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Just about everybody loves Mexican food. But since many dishes are high in carbohydrates, it can be extremely difficult to find low-carb options on the menu. Can you eat tacos on keto? Are fajitas keto? What can you eat at a Mexican restaurant on keto, anyway? Let’s find out.
Table of Contents
- How Many Carbs Can You Have on a Keto Diet?
- How to Stick to Keto at a Mexican Restaurant
- Mexican Food to Avoid on Keto
- Making Mexican Food Keto-Friendly
- The Best Options for Keto Mexican Food at Restaurants
- What About Fast Food?
- Making Keto Mexican Food at Home
- Add Some Spice to Your Keto Diet!
How Many Carbs Can You Have on a Keto Diet?
Depending on how much research you’ve done on the ketogenic diet, you may already know that there are a few variants. Some variants allow “cheat days” with unlimited carbs, though a strict keto diet probably won’t.
Although there are several types of keto diets, just about all of them only allot up to 50 grams of net carbohydrate per day.
It’s important to note that this carb allowance refers to “net carbohydrates.” Net carbohydrates are the total amount of carbohydrates that can be absorbed by the body. Since dietary fiber and sugar alcohols aren’t metabolized like most carbohydrates, they are not counted as net carbohydrates.
So to calculate the net carbohydrates in any food, simply subtract dietary fiber and sugar alcohols from the total carbohydrate count.
How to Stick to Keto at a Mexican Restaurant
A ketogenic diet definitely limits the types of food you can eat. But if your friends or family members are in the mood for Mexican food, you don’t want to miss out on the fun!
In order to have a memorable meal without breaking your diet, you just need to follow three simple rules to find keto Mexican food:
1. Know which ingredients are keto-friendly
Even though Mexican cuisine is generally high in carbohydrates, most Mexican restaurants do offer lower-carb ingredients. Generally speaking, meats and low-carb vegetables are good options. And plenty of Mexican dishes include shredded cheese, another low-carb ingredient.
Of course, most salads are low in carbs, too. And most types of salsa and hot sauce can add flavor without going over your daily carb limit.
2. Know what ingredients to avoid
Likewise, make sure that you know which ingredients are not keto-friendly. Tortillas and taco shells definitely have too many carbs! Make sure you avoid starchy sides like beans and rice, too.
Most restaurants will refer to some or all of these ingredients by their Spanish names on the menus. Look out for frijoles (beans), arroz (rice), and maize (corn).
3. Do your research ahead of time
Depending on how familiar you are with Mexican cuisine, you might want to look into dishes and ingredients. After all, you probably don’t want to have to Google every single menu item once you’re at the restaurant.
Make sure you double-check different sauces. Some things may sound low-carb but then will contain flour or other carbohydrate-dense ingredients. Likewise, if you take the time to read about Mexican dishes, you just might discover something new and delicious that fits perfectly into the keto lifestyle!
Of course, these are broad guidelines. In the following sections, we’ll go into more detail on how to follow them.
Mexican Food to Avoid on Keto
Many Mexican restaurants offer plenty of dishes centered around the same ingredients. We mentioned above that corn tortillas, flour tortillas, taco shells, beans, corn, and rice are not keto-friendly options. Here are some other items you’ll probably want to avoid:
- Quesadillas – This dish is usually made of meat, vegetables, and cheese placed in a flour tortilla.
- Enchiladas – This is a dish where meats and other fillings are wrapped in a corn tortilla or flour tortilla and then covered in sauce.
- Tamales – Tamales can have a wide range of fillings. And since they usually are wrapped in corn husks, you might think they are low in carbohydrates. However, beneath the corn husk is a lining of corn dough, still if you are on cheat day, here are some ideas for Tamales sides.
- Empanadas – Though empanadas are delicious, they are certainly one of the higher-carb items on the list! These are pastries that can be stuffed with a range of fillings both sweet and savory.
- Tortilla chips – This one is common sense. The basket of tortilla chips placed on the table is definitely not keto-friendly! But the tortillas are vegan friendly.
- Pupusas – These are small pieces of lightly fried corn flatbread.
- Plantains and/or bananas – You might see either of these listed as “plátanos” on the menu. Though they are fruits and contain complex carbohydrates, they’re still too sugar-rich to be keto-friendly!
- Yucca – Yucca is a tuberous plant that is used a lot like a potato. It is very high in carbohydrates!
- Picadillos – This dish is a mixture of beef, olives, tomato sauce, and fried potatoes. Usually, it is served over rice or a tortilla.
- Fruit-based salsa and sweet dressings – Pico de Gallo (also called salsa fresca) and many other types of salsa found in Mexican restaurants are low in carbohydrates. But some salsas and sauces are fruit-based; mango salsa is a common one. Similarly, keep an eye out for sweetened salad dressings, too!
- Aguas frescas – Though the name might make you think this just means “fresh water,” aguas frescas are sweetened drinks often made with different types of flowers, fruits, seeds, and sugar.
- Horchatas – These are drinks made of various types of ground plants (like tiger nuts or rice). They are also sweetened with a good bit of sugar.
- Most desserts – This one probably goes without saying. Though any Mexican restaurant is sure to have delicious desserts, these are definitely not keto-friendly!
Making Mexican Food Keto-Friendly
You already know that the answer to “are tacos keto?” is “no.” But what if the restaurant down the street makes perfectly-seasoned tacos? The truth is that with an easy substitution or two, you can make many Mexican classics into new low-carb favorites.
Here are some ideas for creating keto options at a Mexican restaurant:
Choose a chip substitute. Almost all sit-down restaurants that serve Mexican food include a basket of tortilla chips with pico de Gallo salsa on the side. To make this a keto Mexican dish, as your waiter if the restaurant serves chicharrones. These are pork rinds, a keto-friendly chip substitute with virtually no carbohydrates. Some restaurants may let you bring your own pork rinds.
Alternatively, you can ask for low-carb vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, celery, or jicama to dip in the salsa for a memorable keto Mexican appetizer!
Choose a meat or seafood dish. Most keto-friendly Mexican options are dishes centered on meat or seafood. In particular, grilled chicken, steak, or other meat is a good choice, as is any meat cooked in a skillet. Carne asada is a great example, as is Mexican sausage.
To make a dish like this keto, ask if it’s possible to substitute the rice, beans, and/or flour tortilla in a meat dish with keto-friendly vegetables. Most restaurants will offer a steamed or pan-seared vegetable medley they can substitute. If you can’t substitute extra vegetables, see if the restaurant offers side salads.
Look for low-carb ways to add flavor. Low-carb Mexican food doesn’t have to be bland or boring! You can add pico de gallo, chili verde, sour cream, guacamole, or chimichurri. Shredded cheese is a great addition, too.
The Best Options for Keto Mexican Food at Restaurants
You might be wondering “what can I eat at a Mexican restaurant on a keto diet?” on a large menu, it can be hard to know where to start. If you’re trying to eat keto at Mexican restaurants, here are some ideas to consider.
Pico de gallo, guacamole, or queso. Is queso keto-friendly? Since this dish is mostly cheese, the answer is yes. You may want to ask the restaurant if flour has been added to thicken the queso, though. As with salsa, make sure you have low-carb veggies or pork rinds to dip instead of chips.
Bacon-wrapped shrimp. This one is delicious and delivers lots of protein. Just make sure it isn’t breaded or served with a sweet sauce.
Mexican sausage. More properly called chorizo, this spicy sausage has lots of flavor. It’s good enough to eat by itself! It’s a great choice if you want your keto Mexican food a little spicy.
Ceviche. As long as you order it without chips or any sweetened sauces, this chilled seafood dish is a great keto-friendly appetizer! Often, it includes seafood that has been marinated in lime juice and topped with a savory sauce.
Jalapeño poppers. This classic appetizer can be found at countless restaurants. But there’s a catch: it’s only low-carb if the peppers are not breaded. Some restaurants may make them grilled or baked. Make sure you ask!
Grilled meat. If you can find grilled chicken wings with veggies sides, shrimp, steak, etc., these are all good choices. Just check to make sure there are no sweet sauces and that the meats have not been breaded.
Loaded nachos. This one has a catch: you just need to ask for nachos without the chips. Most loaded nachos come with seasoned ground beef, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, and vegetables. You can ask for pork rinds or low-carb veggies to scoop it up with, or you can just eat the chipless nachos with a fork.
Not everyone opts for an appetizer when they go out to eat. But most of us at least go for a main dish! Here are some classic keto-friendly main dish options:
Taco salad. Salads are great for those on keto diets, and just about every Mexican restaurant has a taco salad. Make sure you ask that it does not come with the taco or tortilla shell, as most taco salads come in a kind of edible bowl. Ask that any salad be served without tortilla strips or high-carb toppings like corn.
Fajitas, quesadillas, tacos, or enchiladas. Without modifications, these dishes would not be great for anyone on a keto diet. But it’s worth asking if the tortillas in these dishes can be replaced with a lettuce wrap. Alternatively, you could ask that the meat and vegetable filling be put on a side salad. Some people opt to only eat the filling of these dishes with a knife and fork. You can always ask for more sour cream, hot sauce, or salsa to impart some extra flavor.
Grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp salad. If you want a salad but would rather have something besides a taco salad, most tex-Mex and Mexican restaurants offer salads made with grilled meats or fish. As with the taco salad, be sure to ask them to hold the tortilla strips and other high-carb toppings! And here you can check out another keto-friendly shrimp options.
Burrito bowl. This one is a mainstay at Chipotle and similar restaurants. But despite the name, you can turn a burrito bowl into a keto Mexican dish! Just don’t include rice, beans, or other high-carb ingredients. You can make a great bowl with chicken, carnitas, steak, and a whole range of vegetables. Don’t forget the sour cream and guacamole!
Molé. Though perhaps not as popular as some other recipes, molé is a great choice if you want something a bit different. This dish is usually made with either turkey or chicken. The meat is covered in molé sauce. This sauce is a mixture of cocoa beans and spices. However, while some of these sauces are keto-friendly, some aren’t. Make sure you ask about the ingredients!
For some more helpful suggestions on the best keto foods to order at a Mexican restaurant, check out this helpful video.
Lots of people enjoy margaritas at Mexican restaurants. But as you likely already know, margaritas are definitely not keto-friendly! But tequila, the liquor used in margaritas, does not contain carbohydrates. If you’re craving the taste of a mojito or margarita, there are several similar cocktails without all the sugar:
- Mojito with no syrup
- Tequila with club soda and lime
- Vodka with club soda and mint
- Tequila shot with salt and lime
- Mezcal (a drink very much like tequila)
- Light beer
Most specialty cocktails are relatively high in sugar. When in doubt, check ingredient lists. Many include triple sec or blue curacao, both of which are sweetened liquers. And of course, lots of mixed drinks are made with sugary sodas, syrups, and fruit juices.
If you’re familiar with the keto diet, you probably already know about many of the low-carb drins you can order. These include unsweetened sparkling water, unsweet tea, coffee, and diet sodas.
But what if you want something more authentically Mexican? Some restaurants serve Mexican herbal teas. They are delicious plain, but you can also opt to add some heavy cream if you want some extra fat.
Some restaurants also offer café de olla. This is a spiced Mexican coffee. If you order it without sweetener or milk, it will fit just fine into a keto diet.
What About Fast Food?
Most of the keto Mexican options we discussed above apply to fast casual or sit-down restaurants. But if you’re headed to Taco Bell or a similar restaurant, you might wonder if there are keto-friendly options.
Taco Bell does offer a bowl similar to those offered at Chipotle or Qdoba. It comes with chicken or steak, beans, rice, cheese, guacamole, lettuce, and tomato. You can order this or something like it without the beans or rice.
That being said, almost everything on fast food restaurant menus includes a good bit of carbohydrate. In many cases, even the meat contains carb-loaded fillers. So if you’re in search of keto Mexican food, it’s a good idea to avoid fast food if at all possible
Making Keto Mexican Food at Home
Though we’ve largely focused on finding low-carb Mexican food in restaurants, you can also make your own keto-friendly Mexican food at home! Here are a couple of keto Mexican recipes you might want to try out:
Stuffed Taco Peppers
We mentioned above that you can make enchiladas, quesadillas, etc. keto-friendly by replacing tortillas with a lettuce wrap. But this great slow-cooker recipe lets you make an even more delicious substitution: a roasted pepper! And if you’re craving rice, the cauliflower rice is a great keto-friendly substitute as well. This is a great keto Meican dish with only 4 grams net carbs.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 6 red bell peppers (you can substitute green, orange, or yellow if you prefer)
- 500 grams minced turkey (or another meat)
- 1 cup cauliflower rice
- 1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1.5 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup water
1. First, slice the tops off the peppers and scoop out the insides so each is a hollow shell.
2. Mix the meat and spices in a bowl. Then add the olive oil and cauliflower rice.
3. Stir in the cheese.
4. Fill each pepper with the mixture.
5. Place in a crock pot or slow cooker and pour the cup of water on the bottom.
6. Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours. Sprinkle some more cheese on top about 10 minutes before they are done.
Keto Chicken Enchiladas
This hearty, delicious dish uses cabbage leaves to wrap the filling. The rich sauce is complete with green chilis that add just enough warmth. You can serve these as a main dish, but they also work great as an appetizer. Each serving has less than 8 grams of net carbs. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 3 cups shredded chicken
- 1 head cabbage
- 4 chopped green onions
- 1 cup shredded cheese
- 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 cup sour cream
- 2 7-ounce cans of green chiles
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. As it preheats, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Mix together the chicken, green onion, cilantro, cumin, salt, pepper, and 3/4 of the shredded cheese.
3. Boil the chicken broth in a saucepan. Turn down the heat to a simmer and stir in green chiles and sour cream. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens.
4. Peel off cabbage leaves and place in the boiling water for a few moments. Make sure you don’t tear them.
5. Remove and lay out the cabbage leaves. Place a few spoonfuls of the chicken mixture in each one, topping it with a spoon of chile sauce. Roll the leaves up and put them seam-side down in a baking dish.
6. Once the dish is filled with the cabbage rolls, top them with the rest of the chile sauce and sprinle the rest of the cheese on top.
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
If you really want to make quesadillas or enchiladas the traditional way, the good news is that you can make keto-friendly tortillas! They use blanched almond flour, a substitute that does a good job of mimicking the texture of wheat flour. Here’s what you need:
- 1 1/8 cup blanched almond flour
- 3 tsp xanthan gum
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 beaten egg
- 1 tbsp water
1. Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor. While running the food processor, add the wet ingredients in order until the mixture becomes a sticky ball.
2. Wrap the sticky ball in plastic wrap and roll until it becomes a cylinder. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
3. Remove the cylinder and unwrap it. Cut it into 8 sections. Then roll each section into a ball.
4. Use either a tortilla press or a roller and two pieces of parchment paper to make each ball into a 5-inch tortilla.
5. Take a cast iron skillet and heat it over medium heat (don’t use any oil). Heat one side of a tortilla for 10 seconds. Flip with a spatula and heat the other side for about 15 seconds. You want each tortilla to have a definite shape but still be bendable.
6. You can cool the tortillas on a rack before using. If you wish, you can save them and reheat for use at a later time.
Add Some Spice to Your Keto Diet!
Lots of people associate Mexican cuisine with carbs. But Mexican food is also rich in flavorful seasonings, fresh vegetables, and memorable flavor combinations. Whether it’s the spice of chili verde, the juiciness of carne asada, or the fresh taste of newly-made salsa, the taste of Mexican food can absolutely be a part of the keto lifestyle.
Still have some questions on what can you eat at a Mexican restaurant on keto? Here are some answers:
What can you eat that’s keto at a Mexican restaurant?
Though Mexican cuisine is generally known for being high in carbohydrates, you can create keto-friendly Mexican dishes. The key is to look for meat-based dishes and ask that they not be served with rice, beans, corn, flour tortillas, or any other high-carb ingredients. Watch out for sweet sauces as well!
Can I eat Mexican food on keto?
It’s certainly possible to find or make keto Mexican food. In most cases, all you need to do is make a few substitutions
What can I eat at a Mexican restaurant that is low-carb?
Low-carb Mexican food usually involves meat or seafood with low-carb vegetables. Carne asada, shredded chicken, and other meats can be seasoned and served with grilled or skillet-cooked vegetables.
Is queso at Mexican restaurants keto?
In most cases, yes. However, some restaurants use flour to thicken queso, and that adds extra carbs. Ask if you aren’t sure!