McDonald’s started as a simple all-American burger stand in California in 1940.
Named for founders and brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald, McDonald’s modeled its business strategy off its Midwestern predecessor, White Castle. They perfected White Castle’s fast-food concept, expanding as a franchise rapidly.
Over 80 years later, McDonald’s is the largest fast-food chain in the world, with over 36,000 locations on every habitable continent. To keep up with the times, McDonald’s has expanded its menu to include a variety of sandwiches, burgers, wraps, breakfasts, and desserts.
For global customers, McDonald’s designs different menus to align with the flavors and dishes of each country’s culinary traditions. For example, in India where cows are sacred, McDonald’s serves lamb burgers.
For Central and South American palates, McDonald’s serves menu items that exclude burgers altogether.
Read on to discover a mouthwatering list of McDonald’s Latin American menu items, so you’ll know what to order when you’re south of the border.
McDonald’s serves arepas in Colombia and Venezuela in recognition of its status as a national dish for both countries.
Arepas are stuffed corn cakes made with superfine white or yellow corn flour, water, and lard.
The cakes are thick, with an opening to fill them with veggies, meat, cheese, and beans.
McDonald’s offers arepas for breakfast, with your choice of cheese and ham or cheese and scrambled eggs.
I love the rich, starchy corn cake that is as comforting as cornbread. I’m used to eating them with beans and cheese, but a scrambled egg and cheese stuffed arepa sounds delicious.
Empanadas Con Queso
Empanadas are a famous dish in most countries around Latin America, with different ingredients and cooking methods for every culinary tradition.
McDonald’s serves Empanadas Con Queso, or cheese empanadas, in Venezuela and Chile.
Empanadas are small, savory or sweet pies with a wheat-flour crust, stuffed with ingredients and baked to crispy yet chewy perfection. In my opinion, they look like miniature calzones.
An order of empanadas con queso comes with three empanadas stuffed with a mild, mozzarella-like cheese.
Empanadas are the perfect mid-afternoon snack. I’m sure they are popular with students coming home from school or young professionals staving off hunger until they get home from work.
Dulce De Leche Sundae
If you’ve never tried dulce de leche, you’re missing out!
Dulce de leche is a common Argentinian dessert delicacy that consists of cow’s milk and sugar simmered for hours until they become a thick, brown syrup.
You’ll see dulce de leche in most South American countries, served as cookie fillers, or waffle and ice cream toppers.
McDonald’s serves Dulce de Leche Sundaes in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. It comes with a serving of vanilla soft serve with a hearty drizzle of dulce de leche.
I think dulce de leche tastes like a super-sweet caramel syrup, with the consistency of hot fudge.
Only sold at McDonald’s in Brazil, Torta Banana is a banana-filled pastry.
In the US, McDonald’s offers a hand-held apple pie, catering to American tastes and ingredients.
Apples are not a local crop in Brazil, so McDonald’s shifted its menu items to include tropical fruit.
That said, they still offer an apple pie like what you get in the states. The torta banana is just as popular, with a pastry-dough crust, crisp and buttery on the outside, ceding to a gooey caramelized banana filling.
I would order it with a small cup of soft-serve vanilla ice cream to conjure up a fast-food dessert a la mode.
If you’ve ever been to Argentina, you might notice that most Argentinian surnames are Italian.
The period between the first and second world wars saw a massive Italian emigration to Argentina.
Today, Italian influence in Argentina manifests in its culinary traditions. McDonald’s offers the McPollo Italiano in Argentina and Chile.
In Chile, the McPollo Italiano is a grilled chicken breast sandwich with:
In Argentina, the McPollo Italiano is a bit more authentic, featuring:
- Breaded and fried Milanesa de Pollo
- Olive oil
Both come on a sesame seed bun. I would prefer Argentina’s version with the addition of melted provolone.
I’ve spent a fair share of time in Mexico, so I recognized Molletes right away.
Molletes are open-faced sandwiches that consist of a bolillo or single-serving white French bread, cut in half and topped with:
- Refried black beans
- Chopped tomato
- Chopped onion
- Chopped jalapeno
- Melted white cheese
Molletes are a common breakfast dish in Mexico, so you’ll see them on McDonald’s breakfast menu. Instead of a bolillo, McDonald’s uses a toasted English muffin bottom.
I love this zesty menu item, with fresh pico de gallo and savory refried beans. It’s a great vegetarian breakfast and a healthy fast-food option.
Pastel De Queso
Not to be confused with the American cheesecake, Pastel de Queso means cheesecake, but it’s more like a cheese Danish at McDonald’s.
You’ll see it as pie de queso in Mexico and pastel de queso in Panama and other Central and South American nations.
It looks like the hand-held apple pies you see at McDonald’s in the U.S., except instead of a stewed apple filling, you get a gooey, melted white cheese filling.
The outer pastry has crystallized sugar, creating a lovely crispy contrast to the luxurious cheese filling.
I wish they would add this rather sophisticated dessert item to menus in the US.
“Palta” means avocado in South America, but you’ll only find McWrap Palta in Chile.
I think it draws inspiration from Mexico because it uses a flour tortilla, but I knew it wasn’t a Mexican menu item because Mexicans call avocado “aguacate.”
The McWrap Palta is a large flour tortilla stuffed with:
- Fried chicken strips
I think adding avocado to anything, whether it’s a sandwich, salad, burger, or pasta, instantly upgrades its taste and texture.
Luckily, in Chile, you can add “palta” to any wrap or sandwich. This is another perk that I wholeheartedly support for American franchises.
When Venezuela experienced a potato shortage, McDonald’s began using a Caribbean native starch as a substitute.
Yucca is a popular potato-like tuber used predominantly in Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela.
It has a firm and fibrous texture that, when fried, yields to a soft, steamy, and pillowy side dish.
Yucca fries come in the same shape as the French fries we’re used to, but they are about twice the thickness. They have a unique flavor that tastes wonderful with ketchup, cheese, or mayonnaise.
Even if potatoes are back on the Venezuelan menu, yucca fries are equally as popular and delicious. I’d get them to accompany an arepa.