Enjoy the Best of La Paz Street Food: Part 1 of 2

Updated: Mar 16

This post is the first of a two-part series on enjoying the best of La Paz’s street food!

I’m pretty sure that at least half of the millions of people who travel to Mexico every year come for the food, and the rest is just a bonus! Truly, Mexican cuisine is one of the most celebrated around the globe for good reason.

Though places like Mexico City and Oaxaca get most of the attention from foodies, The Baja Peninsula holds its head high as the birthplace of one of the staples of Mexican cuisine – the Baja fish taco. Granted, it’s not really considered “street food”, but I couldn’t in good faith write a foodie article about La Paz without mention of this culinary crown jewel!

A La Paz fish taco consists of a couple of strips of white fish battered and lightly fried crisp, traditionally topped with shredded cabbage and pickled onion, then garnished with a special white sauce and wrapped in an equally famous Baja flour tortilla…l think I can hear your stomach growling from here!

fish taco on a wood board la paz street food

Photo by Amie Watson on Unsplash

Protip: when ordering fish tacos you might be given three options, so I’ll break down what’s what. Taco de Pescado Capeado means the fish has been battered and fried, then will be served in a soft tortilla. Taco de Pescado a la Plancha is your healthier option, where the fish has been grilled and then placed in a soft tortilla. Taco de Pescado Dorado is a double-dose of crispy, with both the fish and the tortilla being fried.

Now, let’s get down to the meat of the topic here, which is a whole category of culinary delights on its own – street food! Street food signifies sweet or savoury fare served from bikes, carts, or stalls on the street sides/sidewalks. Don’t be afraid of street food here in La Paz! The vendors you see around town are well-loved and are an essential part of the community with a long heritage that is just as respected as any brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Here are the first of the 5 street foods in La Paz that you absolutely should try, with instructions for how to order what you want at each one! The remaining 3 will be discussed in Part 2 of this blog series.

1. Tamales

Tamales (ta-ma-lays) consist of a mixture of corn dough and various fillings, wrapped in a banana leaf or corn husk and then the whole thing is steamed. These little food presents have a decent heft to them, so I consider them one of the more “meal-like” street foods on the list.

Pro tip: Inside the dough there could be any number of fillings, so a downloaded translation app might be helpful when you approach a vendor and ask, “Qué tiene?” (What do you have?).

tamale in banana leaf la paz mexico street food

Photo by Gonzalo Guzmán García

Popular flavours you’ll be likely to find might be pollo con salsa verde (shredded chicken in a green medium-spicy salsa), mole de pollo (shredded chicken in a non-spicy delicious mole sauce), and rajas con queso (cooked green peppers with a cheese sauce). My favourite is anything with mole!

How do you eat them? Tamales can be a little oily inside, so taking the offered napkins, first of all, is a must, and you’ll also need a fork or a spoon. Start by unwrapping the inedible corn husk or banana leaf. Either use the wrapping as a plate or simply slide the tamale inside onto a disposable one offered by the vendor, then throw the wrapper away. Once you’ve got it all opened you can choose to drizzle a little red or green salsa over the top of it, though it’s not necessary. Then, dig in and enjoy! Tamales are also fantastic taken to go and they reheat well.

Author’s favourite spot: The vendor out front of the Aramburo grocery store in the centre of La Paz’s downtown core (calle Francisco I. Madero).

2. Tacos de Carnitas

This Michoacan dish may be the most delicious use of a pig ever created, and a must-try while in La Paz. Carnitas is a taco made from pork that has been braised or roasted for many hours in pork fat (think duck confit, but pork). It’s not the healthiest item on this list, but it’s more than worth a cheat day!

carnitas meat cooking street food la paz mexico

Photo by Frederik Trovatten on Unsplash

In the large copper braising vat that the vendor has at home (where they started slow-cooking your meal around 4 am!), many many different cuts of meat and organ parts from the pig will be placed together to simmer along with traditional herbs and spices. Once the meat is fall-off-the-bone melt-in-your-mouth tender, the vendor will pull everything out and separate what’s what.

When you finally see the nearly finished product, roadside in their cart window, the separate cuts will be piled high in organized mounds around a flattop griddle. Ask for what you want and the vendor will pull your selection into the centre of the heat then chop it up for your taco-eating pleasure!

Protip: Carnitas are a morning to early afternoon food in Mexico! So head out early and make this your breakfast, or at the latest an early lunch. By mid-day, selection will start to be greatly reduced and the stands will mostly be fully closed up by 1 pm. If you happen to have a late night of one too many margaritas and cervezas, this is when a breakfast of carnitas elevates itself from merely delicious to lifesaving!

This is where most visitors may have a little performance anxiety, but don’t fear! If you want to enter cautiously, simply ask for “maciza” (mah-see-zah), which means plain lean meat that will have little to no fat and no organs or mystery bits. Still, 100% delicious, but a more reliable and comfortable ”texture” for those of us not accustomed to eating anything other than chops or loins.

carnitas tacos street food la paz mexico

Photo by Frankie Lopez on Unsplash

You’ll be handed your taco with just the meat in a tortilla, then the cart will have garnishes for you to add as you wish. A safe bet is to throw on some cilantro, diced onion, a squeeze of fresh lime and a drizzle of salsa. You now have a street food masterpiece in your hand! Just stand around the cart and eat (Very rarely is there seating at street stalls, or if there is not much. It takes a bit of practice, but eating tacos standing up is a move that’ll make you look like a real pro!).

Author’s favourite spot: Tacos de Carnitas Don Abraham (on calle Revolución de 1910, in between calles Miguel Hidalgo and Constitución)

So, dear reader, get started with these and come back next week for Part 2 of the street food series, where I’ll tell you all about camotes (that cart that literally whistles its way up and down neighbourhood streets!), elotes and esquites, and a La Paz original – hates (ha-tays)!

Until then, provecho! (Cheers! Or, bon appetit!)

By: Terri Lynn Manna

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