Who doesn’t love to eat?
What’s more important? Your waistline or your happiness?
Explore delicious local foods while abroad – you won’t be sorry!
Spending time at restaurants can really factor into your cultural immersion and Spanish language learning experience.
Access to a fully-equipped kitchen can be hard to come by while traveling, and you may well prefer to dedicate your time to seeing the sights rather than grocery shopping (though I’ll be the first to tell you that exploring a local market can be extremely fun). Talk to locals, find out where the local hot spots are, and ask about regional cuisine. People love to talk about food as much as they love to eat it!
No plans to travel? Join in on the fun by visiting a local Mexican restaurant or Spanish tapas bar with a Spanish-speaking staff.
Before you arrive at your destination, equip yourself with the following words and phrases so you can order your meal like a native Spanish speaker!
Spanish Restaurant Vocabulary: 89 Words and Phrases You Should Know
Finding your table
If you’ve chosen a swanky bistro that is regularly flooded with devoted patrons, you may need to make a reservation ahead of time. Call them up on the phone and be sure to greet with a friendly salutation. Next, tell them “I would like to make a reservation for # people.” “Quisiera hacer una reserva para # persona(s).” They will then ask you, “Under whose name?” “¿Bajo el nombre de quién?”
If you’re like me and, uh, typically fail to plan well in advance, you can slip into a full restaurant by requesting a seat at the bar:
May I sit at the bar? – ¿Podría sentarme en el bar? (poh-dree-ah sen-tar-may en el bar)
Special dietary preferences are often viewed with a suspicious eye in Latin America. You really need to specify with your server what it is that you cannot eat. Clearly state:
I am vegetarian – Soy vegetariano, vegetariana (soy veh-heh-tah-ree-ah-noh, veh-heh-tah-ree-ah-nah)
I am allergic to X- Tengo alérgia a X (tehn-goh ah-lehr-hee-ah ah)
I don’t eat X – No como X. (no koh-moh)
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Ecuadorian restaurants serve meat-laden soups to disappointed vegetarian friends. So, my advice to you is to always double-check that your order doesn’t contain something you don’t want to eat.
Navigating the restaurant
Restaurant – restaurante (rehs-taur-rahn-teh)
To order – pedir (peh-deer)
I would like – quisiera (kee-see-eh-rah)
The menu – el menú (ehl meh-noo)
Waiter, waitress – camarero (cah-mah-reh-roh), camarera (cah-mah-reh-rah)
Waiter, waitress (Latin America only) – mesero (meh-ser-oh), mesera (meh-ser-ah)
Table – mesa (meh-sah)
Plate – plato (plah-toh)
Fork – tenedor (teh-neh-door)
Spoon – cuchara (coo-chah-rah)
Knife – cuchillo (coo-chee-yoh)
Napkin – servilleta (sehr-vee-yeh-tah)
Bill – cuenta (kwehn-tah)
Bring me the check, please – Tráigame la cuenta, por favor (trai-gah meh lah kwehn-tah, poor fah-vohr)
The paper-signing hand gesture translates smoothly enough. Most small restaurants in Latin American will not accept credit cards, tarjetas de crédito (tahr-heh-tahs deh creh-dee-toh), so it’s best to carry some cash, efectivo (eh-fek-tee-voh), on hand in case of emergency.
Need help remembering these words? Use FluentU to hear give them context and cement them in your memory!
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Understanding regional food traditions
While traveling, always ask the locals:
What is the typical food of this region? – ¿Cuál es la comida típica de esta región? (kwahl ehs lah koh-mee-dah tee-pee-kah deh ehs-tah reh-hee-ohn)
What do you recommend? – ¿Qué me recomienda? (keh meh reh-koh-mee-ehn-dah) Don’t be afraid to ask the waiter what he or she recommends.
Drinks – Bebidas (beh-bee-dahs)
When seated at a restaurant, the first thing a waiter will ask is what you’d like to drink. Know your refreshment vocabulary so you can get straight to reading the menu!
White wine – vino blanco (vee-noh blahn-koh)
Red wine – vino tinto (vee-noh teen-toh)
Coffee – café (cah-feh)
Iced tea – té helado (teh eh-lah-doh)
Soda – cola (koh-lah)
Lemonade – limonada (lee-moh-nah-dah)
Juice – jugo (hoo-goh)
Smoothie or milkshake – batido (bah-tee-doh)
Common flavors of juice or smoothie you might like to order are:
Melon – melón (meh-LOHn)
Watermelon – sandía (sahn-dee-ah)
Orange – naranja (nah-rahn-hah)
Strawberry – fresa (freh-sah) or frutilla (froo-tee-ah)
Grape – uva (oo-vah)
Breakfast – Desayuno (deh-sah-yoo-noh)
Breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day. Learn how to order breakfast so you can fuel your adventure-filled day abroad!
Bread – pan (pahn)
Jam – mermelada (mehr-meh-lah-dah)
Scrambled eggs – huevo revuelto (way-voh reh-vwehl-toh)
Omelet – tortilla (tohr-tee-yah)
Bacon – tocino (toh-see-noh)
Oatmeal – avena (ah-veh-nah) Don’t be alarmed if you get something unexpected. In Latin America, oatmeal is most commonly served as a cool, sweet beverage as opposed to the sticky glop you know and love. It’s delicious!
Lunch – Almuerzo (ahl-mwer-zoh)
In Latin America it is very common to find yourself in a restaurant that has no menu. For lunch, local restaurant-goers will simply strut in, seat themselves, and request “one lunch, please” – “un almuerzo, por favor” (oon ahl-mwer-zoh, poor fah-vohr). Give it a try!
An almuerzo is a great representation of common home cooking, and is usually the best bargain. They serve something different daily, so you are welcome to ask:
What’s for lunch today? – ¿Qué tiene el almuerzo de hoy? (keh tee-eh-neh ehl ahl-mwer-zoh de oy)
What’s today’s menu? – ¿Cuál es el menú de hoy? (kwahl ehs ehl meh-noo deh oy)
Does this come with X? – ¿Viene con X? (bee-eh-neh kohn X)
Almuerzo generally includes:
Soup – sopa (soh-pah)
Entrée – plato fuerte (plah-toh fwer-teh). This is usually a large plate heaping with a huge portion of rice and beans alongside small portions of meat and salad.
Dessert – postre (poh-streh)
Dinner – Merienda (meh-ree-ehn-dah)/Cena (ceh-nah)
There are two commonly used words for dinner: merienda and cena. In most parts of Latin America, merienda refers to an average evening meal and cena is reserved for special occasions – like a big Christmas Eve turkey dinner. In Spain, merienda is a small meal meant to tide you over between el almuerzo and la cena. In both contexts, merienda is a light, simple meal – often bread and cheese, a hot chocolate, or another modest snack. Don’t worry though, after an authentic almuerzo there is a good chance you won’t even be hungry by the evening!
Here’s some important menu lingo that will get you through ordering any meal:
Seafood – Mariscos (mah-rees-kohs)
Seafood, shellfish – mariscos (mah-rees-kohs)
Shrimp – camarones (kah-mah-rohn-es)
Crab – cangrejo (kahn-greh-hoh)
Lobster – langosta (lahn-gohs-tah)
Fish – pescado (pehs-kah-doh)
Squid – calamares (pool-poh)
Tuna – atún (ah-toon)
Meats – Carne (car-nay)
Sausage – chorizo (choh-ree-zoh)
Ham – jamón (hah-mohn)
Pork tenderloin – lomo de cerdo (loh-moh deh ser-doe)
Steak – bistec (bees-tehk)
Turkey – pavo (pah-voh)
Quail – codorniz (coh-dohr-neez)
Fruits and Vegetables – Frutas y verduras (froo-tahs ee ver-doo-rahs)
Asparagus – espárragos (ehs-pah-rah-gohs)
Avocado – aguacate (ah-wah-kah-teh)
Chard – acelga (ah-sehl-gah)
Eggplant – berenjena (beh-rehn-hay-nah)
Pumpkin – calabaza (cah-lah-bah-zah)
Spinach – espinaca (eh-spee-nah-kah)
Fillet – filete (fee-leh-teh)
Grilled – a la plancha
Roasted – asado (ah-sah-doh)
In garlic sauce – al ajillo (ahl ah-hee-yoh)
Breaded – apanado (ah-pah-nah-doh) or empanado or empanizado *very regional word
Barbecued – a la parrilla (ah lah pah-ree-yah)
Dessert – Postre (poh-stray)
Cake – torta (tor-tah) or Tarta (Spain)
Fruit salad – ensalada de frutas (ehn-sah-lah-dah deh froo-tahs)
Gelatin (Jell-O) – gelatina (heh-lah-tee-nah)
Culinary Specialties of the Spanish-speaking world
Here’s what you’ve been waiting for! While at home or abroad, try to seek out traditional cuisine from the Spanish-speaking world to better immerse you in the language and culture. There’s nothing better that justifying indulgence with an educational experience!
Ceviche – A lemony seafood soup served all along the coasts of Central and South America. Each country has its own distinct flavor and style!
Chicharrón – Pork rind extravaganza! This fried, seasoned pig skin is a beloved snack throughout Latin America and parts of Spain.
Churros – Crispy, sugar-coated fried dough – how could anyone resist?
Dulce de tres leches – A moist, super-sweet cake that features three forms of milk (natural, dried, and condensed).
Gazpacho – The cold, refreshing tomato soup popular in Spain.
Paella – A classic Spanish dish that blends rice, beans, seafood, meat, and savory seasonings.
Patacones/Tostones – These crisp, fried plantain slices are a common side dish throughout Latin America.