The chips on the table; the margaritas; the mounds of refried beans and rice. This is one cuisine where overdoing it seems unavoidable. But you can also find pinto and black beans that haven’t been refried, fajitas with grilled bell peppers and onions, and fish steamed and slathered in fresh tomatilla sauce. The trick is all in the ordering.
Avoid anything with flour tortillas. These carb bombs can deliver nearly a meal’s worth of calories on their own, and they’re made of refined white flour. The refried beans are often loaded with lard and, as the name implies, they’re fried. Cheese is another area where most restaurants go crazy: You can get a 1/2-pound of it shredded over most dishes or stuffed into enchiladas and rellenos. Chimichangas—deep-fried burritos—are obviously a bad choice. And watch out for salads that come in deep-fried tortilla bowls, which can contain about 400 calories in the bowl alone. (If you can limit yourself to the greens inside, fine.)
The biggest trap at Mexican restaurants is the portion sizes. Try ordering à la carte, (minus the rice—usually fried—and beans—refried or cooked with loads of salt and fat) and definitely plan to split the meal, either with your dining companion or to take home for another meal.
Try these smart strategies:
1. Ask that the chips not be brought to the table. But keep the salsa—it’s loaded with antioxidants and the vinegar and tomatoes can offer help in controlling blood sugar. Use it as a healthy way to spice up anything on your plate.
2. For appetizers, consider ceviche—chopped up raw fish marinated in lime, cilantro, and other spices—or gazpacho—spicy vegetable soup served cool.
3. Guacamole is full of healthy fats, but also calories. Lighten the load by eating it with soft corn tortillas—these are loaded with fiber and are a good substitute for deep-fried tortilla chips and flour tortillas.
5. Favor fish entrées as long as they’re not breaded and deep-fried or smothered in cheese. Fish tacos are fine when they’re made with corn tortillas and fresh fish.
6. Scan the menu for grilled items such as fajitas, which you can get made with beef, chicken, or fish. (Go easy on the tortillas, and focus on the filling instead.) The dishes will have that smoky grilled taste and you can use salsa to add even more flavor.