The Best Snacks and Drinks to Buy at a Mexican Grocery Store
Pillowy pan dulce, tangy seasoning that belongs on everything, airy chicharrones—get all this and more on your next Mexican market haul.
As the child of a Mexican immigrant who settled in the suburbs of Dallas, I grew up immersed in Mexican and Latino communities where food played a central role at all kinds of gatherings. Backyard birthday parties, family dinner on Sunday nights—there was always something to look forward to eating. For my family, that meant shopping on the weekends at outdoor pulgas (flea markets) and making trips to Fiesta Mart near my abuelita’s house.
You couldn’t leave a place like Fiesta without being engulfed in the aroma of elotes: roasted corn cobs that are shaved directly into styrofoam cups and mixed with copious amounts of butter and crema, topped with hot sauce, cajita cheese, and lime. It’s the ultimate portable shopping snack. The crown jewel of Mexican grocery stores, elote stands are reminders of home for many people, including my dad, who left his birthplace for better opportunities in the U.S. But that’s not to say we didn’t ever visit our family in Mexico.
Yearly trips to Monterrey also revolved around the food we ate. There, in northeastern Mexico, food stands lined the street where my aunt lives. Vendors served crunchy chicharrones preparados, and, in candy stores tucked inside living rooms, her neighbors sold bottles of Jarritos soda. I discovered so many snacks and treats on those visits. Thankfully, these foods know no borders.
As a kid, I was delighted to find them in markets back home in Texas. Now I don’t take for granted the ingredients and snacks I pull from those shelves. Whether Mexican grocery stores are abundant where you live or not, here are some of my most cherished ingredients and snacks worth seeking.
Our favorite Mexican snacks and drinks
This list could not exist without acknowledging the significance of chamoy in the canon of Mexican snackery. Chamoy is a condiment traditionally made with pickled sour fruit (like apricot or mango), chiles, and lime. I like to think of it as a mother sauce that completes many of Mexico’s favorite sweet and savory treats. Immensely complex in flavor profile, containing sweet, sour, salty, and spicy notes, chamoy sings alongside mango sorbet in mangonadas, atop freshly sliced fruit, or covering sour gummy candies. Finding artisanally made chamoy can be a bit challenging, but bottled versions from brands like Tajín make the craveable condiment more widely accessible.
If chamoy is up for Best Actor in the Golden Globes of Mexican snacks, Tajín is undoubtedly in the running for Best Supporting Actor. While it certainly flourishes alongside its condiment cousin, chamoy, there’s no doubt Tajín seasoning can steal any stage on its own. You’ll love this mouth-puckering blend of dehydrated chiles, lime, and sea salt on the rim of a spicy margarita, sprinkled over ripe fruit, or crowning the corn that’s roasting at a stand outside of the Mexican grocery store. It’s not summer until I sprinkle Tajín on a cold slice of watermelon finished with a squeeze of lime and fresh mint.
No morning at abuelita’s house is quite right without the presence of pan dulce. Literally meaning “sweet bread,” these Mexican pastries are the perfect accompaniment to your morning coffee. There are countless varieties of pan dulce offerings, which tantalize you with freshly baked aromas and vibrant colors from inside the pastry case. There’s one, however, that reigns supreme: the concha is arguably the most popular. Made with a not-too-sweet egg dough adorned with a crackled, tortoise-shell pattern, conchas are most often subtly flavored with vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry. The textural contrast between pillowy bread and crunchy sugar topping is where the concha packs its punch.
Glass-bottled Mexican Coca-Cola is my go-to hangover beverage, but Jarritos are equally satisfying. Fizzy, fruity, and sweet, they’re the perfect sidekick to any snack. As a kid I’d run around outside with my cousins on a hot Texas afternoon, after which I was rewarded with a Jarrito. Back then I would have gone for the Fruit Punch or Strawberry, but nowadays I’m reaching for the slightly more grown-up flavors, like Tamarind, Guayaba, or Grapefruit.
When you think of Mexican food you might not immediately imagine noodles. Fideos, though, are at the center of my fondest food memories. Fideos are an inexpensive, quick-cooking thin noodle that I highly recommend keeping in your pantry for one of those no-brainer meals. Toasted in fat and simmered in a flavorful broth for a sopa de fideos, they’re maximum comfort for minimal effort. Mexican grocery stores offer a wide variety of fun shapes like stars or alphabet letters from brands like La Moderna and Goya, but the classics are short angel hair noodles. Just like the noodle dishes of other cultures, fideos are endlessly riffable with the addition of potatoes or other veggies.
Chicharrones de Harina
If you’re looking for the satisfying crunch of pork skin chicharrones without the animal product, look no further than chicharrones de harina. These addictive, fried wheat chips can be found pre-cooked in plastic bags or in a dried form in the bulk bins of Mexican grocery stores for frying at home. Pinwheel-shaped chicharrones are classic, but you can also find thick sheets that make the perfect landing pad for ingredients like shredded cabbage, avocado, sour cream, hot sauce, and queso fresco to make chicharrones preparados. With the wagon wheel chips in a bag, douse them in Valentina hot sauce and a squeeze of lime juice for the ultimate spicy snack on the go.
Brands like Bimbo and Marinela have been producing many of Mexico’s favorite baked snack foods for decades. Like Hostess and Little Debbie in the U.S., these brands make confectionery delights that are enjoyed by children and adults alike. You can’t go wrong with Gansitos, a chocolate covered cake bar or Mantecadas, slightly sweet vanilla-flavored muffins. But I have a nostalgic soft spot for Sponch cookies. A touch of strawberry jam and four coconut-covered marshmallow puffs crown a buttery, flaky shortbread cookie. The texture combination of crunchy cookie and pillowy marshmallow is a home run—and the strawberry jam adds just the right amount of brightness.
Many popular candy snacks south of the border are associated with the sweet-sour-spicy profile of chamoy, but at the top of my list is Mexico’s take on marzipan. Mazapán swaps almonds for ground peanuts, combining them with powdered sugar and pressed into a compact disc. The treat crumbles if you so much as look at it wrong, but the melt-in-your-mouth bliss with small crunchy bits of peanuts is worth the mess. De la Rosa is the go-to brand for mazapán with its iconic rose logo on the cellophane wrapping. I recently discovered they also make a chocolate-covered version, taking this nostalgic favorite of mine to a whole new level.
If you want to be transported to the beaches of Mexico while sipping on fruit nectar, canned Jumex drinks have got you covered. These might not be marketed for the most health-conscious consumers, as they’re made with fruit concentrate and high fructose corn syrup, but damn do they taste good. My abuelita probably thought these were a suitable alternative to sodas and always had them around. I was raised with a deep affinity for the mango nectar, but I wouldn’t say no to peach or apricot. A glass of Jumex with a bean and cheese taquito is, to me, the true breakfast of champions.
Widely popular in the U.S., Takis might be one of Mexico’s most successful snack exports. These rolled and fried corn chips are fiercely crunchy and intensely spicy, flavored with hot chiles and lime. Eat a few chips and you’ll make note of the heat level, but keep eating them and soon you’ll find your forehead sweating—these crisps are no joke! If the classic Fuego flavor isn’t enough, the spice-inclined snackers can find other versions like Nitro and the bizarre Blue Heat. (The latter’s electric blue hue seems to be perfect for the viral mukbang corner of TikTok or YouTube, where you’ll find them turned into a spicy dust used to coat other food products.)
Where to shop for Mexican products
If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people who relocated to Texas in the past two years, Mexican grocery store chains are easy to come by. There are state-wide stores like Fiesta Mart, whereas El Rancho Supermercado and La Hacienda are regional options in North Texas. Even big-box stores, like Walmart or H-E-B, carry a hefty amount of Mexican products.
On the West Coast, northern California has chains like Mi Rancho Supermarket and Chavez, while stores like Vallarta and Northgate Gonzalez Markets can be found all across southern California. In the east, Bravo Supermarket has over 70 locations that span from New York all the way down to Florida.
If you’re in a Mexican food desert, many of the brands above, like Marinela or Takis, offer store locators or the option to purchase direct from their website. A quick search online will return sites like Mexgrocer.com or Zocalofoods.com, where these items can be shipped right to your door—no trip to Mexico necessary, though I highly recommend it.