Nearly everyone loves Mexican food. It's a crowd pleaser at parties, Taco Tuesday specials are common at restaurants, and Chipotle is always there when you need a quick meal. While we consume Mexican cuisine on a regular basis, the dishes we're served are generally Americanized and far from authentic. It is perhaps the most misunderstood ethnic cuisine. Though some restaurants do offer accurate and traditional Mexican foods, they are vastly outnumbered by the restaurants offering American versions. To get a true taste of Mexico, there is only one place to go: the country itself. This is what you should look out for.

1. Guacamole

The guacamole obsession is rampant in America. We even pay extra for it (but shoutout to Qdoba for not charging extra). While quality guac can be found in the U.S., there is something different about the super fresh, flavorful guac in Mexico. The native avocados are ripe, soft, and buttery, integrating seamlessly with the flavors of fresh lime, cilantro, onion, and tomato. At any local restaurant, you are guaranteed to have some of the freshest guac of your life. Or, visit a local produce stand and pick up ingredients to make your own.

2. Elote

If you've never had elotes, you need to ASAP. Also called street corn, this delicious concoction can be found at food carts on town streets and is gaining more popularity in the States. Traditionally, it's prepared by grilling a corn cob over an open flame, then covering it in a mixture of butter, crema fresca, lime juice, and chili powder, before dusting it with cotija cheese (a dry, slightly salty Mexican cheese that easily crumbles, similar to feta). The coating helps the cheese to stick, but it can still get a bit messy. The ingredients come together to create an unbelievable flavor experience. You hands-down must purchase this from a street vendor when in Mexico.

3. Paletas

After a day in the heat, sightseeing or swimming in the ocean, nothing is better than a cold, refreshing sweet treat. That's where paletas, traditional Mexican popsicles, come in. Helado, or ice cream, shops, as well as street vendors, make these less sweet, more natural versions of American popsicles. They are usually made with whole, natural ingredients, such as fresh fruit; the base ingredients are blended with water or juice and strained before adding mix-ins and freezing. There are some unique flavors commonly seen, such as mango-chile, aguacate (avocado), arroz con leche (essentially rice pudding), tamarind, and jamaica (hibiscus), as well as flavors more familiar to Americans, like chocolate, piña (pineapple), and fresas (strawberry).

4. Ceviche

tomato, vegetable, lettuce, fish, cheese, bread, meat, ceviche
Jocelyn Hsu

Ceviche is one of the lesser known Mexican dishes, but its freshness is unlike any other. It's made by curing diced raw fish or seafood in acidic lime juice, which cooks it. After cooking, the protein is mixed with things such as garlic, onion, tomato, cilantro, cucumber, jalapeños, and salt and pepper. Ceviche can be eaten by scooping it up with tortilla chips or piling it onto a tostada. Fresh and light, ceviche is the perfect appetizer or snack. If you're seaside on the Gulf or Pacific in Mexico, this is an absolute essential. Eating this dish on the beach after snorkeling in the crystal clear Gulf water is one of my favorite memories from my trip to Mexico.

5. Street Tacos

Taco Bell tacos are nothing like the street tacos native to Mexico. Flour tortillas, cheddar cheese, sour cream, tomato, and ground beef are not typical in these tacos. Flavors are kept extremely simple, usually featuring a roasted chopped meat, diced onion, cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, and maybe a crumble of cotija or queso fresco cheese. Hot sauces and salsas or avocado may be added to spice it up. Fish tacos are a bit different than meat ones, usually consisting of fried fish topped with pico de gallo and shredded cabbage. The corn tortillas these are served on are so small, so there are usually three per order. Because of their small size, they are great for eating on the go, hence their name "street tacos."

6. Cajeta

This caramel is a decadent topping or filling. Cajeta is made with sugar and goat's milk, making it richer than the caramel we are accustomed to, which is made with sugar and water. It's used in a variety of ways, such as dipping for churros, a filling for pastries, topping for crepes, or is made into candies. I ate a cajeta empanada from a small pandería (bakery) in a mountain village during my visit, and it was one of the most delicious pastries I have ever tasted.

7. Pan Dulce

Meaning "sweet bread," pan dulce comes in a variety of forms. Some include conchas, which are my personal favorite (they have a shell-like pattern of sugar on top, hence the name), besos (meaning "kisses," made of filling between two scone-like breads), and campechanas (pastries with a glaze coating). Visiting a small pandería is the sure way to taste genuine Mexican baked goods such as these. Other desserts on your hit list should include tres leches (sponge cake soaked in a mixture of milks), flan (custard with a base of caramelized sugar), and polvorones (Mexican wedding cookies).

While there is no shortage of Mexican-inspired cuisine in the United States, it's a far cry from the real deal. Whenever you visit the beautiful country of Mexico, make sure to branch out and sample all the traditional Mexican foods with an open mind. It will be different than what you're used to, but the freshness and authenticity simply can't be beaten—once you get a taste, you'll never be satisfied with the Americanized versions ever again.