Healthy Meals You Can Order at Any Mexican Restaurant
No, this isn't the opening scene of the latest Chili's commercial, this is what it's actually like dining at a Mexican restaurant—and it's every dieter's nightmare. But dining at a Mexican joint doesn't have to be stressful or overindulgent. Most local spots have plenty of healthy Mexican food options that can help you reach your weight loss goals—you just have to know what to ask for.
To help you get in the know we asked seven diet experts what they order at their favorite Mexican hot spots. All of their suggestions are widely available, will leave you satisfied and won't ruin a week's worth of your calorie cutbacks. Here, all of their go-to RD-approved appetizers, drink and entrées orders.
Guacamole & Veggies
"For an appetizer or a dish for the table to share, guacamole is a favorite. Avocados are packed with heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory nutrients and its fat content can help quell pre-dinner hunger pangs. Instead of dipping chips in your guac, ask for some cut vegetables. This adds healthy nutrients to your meal while saving calories." — Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition
"It could just be my love of anything with avocados, but in my eyes, few things beat a bowl of authentic tortilla soup. It's nourishing, comforting and satisfying—but doesn't carry a lot of calories. It's perfect for a light meal or appetizer." — Marisa Moore, RDN of Marisa Moore Nutrition
"If I'm going to indulge in a drink at a Mexican restaurant, it's going to be tequila served either straight up or on the rocks with lime. Both orders are clean, refreshing and free of sugar-packed additives." — Dana Kofsky, nutrition consultant
Grilled Shrimp Salad
"Even if it's not on the menu, you can usually get a grilled shrimp salad at any Mexican restaurant. Salad veggies are packed with healthy nutrients like fiber, and the grilled shrimp provides protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They key with any salad, though, is to watch the amount of dressing used, so I'll often ask for a light balsamic dressing on the side. The grilled shrimp adds a lot of flavor, so I can use less dressing without sacrificing taste." — Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, author of Eat Right When Time is Tight
Beans, Grilled Chicken and Avocado Salad
"When I'm at a Mexican restaurant, I like to keep it simple. I'll order an entree-size house salad in a bowl—not a taco shell—and ask my server to add beans, grilled chicken, avocado and a light sprinkling of cheese. The black beans have soluble fiber that slows digestion, keeping me feeling fuller, longer. The avocado and protein-rich chicken helps balance blood sugar and boost satiety as well." — Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
TACOS AND BURRITOS
"Whenever I get tacos, I wrap them in romaine lettuce leaves instead of corn tortillas. Depending on how they're served, I often order them without cheese or sour cream and ask for avocado and salsa instead. Salsa adds great flavor and, if you order the spicy variety, can also help boost your metabolism. Avocados have a satisfying creamy texture that I love, and they also contain heart-healthy fats." — Kofsky
Grilled Fish Tacos
"I'm a huge fan of Mexican food and, fortunately, there are lots of healthy options on most menus! As a main dish, I typically order grilled fish tacos on corn tortillas with a side of black beans or a salad. Most fish tacos come with a creamy sauce, so be sure to ask the kitchen to go light or put it on the side. This is my go-to order because it's full of protein and fiber and, unlike giant burritos and other indulgences on the menu, it's portion-controlled." — Marisa Moore, RDN
"An order of two grilled fish tacos has between 400 and 500 calories, and they're a good source of protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids. By getting grilled instead of fried fish, you shave off a lot of fat and calories, plus you can really taste the wonderful flavors of the fish and fresh toppings." — Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN
Soft Chicken Tacos
"Yellow corn tortilla tacos with grilled chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, grilled peppers and jalapeños are one of my favorite Mexican dishes. Tacos lend themselves to automatic portion control, and they're easy to customize and healthify how I please. I recommend making salsa your go-to condiment because it's full of flavor and low in calories. However, if you want to add some sour cream and guacamole, ask for it on the side so you can spoon a small, calorie-controlled portion yourself." — Wesley Delbridge, RD, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics
"Vegetarian burritos can usually be found at any Mexican restaurant, and with a few simple tweaks, they can be a healthy pick. Opt for brown rice over white, fresh black beans instead of refried, salsa instead of sour cream, low-fat cheese instead of full-fat, and be sure your burrito includes lots of high-fiber vegetables like spinach, collard greens, and peppers."
— Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN of Leah Kaufman Nutrition
FORK AND KNIFE ENTRÉES
"Eating ceviche, which is raw fish marinated in lime juice and herbs, reminds me of being in Mexico! It's a simple meal that doesn't contain any calorie-laden ingredients like corn or cheese. Plus it's rich in zinc, which helps the body metabolize glucose and is great for radiant skin! Since they're usually served tapas style, I typically order two different varieties." — Dana James, nutritionist and founder of Food Coach NYC
"Chicken fajitas are always a great option! Unlike most other restaurant meals, fajitas allow you to control your portions since the meat, veggies, toppings, and tortillas are all served separately. I recommend asking for a side of sliced avocado and salsa and skipping the sour cream." — Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN
"For an entreé, I love chicken or lean steak fajitas. They allow you to have control over how many starchy items like beans and tortillas you eat, and anyone who is trying to avoid wheat or eat a lighter meal can simply just eat the protein and vegetables and skip the tortilla. I typically keep the added cheese and beans on the lighter side to save calories. — Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN