13 Mexican Sides From Zesty Esquites to Arroz Rojo

Plus, so many chiles.

April 13, 2022
Photo by Julia Gartland

These Mexican side dishes are destined to be served with Pavo al Pastor, Rick Martinez’s take on a traditional Thanksgiving roast turkey, or Vegan Chile Colorado that’s brimming with sweet potatoes, cremini mushrooms, and cauliflower. From classic guacamole and a guac–salsa verde hybrid to two versions of pan de elote (aka Mexican cornbread), these dishes are full of fiery flavor.

Our Best Mexican Side Dishes

1. Pan de Elote Dressing

Somewhere in between a sweet corn pudding and a traditional Thanksgiving stuffing is this Mexican bread made with fresh corn. For his signature sweet heat, recipe developer Rick Martinez added sautéed chorizo, poblano peppers, and serrano chiles.

2. Cranberry Salsa Macha

Two kinds of chile peppers—guajillos and chiles de árbol—bring serious heat to this cranberry salsa that’s a must-have addition to the Thanksgiving table. The best part is that you can (and should!) make it up to five days in advance, which saves prep time on the holiday. But it’s not just good for turkey time–it makes a welcome addition to the table any time of year.

3. Roasted & Raw Vegetables With Spicy Tahini Cream

There’s nothing distinctly Mexican about roasted vegetables like beets and sweet potatoes, dressed in tahini sauce. But what gives them distinct flavor and flair are a whole bunch of chile peppers—habaneros, serranos, poblanos, and crushed chile de árbols.

4. Arroz Rojo

Let long-grain white sizzle in a saucepan, then mix it with a purée of fresh tomatoes, onions, and garlic, plus a little bit of chicken broth. "An essential side dish found on plates throughout the country, this red rice can accompany almost any meal," writes Mely Martinez.

5. Pan de Elote (Mexican Cornbread)

This is a truly classic recipe for pan de elote, aka Mexican cornbread. The secret ingredient is sweetened condensed milk, which makes this quick bread sweeter and richer than American cornbread.

6. Roasted Salsa Verde

This salsa verde calls for roasted peppers, tomatillos, garlic, and onions with cumin, lime juice, cilantro, and salt. Oftentimes that’s where things would end, but this recipe turns to avocados for a little extra creaminess.

7. Arroz Blanco

Fluffy white rice gets all dolled up for dinner with a simple purée of onion and garlic, plus parsley, serrano peppers, and lime juice. This Mexican side dish is typically served alongside mole poblano, asado de puerco, and costillas en salsa verde, says recipe developer Mely Martinez.

8. Roberto Santibañez' Classic Guacamole

No matter the occasion, guacamole is always a good idea. The trick is to mash the avocados less than you think, nowhere close to the point where they resemble mush.

9. Salsa Guille From Andrea Aliseda

“This savory salsa is the perfect addition to sizzling mushrooms, quesadillas, or nachos. You can dip bread or chips into it, and it’s exceptional with whatever meaty dishes your heart desires,” writes recipe developer Andrea Aliseda.

10. Homemade Corn Tortilla Chips

Is it necessary to make your own tortilla chips? Absolutely not. Should you? Absolutely.

11. Enrique Olvera's Frijoles Puercos (Northern-Style Beans)

The translation to “dirty beans” comes from the idea that so many different pork products—from pork shoulder to bacon to pigs’ feet—can be added to the slow-cooked stewy beans.

12. Paratha Tortillas (Parathatillas)

Former Food52-er Coral Lee has distinct memories of eating reheated frozen parathas on a Saturday morning. She developed a recipe for a dough that she describes as being “tortilla in content, paratha in form.”

13. Esquites

I grew up in New England, which meant that corn on the cob found itself on our dinner table every single night. But frankly, I always preferred corn off the cob, which is why I was so excited to try this version of Mexican street corn, complete with queso fresco, cayenne pepper and chile powder, and lime juice.

Tell us what your favorite Mexican side dishes are in the comments below!

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Former Food52 Staff Editor