5 Mexican Food Trends to Look for in 2020

According to a spirits expert, food writer, and top chefs.

September 20, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin. Food Stylist: Amelia Rampe. Prop Stylist: Sophie Strangio.

We took a front-row seat at the "What's Next in Mexican Cuisine" panel in New York City, hosted by our partner Cacique and featuring top culinary voices, to get a sneak peek at the trends you can expect to taste (and sip!) in 2020.

So much of what I grew up knowing as "Mexican" food, while delicious, wasn't necessarily close to the dishes or drinks you might find if you were to visit, say, Mexico City or Oaxaca or Puebla.

Which is why I was excited to attend a recent panel discussion all about "What's Next in Mexican Cuisine," led by Chef Aarón Sánchez (you probably recognize him from MasterChef), and featuring experts Chef Claudette Zepeda, Chef Thomas Ortega, Bill Esparza (a James Beard Award-winning food writer), and renowned Mixologist Alex Valencia.

The panel covered a broad range of important topics, from American misconceptions about Mexican cuisine to what defines "authentic" food, but the majority of the conversation among the panelists focused on trends: Which dishes, ingredients, regions, and cooking techniques can we expect to see and learn more about in the upcoming year? And, how can the everyday cook incorporate those trends into the food they make at home?

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Mas Harina is pretty universally nixtamalized, at least that available in California.”
— Smaug

From a booming wine region to a traditional technique, here are a few of the top culinary trends the panel identified.

What's Next in Mexican Cuisine

1. Mexican Herbs

Along with heirloom corn and regional chiles, Esparza predicts that herbs traditionally used in Mexican cooking—like hoja santa and epazote—will see more widespread popularity in 2020. One of many staple herbs, hoja santa is particularly notable for it's tough-to-pin-down flavor and versatility: the herb has been described as anything from "like root beer' to licorice-y, and is used in a variety of both savory and sweet dishes.

Another herb you might be more familiar with is Mexican marjoram (aka Mexican oregano), which you can try out in Chef Ortega’s Short Rib Birria QuesaTaco recipe (yep, that's what happens when a quesadilla meets a taco).

2. Up-and-Coming Wine Regions

Valencia and Chef Ortega both predict that some of next year's most-coveted wines will come from the region Valle de Guadalupe, which one Forbes article called "The Napa Valley of Mexico."

According to Esparza, “Gradually, over a score of years, Mexican wines slowly entered the US marketplace, catching up to the Baja gastronomy wave that touched down around 2010. Crisp, mineral sauvignon blancs and savory rosés are popular with Alta California chefs and modern taquerias, while light red blends are showing up on menus to pair with steak tacos on heirloom corn tortillas and lamb neck tamales. Baja wines are beginning to lead the cuisine stateside as they have for decades in the Valle de Guadalupe.”

3. Plant-Based Swaps in Traditional Dishes

One of the general trends that Chef Sánchez pointed out was a shift towards vegetarian-friendly cooking, and a growing general focus toward more plant-based foods.

What's more, Chef Zepeda predicts that "people will use more local vegetables in traditionally meat-centric dishes." Case in point: Chef Sánchez's homemade tamales with queso fresco and "carnitas" that's actually made from jackfruit, which has a texture that's similar to pulled pork when cooked, and Cacique Queso Fresco.

4. Pulque, Tepache & Mexican Whiskeys

Another trend to keep an eye out for: traditional Mexican spirits and drinks, like pulque (an ancestor of tequila and mezcal that's made from the fermented sap of the agave plant), tepache (a drink made by fermenting pineapple with water, sugar, and spices), and Mexican whiskeys (which Valencia recommends enjoying neat or on ice, like in his trend-inspired Chorizo Old Fashioned recipe).

5. Nixtamalization

One of the most-mentioned trends across panelists was the revival of time and labor-intensive traditional techniques, and the ways in which young chefs might apply them to modern dishes. A big one, Chef Sánchez predicts, will be nixtamalization: a process in which corn is dried and treated with a calcium hydroxide solution that loosens the hulls from the kernels. Then, the corn can be dried, ground, and used to make anything from fresh tortillas to tamales.

Which trend are you most excited about? Tell us in the comments below!

We've partnered with Cacique—family-owned makers of quality Mexican cheeses, chorizos, cremas, and more—to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by showcasing what's next in Mexican cuisine. From plant-based recipes to traditional cooking techniques, we're excited to show you how to bring these delicious Mexican food trends into your kitchen.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • MJ Phinney
    MJ Phinney
  • Smaug
  • Russ
Erin Alexander is the Brand Partnerships Editor at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.


MJ P. September 21, 2019
How is this a new trend when the process has been in use for over 2000 years? The ancient process of nixtamalization was first developed in Mesoamerica, where maize was originally cultivated. There is no precise date when the technology was developed, but the earliest evidence of nixtamalization is found in Guatemala's southern coast, with equipment dating from 1200–1500 BCE.
Russ November 9, 2019
I believe the point is that there is a growing interest and trend towards making and utilizing fresh masa (in commercial restaurants and in the home), leveraging heirloom varieties of corn, as opposed to the use of factory made masa harina, that simply requires rehydration .. Recommend learning about the corn subsidies in Mexico, starting in the 1970’s, for context ..
Smaug September 21, 2019
Well, I'm a little confused about Nixtamalization as a trend- it's already used for pretty much all the tortilla, tamale etc. corn; are they proposing to use it on other vegetables or what. The herbs are sort of interesting- regular Mexican Oregano (Lippia Graveolens) is pretty easily available and easy to grow, although a bit tender, but there are other "Mexican oregano" types that are not easily available; epazote is more or less a weed but not much seen commercially. Hoja Santa (also, I understand, very tender) is something I'd like to grow but haven't. Wine and whisky aren't food, and vegetablization is a pretty universal trend.
Russ November 9, 2019
The vast majority of corn tortillas served in restaurants or purchased for home consumption are made from masa harina .. dehydrated masa, made from either generic yellow or white corn, with no claim to being non-GMO .. the commercial attraction of which (as opposed to the gustatory appeal or regional cultural authenticity) was accelerated by the abandonment of corn subsidies in Mexico in the 1970s .. The resurgence of interest in heirloom corn and the traditional method of nixtamalization, is indeed a new and exciting trend ..
Smaug November 9, 2019
Mas Harina is pretty universally nixtamalized, at least that available in California.