Chilaquiles Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Pre: 30 min. Cook: 45 min.
Ready to experience the ultimate Mexican breakfast? You need this recipe for delicious chilaquiles rojos.

Updated: Apr. 29, 2024

I grew up in El Paso, a Texas town that borders Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua. On Sundays, my parents, brother, sister and I crossed the busy International Bridge of the Americas to Juarez to attend Spanish mass, shop and eat the chilaquiles rojos at Sanborns restaurant. I looked forward to that time together every week, but my favorite part of family Sundays was experiencing those chilaquiles rojos!

What are chilaquiles?

Red chilaquiles are a traditional Mexican breakfast with a base of crispy corn tortilla chips. The freshly fried tortilla chips are quickly tossed in a smoky red chile sauce made with dried guajillo chiles and arbol chiles, tomatillos, plum tomato, onion, garlic and spices.

If you are a purist, chilaquiles are topped with queso fresco, a sprinkle of chopped onions and side of refried pinto beans. If you, like me, prefer them loaded, add a fried egg with a broken, creamy yolk and a drizzle of crema Mexicana or a dollop of sour cream.

The origin of chilaquiles is uncertain. Many say they derive from pre-Hispanic times because corn and chiles were popular ingredients in the cuisine then. Later, they evolved when cheese, onion and cream were added, ingredients introduced by the Spanish. The name chīlaquīlli derives from Nahuatl meaning chile (chili) and aquīlli (something submerged), or “something submerged in chili.”

For the ultimate Mexican brunch or breakfast experience, add beef, shredded chicken or chopped carnitas and a generous amount of pickled onions and a few cilantro leaves.

A final note: In a pinch, store-bought red chilaquiles salsa is a great alternative to homemade. Keep a few cans in your pantry for when a hankering creeps up.

Ingredients for Chilaquiles

The ingredients list for red chilaquiles is subjective but should include some essentials:

  • Vegetable oil: You will need plenty of oil to make your corn tortilla chips. You can use any type of frying oil with a high smoke point.
  • Corn tortillas: The tortillas should be sliced in triangles. They can be store-bought or homemade corn tortillas. If possible, they should be stale, left out overnight to air out any moisture. This keeps them from absorbing too much of the sauce and turning into mush.
  • Dried guajillo chiles: These chiles have the color and smoky flavor that red chilaquiles are known for. To prepare them, wipe clean with a moist paper towel, remove stems, cut open lengthwise with kitchen shears, shake out seeds and pull out veins.
  • Arbol chiles: Use arbol chiles for added color and a spicy kick. Shake out some or all seeds, depending on your heat preference.
  • Chicken broth: I use chicken broth to thin out the sauce, but to keep these chilaquiles vegetarian, use water or vegetable broth.
  • Tomatillos and plum tomato: I included both in this recipe for tangy flavor to balance out the smokiness of the guajillo chiles. Remove the husks from the tomatillos and rinse to remove their sticky film. You might need to rub their skins under running water.
  • Spices: Use garlic, whole cumin seeds, dried Mexican oregano and salt to season the salsa.
  • Epazote: If fresh epazote is available to you, I encourage you to add a sprig to bring out the flavor of your salsa when it simmers. If you cannot find fresh epazote at your Latin supermarket, add a tablespoon of dried epazote when the other spices are added or leave this ingredient out.

Directions

Step 1: Fry the tortillas

Frying TortillasTMB Studio

Cut each tortilla into four wedges. To make crispy tortilla chips for your chilaquiles, you will need a frying pan big enough to hold about 3 cups oil, or a depth of 1 inch. Heat the oil over medium heat until it reaches 350°F. To know if the oil is hot enough to fry, drop a small piece of tortilla in the oil. If the piece bubbles, the oil is ready.

Fry the tortilla wedges in batches; do not overcrowd the pan. Using metal tongs, turn the tortilla wedges to evenly fry on both sides until golden and crispy, two to three minutes per side. Transfer the fried wedges to a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil, and set aside.

Step 2: Simmer the chiles, tomatillos and tomato

A pot with tomatoesTMB Studio

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the tomatillos, plum tomato and dried red chiles. Boil for seven minutes, until tomatillos darken. Do not let tomatillos burst or your sauce will be bitter. Remove from heat. Remove tomatillos and tomato, and set aside to cool. Let the chiles soak in the hot water for 15 minutes, then transfer to a clean towel.

Step 3: Blend the sauces

For red chilaquiles, you will first be making two sauces. One is red from the chiles and the other green from the tomatillos. They will then be combined, and the sauce will eventually look red and burst with delicious flavor.

Chillies in blenderTMB Studio

In a blender, combine the chiles and 1 cup broth. Cover and process until smooth.

Straining the sauce through mesh strainerTMB Studio

Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer into a large bowl. Discard the strained solids.

Ingredients in blender ready for mixing TMB Studio

Add 1 cup broth, onion, garlic cloves, cumin, oregano, tomatillos and tomato to the blender. Cover and process until smooth.

Stirring sauce in pan over heatTMB Studio

Once you have both sauces ready, you’re ready to cook and combine them. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Carefully add the tomatillo sauce the skillet, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for six minutes. Stir in the chile sauce, remaining 1/2 cup broth, epazote sprig and salt. Return to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove and discard the epazote.

Step 4: Coat the tortilla chips

Covering the tortillas in sauce with tongsTMB Studio

Using metal tongs. add a few tortilla chips to the sauce. Quickly coat, and transfer to a serving plate. This is a quick process to keep chips crispy and coated with sauce.

Step 5: Top each plate of chilaquiles

Chilaquiles served on plate with forkTMB Studio

Once you have your chips on a serving plate, top with a fried egg, queso fresco or Cotija, onion, crema and a sprinkle of cilantro.

Chilaquiles Variations

  • Spicy chilaquiles: Add more arbol chiles, or top each plate with slices of jalapeno or serrano chiles.
  • Mild chilaquiles: Omit the arbol chiles, and add an extra plum tomato to the blend. Perfect for kids!
  • Omit the tomatillos: Out of tomatillos? Used canned tomatillos, or replace them with plum tomatoes. Your sauce will have a less tangy flavor but still be delicious.

How to Store Chilaquiles

Chilaquiles are best when enjoyed fresh, immediately after being assembled. If you have leftovers, simply keep them in a tightly sealed container, then refrigerate and eat the next day. Don’t keep leftover chilaquiles more than 36 hours.

The best way to store chilaquiles is by storing all the components separately. You can freeze the sauce for up to three months. To store the tortilla chips, let them cool completely. Store in a zip-top bag with as much of the air squeezed out as possible.

Chilaquiles Tips

Chilaquiles served on plate with forkTMB Studio

Do I have to use corn tortillas?

Yes, chilaquiles should be made with corn tortilla chips. The corn tortilla chips keep their shape and absorb less sauce. Please don’t use flour tortillas to make chilaquiles.

Select thick, rustic corn tortillas for the best crunch and flavor. Avoid soft corn tortillas. If your tortillas are soft, leave them out on a clean kitchen towel overnight to dry out any moisture from them. They will absorb less oil and your chilaquiles won’t be mushy.

Can I use store-bought chips?

Of course. If you don’t have time to make corn tortilla chips, use store-bought tortilla chips. You can find a generous amount in the bakery section at the Latin supermarket. It’s a great time-saving tip.

What can I use instead of queso fresco or cotija?

Use melting cheese such as shredded Monterey Jack, mozzarella, asadero or Chihuahua cheese instead.

What do you serve with chilaquiles?

I like my chilaquiles with a fried egg on top. The flavor combination of the creamy yolk and spicy, crispy tortillas is amazing! You can also serve them with scrambled eggs, shredded chicken, bacon, carnitas, chorizo or carne asada. Chilaquiles can also be served with a side of avocado or guacamole, black or pinto refried beans and Mexican rice or cilantro rice.

Chilaquiles Rojo

Prep Time 30 min
Cook Time 45 min
Yield 6 servings.

Ingredients

  • 12 corn tortillas (6 inches)
  • Oil for deep-fat frying
  • 2 tomatillos, husked
  • 1 plum tomato
  • 6 dried guajillo chiles, seeds and veins removed
  • 3 dried arbol chiles, seeded
  • 2-1/2 cups chicken broth or water, divided
  • 1/4 cup chopped white onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 sprigs fresh epazote or cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 fried eggs
  • 1 cup queso fresco or Cotija cheese
  • Optional: Sliced red onion, crema Mexicana and chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

  1. Cut each tortilla into 4 wedges. In an electric skillet, heat 1 in. of oil to 350°. Fry tortilla wedges, several at a time, 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
  2. In a large saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil over medium heat. Add tomatillos, tomato and dried chiles. Boil, uncovered until tomatillos begin to darken, 6-7 minutes. Remove from the heat. Remove tomatillos and tomato to a clean kitchen towel. Let chiles soak in hot water for 15 minutes, then remove to a clean kitchen towel.
  3. Place chiles and 1 cup of broth in a blender. Cover and process until smooth. Strain and discard solids. Place 1 cup remaining broth in same blender (do not need to clean). Add onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, tomatillos and tomato. Cover and process until smooth.
  4. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium heat. Add tomato mixture. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 6 minutes. Stir in strained chiles mixture, remaining 1/2 cup broth, epazote sprigs and salt. Return to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes. Remove and discard epazote.
  5. Carefully stir in tortillas until evenly coated. Spoon onto serving plates. Top with fried egg, queso fresco and toppings as desired.

Nutrition Facts

1 serving: 352 calories, 19g fat (5g saturated fat), 199mg cholesterol, 909mg sodium, 32g carbohydrate (2g sugars, 6g fiber), 16g protein.

Chilaquiles is a traditional Mexican breakfast with fried, crispy corn tortilla chips. They're then quickly tossed in a smokey, red chile sauce made with dried guajillo chiles, arbol and pasilla chiles, tomatoes, onion, garlic and a few spices. Top them with queso fresco, chopped onions, carnitas meat or a fried egg! —Ericka Sanchez, La Habra, California