Best Keto Options at Mexican Restaurants (complete guide)


Mexican food tastes great! But it doesn’t work for most diets. But if you’re on a keto diet and love Mexican food, you’ve probably wondered what can I eat at a Mexican restaurant on keto?

Look for carne asada, chile verde, and fajitas that are not soaked in sugary marinades. Cheese, sour cream, and a limited amount of salsa and guacamole are also acceptable. But avoid chips, tortillas, beans, and rice when on keto.

So basically grilled or braised meats, cheese, and sour cream, and a little guac.

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. After all, can you do a skinny margarita?

So let’s dive in!

What is keto and how does that impact eating Mexican food?

A ketogenic diet works by getting your body to go into a metabolic state called ketosis. This is achieved by eating no more than 50 grams of carbs per day. Most Mexican food is high in carbohydrates. So stick with meats, cheeses, sour cream, and avoid chips, beans, and tortillas.

First, let’s do a quick review of the keto diet so we know where to start.

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:

  • Corn
  • Flour tortillas
  • Rice 
  • Beans

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 Mexican foods should be avoided on keto?

Avoid any of the following foods at Mexican restaurants when on keto: tortillas, rice, tortilla chips, beans, corn, potatoes, and anything sweet. Also keep intake of salsa, queso, or guacamole to a small amount.

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 your 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.

Sometimes things like fajitas get marinaded in sugary marinades and we don’t always notice. If they make the marinade in-house, that’s usually better. But ask what’s in the marinade.

Bottled marinades and sauces are often laden with sugar which can easily knock you out of ketosis.

Is Mexican queso keto-friendly?

Mexican cheese dip, often called queso, is made from Velveeta and should not be eaten on a keto diet. To make keto-approved Mexican cheese dip, use full-fat melted cream cheese and salsa with no added sugar.

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 tortillas on keto?

Flour tortillas should not be eaten on the keto diet. Even most of the tortillas labeled low-carb still have upwards of 19 grams of carbs per tortilla making them unacceptable for most people on keto. A lettuce wrap is a much better option.

But let’s examine it 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.

For example, Mission’s Carb-Balance white flour tortillas still contain 19 grams of carbs for 1 tortilla.

Can you eat fajitas at a Mexican restaurant on keto?

Fajitas that are just grilled beef, chicken, and/or vegetables can be eaten on a ket diet, as long as they don’t have a sugary marinade or sauce cooking with them. Do eat with cheese and sour cream, limit tomatoes and guacamole to small amounts, and avoid tortillas.

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, barbacoa, or carnitas 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 at a Mexican restaurant on keto?

Traditional tortilla chips have hundreds of grams of carbs per bag and should not be eaten on the keto diet. Even as little as 10 chips has almost half of the daily carb allowance for the standard keto diet.

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 at a Mexican restaurant Keto-friendly?

Menudo, if it contains hominy, is not keto-friendly. Hominy is traditionally added to this Mexican soup, and 1/2 cup of hominy contains 19 grams of carbs.

But first, let’s define what Menudo is in detail (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?

  • Cauliflower
  • Asparagus
  • Zucchini

Will a margarita kick me out of ketosis?

1 margarita will not knock someone out of ketosis if they are otherwise following a strict keto diet. But the alcohols can convert into sugar, and a typical margarita contains 13 grams of carbohydrates, so a “skinny” margarita is a better choice for those on a keto diet.

Who doesn’t love a good margarita?

Now when I say good, first we have to start with 100% agave tequila. Never drink regular Cuervo or any tequila that isn’t 100% agave. For one they taste terrible and are mostly for college kids who want to party.

But for another, most of those are only 51% tequila. 

And guess what? Often what makes up the remaining 49% is grain alcohol or corn derivatives containing carbs. So even if you don’t mind drinking terrible tequila, if you’re on a keto diet, you’ll still want to avoid non-100% agave tequila.

Get a good tequila (and no, I’m not just talking Patron which isn’t necessarily better, they just have a bigger marketing budget) and get it chilled or on the rocks with a squeeze of lime.

But if a margarita is a must, go for a skinny margarita (more on that next).

How many carbs does a skinny margarita have?

A skinny margarita typically contains only 2 net carbs, significantly lower than the 13 carbs in a typical margarita. A skinny margarita is simply made with a small amount of agave nectar combined with fresh lime and sometimes fresh orange juice in place of the triple sec.

But honestly, you don’t need triple sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier with tequila anyway.

Think about it. Do those names sound Mexican? No. The latter 2 are French. And the margarita wasn’t invented in Mexico. Tequila, of course, only comes from Mexico.

But the idea of adding a French orange liqueur to tequila is an American invention that came from a bartender in Palm Springs, CA.

And it was probably to cover up the nasty taste of the non-100% agave tequila that was popular at the time.

If you have good tequila you don’t need much with it. A squeeze of lime and a little water mixed with agave nectar makes a PERFECT margarita.

Final thoughts

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?

Jeff Campbell

Jeff was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades and is now a recovering foodie. When he's not spending time in the kitchen, he can usually be found with his wife & 3 daughters, he can usually be found practicing martial arts, making music, or blogging on his other sites. Click to learn more about me

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