Strictly speaking, a buffet belongs more to tradition associated with American or Chinese entertaining or eating out. Still, Mexican tourist hotels have caught on to the buffet as a means of presenting regional specialties in quantity and variety for breakfast or Sunday lunch. With no strict shape or traditional assortment of dishes to present, you have plenty of freedom to organize a self-serve Mexican buffet for your family or gathering -- you really can’t go wrong. Pour your efforts into achieving authenticity in the preparation.
If you are most familiar with Tex-Mex preparations of tacos, enchiladas and their cousins, with a chili or pepper-tomato sauce, ground beef and shredded Monterrey Jack cheese, you’ll find the subtlety of dishes for authentic Mexican food a revelation. Chicken tacos, for example, begin with a whole chicken poached in chicken broth and shredded, and sauces often involve gently charred or broiled garlic, tomatillos, and serrano, ancho, guajillo or poblano chilies, with queso fresco rather than cheddar wrapped in the tortilla. For inspiration, look to recipes from the authority on authentic Mexican cuisine, Diana Kennedy, who provides ethnographically authentic recordings of regional specialties, as well as Rick Bayless, who slightly tweaks traditional food to suit the American kitchen.
Try ensalada de nopalitos -- a salad of cactus pieces mixed with tomatoes, cilantro, queso fresco, purple onion, jalapenos and avocado -- to bring a touch of the Mexican marketplace to your buffet. You can substitute green beans or chayote for the nopalitos if you prefer. Authentic soups can be based on squash blossoms, corn fungus, pumpkin seeds or pozole, a hominy soup.
Buffets lend themselves to dishes wrapped in individual tortillas or cornhusks, such as tacos, enchiladas and tamales. You can go with classic chicken tacos or please vegetarians with a ricotta version sauced with lime juice, radishes, onions and cilantro. Tilapia filets also adapt well to tacos. Enchiladas can be filled with refried black beans or simmered tomatillos, and tamales with your choice of meats. Flautas, fried tacos, can contain potatoes, tomatoes and cheese, or ground beef as authentic fillings. A pot of beans flavored with epazote and another of red or green Mexican rice accompanies the main course.
Authentic drinks include horchatas, which are built on a foundation of rice and almonds, or aguas frescas, fruit and herb iced drinks. Your guests may be too full for dessert, but something traditional yet simple like a caramel, vanilla-orange or pineapple flan or a sponge cake with fruit or three-milk syrup wraps up the authentic Mexican meal.