Tips on ordering in Spanish from a La Paz restaurant menu
One of the first things people want to know when learning to speak the local language here in La Paz is something we refer to as “Menu Spanish.” How much Menu Spanish do you really need to know to order tacos, you might ask?
For starters, while we love tacos, there is obviously so much more to Baja cuisine that you’ll want to try while you’re in La Paz. There are also many different cuisines represented here. In addition to the local Mexican fare, you can find Italian restaurants, steakhouses, burger and pizza joints, amazing breakfast spots, and the freshest of sushi. For more information on local dining options, check out our La Paz restaurant guide here.
This post is not intended to cover all of the different Mexican dishes you can find here in Baja, we would need a book, or several, to cover that topic! We’ve listed out just a few of the more common terms you’ll need to navigate a local menu.
No matter the cuisine, because La Paz isn’t primarily a tourist town, most of the local restaurant menus are printed in Spanish. Even tacos have several different variations, and it’s worth knowing the difference when ordering!
This is one instance where translation apps like Google Translate are not going to be much help. For example, you will often see “tacos gobernador” on local menus. This literally translates to “governer’s tacos,” which is not much help in identifying the ingredients in your taco. On a Mexican menu, it usually means a taco is stuffed with chopped shrimp, vegetables and melted cheese, and then grilled.
Hint: before reviewing the terms below, you may want to go back and read the article Will I Need to Speak Spanish in La Paz? where we discussed how to say “I would like” and other useful phrases you’ll need to combine with the ones you’ll learn here. Warning – we are by no means fluent Spanish speakers, so even though we have a local friend look over these articles for accuracy, any mistakes our purely ours!
Without further ado, below are some basic terms that will soon have you ordering from a menu like a local.
Something to Drink?
Let’s start with how to order beverages. After all, that’s usually the beginning of any meal (or happy hour!):
- Agua (AH-gwah): means water. If you want it cold, say agua fria (AH-gwah FREE-ah). If you would like ice water, ask for it con hielo (kon ee-EL-oh) “with ice” and remember that the “h” is silent.
- Botella de agua (boh-TEL-ah de AH-gwah): If you want a bottle of water.
- Agua mineral (AH-gwah min-eh-RAHL): to order sparkling water. Our favorite: the ubiquitous Topo Chico with lime, or con limón (kon lee-MONE).
- Leche (LAY-chay): for milk. For some reason, Spanish translation apps like Duolingo seem obsessed with milk…and apples (manzanas). We have no idea why.
- Cerveza (sir-VAY-zuh): Most everyone who visits Mexico learns this one pretty quickly.
- Copa de vino (KO-pah de VEE-noh): Means “glass of wine.” To be more specific, ask for a vino blanco to order a white wine or vino tinto if you prefer red.
Let’s Get Breakfast
Breakfast places are typically open any time after 7:00-8:00 a.m., but in Mexico, you’ll find that people tend to eat a bit later, so you’ll see these places at their busiest around 9:30-10:00 a.m. You may want to order:
- Huevos (HWAY-vohs): eggs. These can be served revuelto (scrambled), frito (fried), escalfado (poached) or as an omelette, with or without queso (cheese). You may also want to add:
- Jamón (hah-MOHN): if you want ham with your eggs.
Champiñones (shamp-in-NYOHNS): mushrooms
- Cebolla (seh-BOY-yah): onions
- Tocino (toh-SEE-noh): bacon. Never, ever forget the word for bacon.
- Chilaquiles (CHEE-la-KEE-lees): if you haven’t tried them before, run, don’t walk, to your favorite Mexican restaurant to give these a try. It’s the breakfast version of nachos.
Breakfast is often served with frijoles (free-HOH-lays) “beans,” and your choice of fresh corn or flour tortillas (more on that below).
To drink, you may want:
- Jugo naranja (YOO-go na-RON-ha): orange juice. Use “Jugo” for any kind of juice, followed by the type, such as “jugo verde” (green juice). Juices are big here, and the varieties are too endless to list out here.
- Café (cah-FAY): for coffee. Served con leche, (with milk and azúcar (ah-ZOO-car) “sugar.” Or try it with a sprinkle of canela (cinnamon) for a delicious Mexican twist.
When is Lunch?
Because breakfast is typically eaten later in the morning, most local La Paz lunch spots open at 1:00 p.m., but will be at their busiest between 2:00-4:00 p.m.
For us, lunch is usually some variation on tacos. There are also tostadas (open faced tacos), ensaladas (salads), and even hamburguesas (do we really need to translate that one?) as well as many other options (more on these below).
Luckily, if you love tacos as much as we do, there is no translation needed to order them! However, you may want to learn how to order the many different and equally delicious variations that are available here in La Paz. Baja California Sur is home to a wealth of fresh seafood, and fish tacos are a mainstay of local menus. Remember that in Spanish, the adjective comes after the noun:
- Tacos de pescado (pes-KAH-doh): to order fish tacos.
- Tacos de camarón (cam-ah-ROHN): to order shrimp tacos.
Because most restaurants serve their fish and shrimp tacos fried, you should know how to order exactly what you want:
- Capeado (cop-ee-AH-doh) means the fish or shrimp will be fried.
- La plancha (lah-PLON-chah) to order them grilled.
If meat is your preference, there are several different options:
- Carne (CAR-nay): loosely translates to meat, but is usually used when talking about beef or steak. You may also see the word res (REZ), which also translates to beef.
- Carne asada (CAR-nay ah-SAH-dah): means roasted meat, usually beef
- Arrachera (AIR-ah-CHARE-ah): typically refers to a specific type of thinly sliced, marinated and grilled flank steak used in tacos or as a main entree.
- Pollo (POY-oh): chicken
- Cordero: is lamb. Barbacoa translates roughly to “barbecue,” and you may see roadside barbacoa stands offering both barbecued beef and lamb.
- Cerdo (SER-doh): pork
- Carnitas (car-NEE-tis): Although carne usually refers to beef, “carnitas” is a term that refers to roasted, shredded pork. You may see entire roadside stands dedicated to serving carnitas. While it is not your lowest calorie option, it is an absolutely delicious treat!
Once you’ve decided on the kind of taco you want to order, you will usually be asked which type of tortillas you want. There are strong opinions on both sides, and we will not get into the debate here on which is better! We’ll leave it to you to defend your choice:
- Harina (Hah-REE-nah): to order flour tortillas (note the h is not silent here).
- Maíz (My-EEZ) to order corn tortillas.
But don’t forget the salsa!
Salsa translates to “sauce,” so make sure you know what type you want:
- Verde (VARE-day) means “green,” and this salsa is typically pretty mild.
- Roja (ROH-ha): means red. The heat can vary, but it tends to be medium spicy.
- Pico de gallo (PEE-koh de GUY-oh): is the chunky salsa with chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers. Typically mild, but not always!
If you see a salsa that is orange in color, it’s likely to contain habanero (HAH-ben-NARE-o) peppers, which means very spicy, so be careful not to use too much! If you’re not sure, then you can ask “Cuál es la que pica menos?” (Which is the most spicy?).
Ok, so you want to branch out a bit from tacos. Fair enough. That’s your call.
Burritos are not the enormous overstuffed concoctions commonly served in the U.S. and Canada. Those are called burros here. Burritos are much smaller, typically rolled with meet or seafood, beans and sometimes potatoes inside, and you will likely want two or three for a filling lunch or breakfast. A local favorite are machaca burritos, which are stuffed with seasoned, shredded meat.
Similarly, quesadillas (KAY-suh-DEE-ahs) here are taco-sized tortillas, folded in half and grilled to melt the cheese. You may be disappointed if you order just one, thinking you are going to get the giant tortilla cut into wedges commonly served in North American restaurants.
If you had breakfast and lunch like a local, you likely last ate around 2:00 p.m., which brings us to dinner. In La Paz, most dinner restaurants open at 6:00 p.m., but if you arrive at 6:00, you are likely to be the only ones there! Locals typically dine at 8:00 p.m. or later. That can be a good thing if you want to eat early and avoid the crowds at one of the many popular restaurants in town.
Seafood is a mainstay on La Paz dinner menus, and there are endless variations to choose from, including pescado del día (fish of the day), camarón (shimp), pulpo (octopus) and langosta (lobster). There are also an abundance of fresh almejas (clams, the “chocolate” variety are a specialty here) and ostras (oysters), both of which are available at a much more reasonable cost here than in northern restaurants! You can also order a variety of carne (meat, but typically beef), pollo (chicken) and cerdo (pork) as noted above.
Another dish savored across Mexico is molcajete (MOLE-kah-HET-ay), a simmering broth full of meat, cheese and vegetables, including nopal, the prickly pear cactus leaves, served in a traditional stone vessel. If you have never tried molcajete, you are in for a treat!
Side dishes often include:
- Arroz (Ah-ROSE): rice
- Papas (POP-uhz): potatoes
- Papas fritas (POP-uhz FREE-tuhz): French fries
- Vegetales (Vej-uh-TAH-lees): vegetables
- Ensalada (en-suh-LAH-da): salad
Once you’ve had your fill of delicious food and drink, it’s time to ask for the check: La quenta por favor (Lah-KWENT-tah pore fah-VORE): “the check please.”
Local tip: do not sit waiting impatiently for your server to bring you the check once you’ve finished your meal. It is actually considered rude to rush you by bringing the check before you have asked for it! In Mexico, we like to linger over meals, so be sure to remember to let your server know when you are finished and ready to pay.
Etiquette tip: when the server delivers your food, you may hear him say buen provecho (BWEN pro-VAY-choh) which is roughly the same as the French “bon appetit,” or “enjoy” in English. Often he or she will shorten it to simply, “Provecho!” Bonus points: when someone is leaving a restaurant and there are other people still eating, they will often say “provecho” to the remaining guests as they leave. Try saying this next time as you pass by a table on your way out, and you will likely get a reply of “gracias” and a smile in return at your local knowledge.
Hungry yet?? We are! If you find yourself in town and want to check out some local dining spots, don’t forget to download our La Paz Restaurant Guide here.
Kathy Smeland says
Awesome article! Making me hungry!
Thanks Kathy, I know what you mean, we got hungry writing it!