Best Low-Carb Mexican Food Choices When Dining Out

Your Guide to a Mexican Menu When Watching Your Carbohydrates

Conch ceviche
Conch Ceviche. Rick Lew/Taxi/Getty Images

Most of the time the phrase “Mexican food” brings to mind tacos, enchiladas, and tamales, with sides of rice and beans, and chips on the table at all times. If you can get yourself to think beyond these standards, there’s a world of low-carb Mexican cuisine for you to enjoy. In much of Mexico, grilled meats and seafood take center stage, and the sauces tend to be based on vegetables and fruit, with very little flour or other starch.

When ordering, always ask for no rice or chips. Beans are not very glycemic, and some people can tolerate them better than other sources of carbs. Still, you may want to keep the portions small. Take a look at a typical restaurant menu and see some of your best low-carb bets.

Appetizers

  • Skip the chips, but keep the guacamole: Not only is it delicious, guacamole has a high nutritional content. Ask if the restaurant has cucumber or jicama slices to dip. If not, save the guacamole to have with your main dish.
  • Ceviche: This citrus-marinated seafood varies from area to area and is often served with chopped raw vegetables such as bell pepper, onion, and parsley. Be daring and try ceviche—you may get hooked!
  • Albóndigas Soup: This soup has meatballs and veggies in a broth base. The meatballs usually have some rice in them, so this is probably not best if you are in a very low-carb diet phase.
  • Salads: Enjoy as an appetizer or side dish, or make it a meal with some carne asada or other protein on top.

    Main Dishes

    • Seafood: Coastal Mexican food often revolves around grilled seafood with light and delicious sauces (salsas). If you seldom cook fish at home, take this opportunity to get a protein source consistently correlated with good health.
    • Grilled Meats: Try carne asada (steak grilled with Mexican spices) or chicken dishes, sometimes served with grilled veggies and always with salsas.
    • Fajitas: This classic low-carb Mexican dish is widely available and you just have to skip the tortilla.
    • Mole: Mole (pronounced moe-lay) sauces vary. Some are sweet, but some are not very high in carbohydrates, consisting of complex mixtures of chilies, spices, seeds, and often chocolate. Most often they are seen with chicken.
    • Chili Verde: This is a spicy stew, usually made with pork.
    • Tostada Salads: You can enjoy these, but skip the shell.

    Breakfast

    • Machaca: This satisfying Mexican breakfast includes eggs, beef, and veggies sautéed together.

    Beverages

    • Margaritas: Some people just can’t imagine having Mexican food without one. Although most are loaded with sugar, some Mexican restaurants have sugar-free ones. Alternatively, a traditional margarita made with tequila, lime juice, and triple sec has 8 to 16 grams of carbohydrates, depending on the amount of triple sec, but at least it doesn't have the extra sugar (from a sweet and sour mix). If you wish, you can ask for it without the triple sec and add your own artificial sweetener (You could keep a small bottle of Sweetzfree liquid handy).
    • Beer: It's a popular accompaniment to Mexican food, but beer carbs vary and you'll have to choose wisely.

      Avoid

      When watching your carbs, avoid tortillas, tacos, taquitos, nachos, burritos, tamales, quesadillas, enchiladas, flautas, and chimichangas. However, the fillings of some of these may be perfectly fine. Feel free to ask for them separately.