In the U.S., when people think of Mexican food, they typically think of tacos and burritos. Indeed, these creations are delicious, and they are really convenient to enjoy at takeout restaurants and food stands. If you happen to visit a sit-down Mexican food restaurant, though, there are some other dishes you should try in order to expand your understanding of Mexican cuisine.
If you love tacos and would rather try something similar your first time around, then order a chalupa. They are made by pressing a corn tortilla over a mold and deep-frying it to make it crispy. Then the crispy, fried tortilla is topped with various ingredients. It is common to see shredded pork or beef, various salsas, and sliced vegetables inside. You don't usually see lettuce on chalupas as you would tacos, however. The dish needs to be eaten with a knife and fork as the fried base crumbles if bitten into.
Chilaquiles essentially means "chiles and greens," and indeed, these two ingredients form the basis of the dish. Chilaquiles are made by loading a plate with fresh tortillas, which have been cut into strips. Then, the chef pours salsa roja (classic red salsa) over the chips. This causes the tortillas to soften. Once the tortillas are soft, queso fresco (a fresh, white cheese), refried beans, and sometimes fried eggs are added to the top. Chilaquiles is messy but very satisfying.
This dish is a really good choice in the winter when you want something warm and filling. The base of the soup is a beef broth flavored with red chile paste. To that mixture, the chef adds hominy, onions, beans, and a variety of herbs. The soup is allowed to cook until it thickens considerably. It has a silky texture and a complex flavor.
You may see this one on the appetizer portion of the menu, but you can enjoy it as a full meal if you please. Molotes are basically savory pastries. The dough is made from potatoes and masa. The pastry is then stuffed with various ingredients — often some variation of peppers and cheese — before being fried in lard. Molotes are filling and satisfying.
If you visit a sit-down restaurant and want to venture away from tacos and burritos, all of the dishes above are worth trying. Consider ordering a few of them to share, and just pass them around the table.