using it as a wrap for burritos, tacos, and enchiladas to cutting them into small pieces and frying them to make tortilla chips. However, its culinary uses don’t end there, as it's also used as a makeshift eating utensil.


Most of the dishes in Mexican food are great, but adding delectable and flavorful side dishes takes Mexican food to a completely new level. And rightly so. With side dishes that are entirely made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients and with care, Mexicans have made sure that their side dishes are something to be proud of.

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