In the mood for fajitas, enchiladas or a sweet margarita? Typical Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants have plenty of flavorful menu options, but they're not always the lightest delights. Check out these tips before heading out to your favorite Mexican joint.
Go Easy on Chips and Dips
If you've been to many Mexican restaurants, you likely know the standard server greeting: a basket of fried tortilla chips and salsa (or queso or guacamole if you upgrade.) Although the thought of never-ending chips is tempting, just grab a small handful and go for the lighter (and usually free) option — salsa. Also, don't feel obligated to finish the chips on the table. You can always ask the waiter to take them away or not refill them.
Skip the Crunchy Shells
Soft tortillas are baked, while the crunchy ones are fried. You don’t need to be a nutritionist to know that fried anything means more fat and calories so opt for soft. If you must have a crunchy taco, skip the tortilla chip appetizer.
Customize Your Order
Many of the fajitas, tortillas, tacos and enchiladas come with pork, chicken or beef fillings. These dishes typically also come with many toppings on the side — cheese, guacamole, sour cream, salsa, rice and beans. The first three are the most calorie-dense, and it’s wise to hold back on a few (or all).
Beans can also be deceiving. Black beans are very healthy — loaded with fiber, high in protein and low in fat — but many refried beans are cooked using lard and Mexican cheese blends or pork. Instead, try pinto beans that have the same nutritional benefits without all the added fat.
Dishes to Avoid
Fried foods may be delicious, but they're high in fat and calories. Here are several commonly fried dishes to avoid:
- Chimichanga : Deep-fried burrito
- Taquitoes : Small, fried tortillas filled with chicken or beef
- Chalupas: Deep-fried dough filled with chicken or meat
- Chile rellenos: The name of this dish literally means “stuffed pepper.” Peppers are filled with meat, cheese or pork, then breaded and fried.
Love chalupas or can't live without chile rellenos? Share the dish with a friend on a special occasion, but don't have it for lunch on a daily basis. Or, branch out! Many more traditional Mexican restaurants feature regional entrees that don’t involve frying at all, like spiced-up chicken and grilled seafood dishes.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Some Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants now offer healthier fare such as brown rice, whole wheat tortillas and low-fat cheeses. You may even find that the sides can be replaced with steamed veggies or a fresh salad — just be sure to order the dressing on the side.
Beer or Margarita?
I always look forward to margaritas when dining at Mexican restaurants. Unless you have enough people at the table, stick to a single glass and not a pitcher. Margaritas have tons of added sugar from the mixes and can have a few hundred calories, so stick to one.
A better option may be a Mexican beer such as Corona or Dos Equis, which won’t have the added sugars. Ask for Corona Light for a lower-calorie option. Looking for a more authentic experience? Try a Michelada — Mexican beer mixed with lime and hot sauce, then served in a frosty, salt-rimmed mug.