I love Mexican food! But being a little on the heavier side, and wanting to watch my carbs, I’ve wondered what can I eat at a Mexican restaurant on a keto diet?
I decided to do some tasty research. Here’s what I found out:
Mexican restaurants serve rice, beans, tortillas, and fried tortilla chips. Unfortunately, all of those don’t work for a keto diet as it’s easy to exceed the daily carb allowance. The best low-carb foods to eat at a Mexican restaurant are carne asada, chile verde, and fajitas that are not soaked in sugary marinades.
But there’s a lot more to know about specific items on Mexican food menus, keto restrictions, and what you CAN eat at a Mexican food restaurant in you’re watching your carbs.
So let’s dive in!
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What is keto and how does that impact eating Mexican food?
First, let’s do a quick review of the keto diet so we know where to start.
A ketogenic diet works by getting your body to go into a metabolic state called ketosis.
Once you’ve been doing keto for a while and your body has adjusted, it’s OK to be a little less militant about carbs. But, when you’re first starting out on keto, it’s very important to watch those hidden carbs and follow your diet pretty strictly. Otherwise, you might not ever really get to that ketosis stage.
There are 4 different main types of keto diets, so that too affects what you can eat, especially at Mexican restaurants, so make sure you know which one you’re on:
|Type of Keto Diet||Net Daily Carbs Allowed||What Makes it Different?|
|Standard Keto Diet (SKD)||20-50 grams||The basic keto diet|
|Targeted Keto Diet (TKD)||25-50 grams||You can eat extra carbs before workouts|
|Cyclical Keto Diet (CKD)||20-50 grams (during the no-carb period) – No limit other days||Strict keto 5 or 6 days a week, but 1 or 2 cheat days|
|High-Protein Keto Diet (HPKD)||20-50 grams||More protein and fewer fats than the SKD|
There are other variations that have sprung up for the keto diet. But these 4 remain the most widely followed.
Mexican food, of course, while high in fat, can also be pretty high in carbs. After all, some of the staple foods at most Mexican restaurants include:
- Flour tortillas
The good news is that sandwiches aren’t a huge item at Mexican restaurants. But since most plop down a big basket of chips and salsa right when you walk in, if you aren’t careful, it can be easy to blow your keto diet.
Aside from Mexican food, many on the keto diet wonder about breakfast options.
We know eggs and bacon or sausage are OK, but what about yogurt? I break it all down and take the mystery out of that question in a recent article. Luckily, for yogurt lovers, some yogurts are OK on keto. But some will blow your ketosis and could take days or weeks to recover.
Just click that link to make sure you know the best ones to get!
What can I eat at a Mexican restaurant on keto?
Of course, keto is all about healthy fats and minimizing carbs. So right out of the gate, we know things like meats, cheeses, and sour cream are all likely to be OK.
Right out of the gate, let’s eliminate so of the easy to spot no-no’s for a keto diet at a Mexican restaurant:
- Tortilla chips
So what can you eat in a Mexican restaurant if you’re on keto? After all, I just eliminated what can seem like most of the menu.
Here are some of the best choices for eating keto in a Mexican restaurant:
- Taco salad (don’t eat the shell and order with just meat, lettuce, sour cream, cheese, and a little salsa)
- Carne Asada (basically a steak, just be careful what sides it comes with)
- Chile Verde (basically pork stew)
- Carnitas (fried pork chunks, just again, be careful what sides you get)
You could also order a burrito with meat, lettuce, sour cream, and cheese and just eat it open-faced, skipping the tortilla.
For avocados, unfortunately, 1 medium avocado contains about 12 grams of carbs. If you’re anything like me, you could easily eat 1 whole avocado in 1 sitting. That alone would take up anywhere from 24% to 60% of you complete daily allowance for carbs.
So if you must order guacamole, don’t use it as a dip for chips and just add 1-2 tablespoons to your meal.
Can I eat queso on keto?
Queso, is almost entirely a Texas phenomenon.
Queso, in Spanish, just means cheese. But in Texas, that usually means a melted cheese sauce for dipping chips in. That could mean melted Velveeta cheese and a can of Rotel tomatoes if you want to go traditional.
But many higher-end Mexican restaurants blend a variety of melting cheeses combined with homemade salsa. My personal favorite is called queso fundido, which is a blend of “real” cheeses with chorizo (no offense, Velveeta-lovers).
But to start with, let’s look at the carbs in Velveeta:
As you can see, it has only 4 grams of carbs per 30 grams.
But how much is 30 grams and how much queso would 1 person typically eat in one sitting?
30 grams equals about 1 oz. Most restaurants serve queso in small and large portions. A small is probably 8 oz. and a large is probably twice that.
If you’re like my family and me, we’ll get the large portion, which amounts to about 4 oz per person.
So if you’re counting carbs, that alone is going to be 16 grams of carbs.
Since we know most people on a keto diet want to eat between 20-50 grams of carbs for the whole day, blowing 16 just on one appetizer at one meal is probably not a good way to go.
And that’s not even counting the salsa or Rotel tomatoes which would typically have about 5 grams of carbs per half a cup.
So if you’re on keto, sadly, you will want to steer clear of the queso.
Another common keto question is around vinegar, especially balsamic vinegar. I looked into balsamic vinegar and how keto-friendly it is recently in this article.
What really surprised me was how the sugar alcohols in balsamic vinegar impact the net carbs. Just click the link to read more on my site.
Can I eat flour tortilla on keto?
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you probably know the answer is no, at least for traditional flour and corn tortillas.
But let’s examine a little more thoroughly.
Mission is a well-known brand of flour tortilla. Personally, I don’t buy them because they usually have bleached flour, hydrogenated oil, and at least some varieties of theirs have, or recently had baking powder with aluminum in them. All those are proven to have negative impacts on health, so I avoid them.
But, in terms of carbs, 1 white flour tortilla of “normal” taco size contains 26 grams of carbs.
If you consider that in 1 meal, a tortilla-lover is likely to consume 2-3 tortillas, it’s not hard to see how that blows your keto diet.
Think corn tortillas are better?
You’d be right! Again, using the nutritional info on Mission tortillas, each tortilla (yellow or white corn) contains only 10 grams of carbs. As a complete aside, I personally don’t eat corn tortillas unless they are made fresh as otherwise, they can be as tough as old shoe leather.
BUT, from a keto standpoint, you could probably get away with 1 corn tortilla IF you are well established on your keto plan, and are carefully watching everything else you eat.
If you do decide to go for corn tortillas and want to make some (relatively) low carb enchiladas, it’s crucial to know how to soften the tortillas so they don’t crack or split.
I looked into that extensively in a recent article including whether or not you have to fry them to soften them. I was pleasantly surprised by how well they came out using some of the alternate methods.
Learn all the options by clicking that link to read the post on my site.
What about so-called “low carb” tortillas?
Mission (and other companies) also make what they brand as “smart-carb” or low-carb” tortillas.
In truth, while they are lower than normal flour tortillas, I would not personally call them low carb. They are also certainly not a good solution for those on the keto diet.
Can you eat fajitas on keto?
Maybe, is the short answer.
Fajitas traditionally refer to marinated and grilled skirt steak, but these days can also refer to chicken, fish, or even just grilled vegetables.
Most of the time the protein is grilled with pepper and onion strips and served with cheese and sour cream and, of course, tortillas. Tortillas being the obvious no-no.
All of that is fine, BUT we don’t know what marinade they used.
Many marinades use a lot of sugar which, of course, adds carbs. So ask what marinade they use first. Chances are, the meat is sitting in the marinade, so it may not work to ask them to leave the marinade off.
But Carne Asada can be a great alternative, but ask about marinade with this too.
If you’ve never prepared fajitas, making them at home is the best way to ensure you avoid those sugary marinades. If you don’t have a comal, that is the absolute best way to cook fajitas.
Not sure what a comal is or what else you can do with it?
I break down all the uses of a comal (click to read it now) in one of my recent articles. The coolest thing about the comal is that the cast iron ones can go from stovetop to oven, to open flame. Clay comals are a little trickier, but I get into all of it in my post.
Can I eat chips on keto?
Well, you probably guessed the answer here too.
If you can’t guess, that answer would be no. I will use Mission again for my example as I did above for the tortilla section.
I see that 1 bag of Mission tortillas chips contains a whopping 234 grams of carbs.
Now, I know what you’re saying “I won’t eat a whole bag by myself!” But unlike when we’re at home, when we’re out with friends at a Mexican restaurant, especially if you’re sipping tequila and just noshing on the complimentary chips and salsa they plop down, it’s amazingly easy to eat a lot of chips!
Even if you have more discipline than me, 1 “suggested serving” according to Mission is 10 chips. I’ve never met ANYONE who only ate 10 chips at a Mexican restaurant. But, if you can, even that still contains 18 grams of carbs.
So if 20-50 grams is your total daily allowance of carbs, even those 10 chips is probably not a great idea.
Is Menudo Keto-friendly?
First, let’s define what Menudo is (and if you’re thinking it’s a Mexican boy band then you’re probably as old as me).
Menudo is a traditional Mexican soup. The primary ingredients are a cow’s stomach (tripe) and red chile peppers. Often it is made with hominy too, which are corn kernels puffed with lye.
While the broth, chiles, and tripe are certainly keto-friendly, unfortunately, the hominy is not.
Juanitas is the most well-known brand of hominy (at least in the US). According to their label, 1/2 cup of hominy contains 19 grams of carbs.
But if you can leave out the hominy and substitute some keto-friendly vegetables, Menudo should work just fine on your keto diet.
What are the best keto-friendly veggies to substitute in Menudo?
Did I cover all you wanted to know about what you can eat at a Mexican restaurant if you’re on a keto diet?
In this article, we took an in-depth look into the world of keto and how that works at Mexican restaurants.
After all, just because we’re on a keto diet doesn’t mean we have to stop going out to eat or out with friends and co-workers. We just have to know what we can eat and what to stay away from.
What’s your favorite keto-friendly type of restaurant?
Are you just starting your journey on the Keto diet?
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