Iconic Latino food dishes featuring diverse ingredients and cooking techniques have influenced the United States’ food culture for many years. These foods come from a rich history and culture, often the result of centuries of indigenous, European, and African influences. Over time, these foods have transcended borders and are created and served across the world. The rich blend of influences has developed flavors that inspire popular and vibrant culinary traditions.
With a blend of core ingredients like corn, meat, beans, and rice, traditional Latino cuisine is prominently featured alongside mainstream dishes. Latino food has always had a presence in the United States and is responsible for many cultural favorites, like Tex-Mex-style restaurants. These restaurants first gained popularity in the 1800s, with entrepreneurs, chefs, and restaurant owners like Adelaida Cuellar migrating to the United States. Since then, Tex-Mex has been a staple in American culture and has been behind many favorite food and drinks, like the margarita. These culinary influences continue to shape the culture of our nation.

Recipes and History

From the Cuban sandwich to arepas, Latino foods have grown in popularity and influenced American cuisine with new fusions and interpretations. You can discover and create many of the iconic Latino foods yourself with these recipes:

  • Mofongo – A classic dish from Puerto Rico and popular in many countries, Mofongo is made from fried green plantains mashed together with other ingredients like garlic and crackling pork rinds.
  • Ropa Vieja – This Cuban shredded beef dish is often cooked with ingredients such as onions, peppers, olives, and tomato sauce. Like many Latin American recipes, this food has Spanish origins and made its way to Cuba through colonization.
  • Cuban Sandwich – While there is some debate about how the Cuban Sandwich came to be introduced, variations of it make for a frequent favorite meal. The sandwich traditionally consists of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard.
  • Tamales – This Mesoamerican dish is made of mesa wrapped in a corn husk or banana leaves. Common fillings include various meats, beans, and cheese.
  • Arepas – These grilled corn cakes have seen a rise in popularity in recent years. For instance, Venezuelan arepas are commonly stuffed with different fillings, such as cheese, meat, or beans.
  • Chupe de Res – This Peruvian soup is often made with ingredients such as beef, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, and pumpkin.
  • Salvadoran Pupusas - This traditional dish from El Salvador is made of thick corn tortillas and stuffed with savory ingredients, such as cheese, pork, beans, and peppers.
  • Chimichurri - Often used on grilled meat, this multipurpose sauce is made from ingredients such as parsley, oregano, garlic, vinegar, and red pepper flakes. 

Special Events

Similar to most holidays and events frequently celebrated in the United States, Latino foods are at the heart of many special traditions. From Pascuas to weddings to quinceañeras, food takes center stage during many special occasions. Many families look forward to gathering each year to make signature dishes that add to their celebrations and milestones.

El Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), for example, is a day of celebration for many in the Latino community. The day honors and remembers the lives of loved ones and welcomes the return of their spirits. Many traditions are a fundamental part of this day, including food such as pan de muerto. Pan de muerto is a sweet bread that often has a sugar topping and is commonly included in Day of the Dead festivities. While not eaten, sugar skulls, or calaveritas, are often seen on this day, placed on altars to represent both death and the sweetness of life. As the name suggests, sugar skulls are molded to represent a human skull. They are frequently very colorful and feature elaborate designs.

The winter holiday season is another example of how food is an integral part of Latino culture and traditions. The season often features signature dishes like:

  • Hallaca – A traditional Christmas dish, this cornmeal dough wrap is stuffed with stewed meat and other ingredients, such as olives, raisins, and capers.
  • Pozole – Often made in the holiday season, pozole is a Mexican soup made with hominy, meat, and broth.
  • Cola de mono – This traditional Chilean holiday cocktail is a tradition for many families. The beverage consists of aguardiente, milk, coffee, and sugar and is often made with variations to include ingredients like vanilla and cinnamon.