America's 50 Best Mexican Restaurants (Slideshow)
Husband-and-wife chefs Benjamin Gonzales and Shannon Dooley-Gonzales have collaborated on a restaurant with peasant-style Mexican cooking in a less-expected corner of the U.S., Southeast Portland. Flavors span the cuisine of Zacatecas in north-central Mexico to those of Vera Cruz on the eastern coast and Tampico to the north. Signature dishes include the tamarind-marinated grilled Mexican prawns, tacos de puerco, sopes de chorizo, cochinita pibil, and puntitas de res en chile chipotle, sautéed beef tips with chipotle, chayote squash, and refried beans.
flickr/ through a pin hole
In the land where Tex-Mex is king, Javier’s in Highland Park serves authentic Mexican, focusing its upscale take on Mexico City fare. There’s mounted game on the walls, lest you forget that you are still in Texas. Javier’s is not necessarily a critic’s darling, yet it’s the go-to choice for locals when they’re tired of the flashy scene at nearby Mi Cocina—and one that’s outlasted many other Mexican upstarts since it opened more than 30 years ago.
The Dominguez family runs two of Seattle’s best Mexican restaurants, La Carta de Oaxaca and Mezcaleria Oaxaca. At the latter, try the tortilla chips, which are fried to order and served with guacamole or refried pinto beans, banana-leaf-wrapped chicken, or pork tamales. But matriarch and head chef Gloria Perez has become most famous for her barbacoa de cabrito, chile-marinated and slow-roasted goat served with beans and corn masa.
Great Mexican food often comes down to the quality of ingredients, namely, handmade tortillas. That’s a selling point of El Rey Del Taco on the Buford Highway, site of many of America’s most underrated culinary gems. Prepare to load up on (what else?) tacos, most notably the beef cheeks (cabeza) and goat (chivo), washed down by a cool glass of horchata.
El Rey Del Taco
Chef Oscar del Rivero oversees one of Florida’s best Mexican restaurants, with a menu inspired by seasonal ingredients and the chef’s personal travels to Mexico. Beyond standouts on the everyday menu like queso frito, puntas chipotle, pambazo sliders, there’s a huarache grill prepared a la talla (with mild guajillo chile rub), a different pozole every Thursday, and a “traditional” Caesar salad said to follow the original recipe from Tijuana.
Portland doesn’t suffer for Mexican food that’s celebrated. Nuestra Cocina, Autentica, and ¿Por Que No?, among others provide proof of that. But for that real taqueria touch, you’ll want to get out of the city, head out on 99W, and stop in at Sanchez Taqueria, a roadside institution since 1999 that declares: “We’re not fancy, we’re delicious!” The house specialty chavindecas—a hard-to-find regional dish from small towns near Mexico City (fresh corn tortillas layered with beans, meat, crema, cabbage, onion, cilantro, avocado, and Cotija)—is enough to inspire a trip to Mexico to search for the next undiscovered thing.
Flickr/ Ron Dollete
While Boston isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of great Mexican food, El Sarape has been serving from-scratch sauces in its cozy environs since it opened in Braintree in 1988. Highlights include carnitas, grilled pork tenderloin, enchiladas verdes, and the guisado con chile ancho specialty—your choice of chicken or beef with potatoes and onions under a smoky red chile sauce with rice and refried beans, and the chiles rellenos.
Having built and sold four successful locations of his first Mexican foray in Minneapolis, Taco Morelos, Gaspar Perez has retaken the title of the area’s best Mexican with Las Teresitas. In a strip mall in a residential part of South Minneapolis on 34th Avenue, just north of Highway 62, Perez’s Las Teresitas is named for his two Teresas (his mother and daughter) and delivers fantastic Mexican food at prices that seem too good to be true. They’re not. The burritos are huge, the Enchiladas Teresas with green salsa, ranchera, or Mexican mole, win raves, and the nine salsas are the stuff of local legend.
Yelp/ Margaret O
Mexico City-born chef Priscila Satkoff opened Salpicon with her husband in 1995 and has been welcoming crowds of hungry patrons ever since. Appetizers like tostaditas de tinga (small crispy tortillas mounted with shredded pork and chorizo in a roasted tomato-chipotle sauce), and main dishes like the chuleta de puerco en manchamanteles (grilled double-cut pork chop in an earthy Oaxacan ancho chile mole with grilled pineapple, sweet potato, and plantains) are highly sought after. The chef also offers a seven course tasting menu with wine pairings.
El Huarache Azteca is highly regarded as one of the best Mexican restaurants according to LA Weekly. The restaurant has a full breakfast menu showcasing items like huevos rancheros (friend eggs on crispy tortillas covered with spicy tomato sauce) and chilaquiles (fried tortilla strips in a green or red tomato sauce sprinkled with cheese and topped with two eggs). The restaurant is also famous for its mole verde and mole rojo, as well as its fajitas.
flickr/ KCET Departures
In 1972, Charlie and Mary Garcia opened El Chaparral to showcase both traditional Mexican and classic Tex-Mex cuisine. Menu items include chalupas made with two crispy tortillas layered with refried beans, cheese, shredded lettuce and tomato, and house specialties include beef tenderloin medallions sautéed in a hot and spicy chipotle sauce, and Todo Mexico, enchiladas filled with queso fresco and topped with a chile cascabel sauce and carne asada.
El Borrego de Oro opened in March 2003. The restaurant showcases a Borrego (lamb) barbeque every Saturday and Sunday; the lamb is cooked underground and covered with maguey leaves to preserve the burning charcoal underneath. The entire cooking process takes about seven to eight hours. During the week, the menu includes items like enchiladas, tortas, tacos, and chilaquiles with egg, barbacoa, or carne asada.
Elvirita is known for its charming appeal with a small double storefront. The original Cemitas Poblanas was a café in the same location, and has been credited as the first Puebla-style restaurant in Los Angeles, according to LA Weekly. Many come for the restaurant’s specialty: cemitas, or Mexican sandwiches filled with things like carnitas or head cheese and quesillo.
The original La Pasadita restaurant was opened in 1976 by the Espinoza family on N. Ashland Avenue. Today, there are two additional locations, one on the north side and one on the west side of Chicago. Tacos are the heart and soul of the menu including ones with carne asada (steak), pollo (chicken), barbacoa (steamed beef), lengua (beef tongue), lomo (rib eye), chorizo (Mexican sausage) and chile relleno (stuffed peppers).
Flickr/ Stephen M Scott
Los Charros is an authentic Mexican restaurant and cantina that is open from breakfast until late-night. The breakfast burrito, the super burrito (with of meat, rice, beans, guacamole, cheese, sour cream, and salsa) and the carnitas tacos have locals coming back from more. The same family who opened Taqueria Los Charros has also opened Los Charros Restaurant in Mountain View with a similar menu. Additional items include arroz con pollo and pollo con crema with chicken, onion, bell peppers, mushrooms in cream sauce.
Flickr/ Premshree Pillai
This fast-casual Mexican restaurant opened in 2000 serving their patrons some of the best Southern, Mexican and Southwestern dishes around. The main goal of the restaurant is to provide quality ingredients at fast food price points. For starters, the salsa trio is a fan favorite while dishes like Sloppy Jose (sloppy joe, fresh jalapeño, cheddar cheese and Fritos) and The Bob (fried shrimp, crayfish, mayonnaise, and pickled jalapeños) are often found on the weekly specials list.
Southern Foodways Alliance
In a city obsessed with its often-validated Mexican food insecurities, there are bright spots. Downtown Bakery, Mesa Coyoacan, and even taco truck El Idolo serve as ample ammunition against the battle cries of natives of California and Texas. But Tortilleria Nixtamal in Queens makes the city’s best case. Partner Fernando Ruiz’s restaurant sources produce from Mexico, doesn’t overcomplicate toppings beyond cilantro and onions, serves homemade salsas, and makes its own tortillas from nixtamal (dried corn soaked in lime solution) ground on machinery hecho en Mexico.
Flickr/ Young Sok Yun
Rudolph and Adele Quinones began Jacala in the aftermath of World War II after having settled in Texas. The restaurant began as a small 16-seat shop that later grew due to its fabulous cuisine. Today, the children of Rudolph and Adele carry on the tradition of their parents. The menu showcases items like chalupas with chicken, guacamole or beans and cheese, flautas, fish tacos and cheese enchiladas, among others. Patrons can also order Jacala’s tamales by the dozen for parties or take-out orders.
L.A.’s El Parian is known for as an outstanding birria restaurant with Guadalajara and Jalisco influences. The corn tortillas are handmade every day in house. The birria del chivo, or goat soup, that is slow-cooked in the oven, smothered in chili and garlic and basted with the pan juices. Frequent patrons also enjoy the carne asada plate where the marinated strip steak is cooked on the char broiler to order served with beans, rice and pico de gallo.
Yelp/ Cesar R
Ismael and Yolanda Diego opened Tacomiendo in Culver City in February of 2000 to focus their menu on healthy Mexican cuisine. The menu is a combination of both traditional Mexican dishes as well as American dishes. Mexican favorites include Menudo, Birria de Chivo, and Mole. Menu items are made with extra lean steak and pork, skinless chicken breast and cooked in 100% cholesterol free canola oil. American menu items include cheeseburgers and Cesar salad.
Yelp/ Andy W
This hyper-local Mexican restaurant in Durham, North Carolina is best known and perhaps most loved for its tortas and its salsa bar. The tortillas are homemade and the carne asada keeps diners coming back for more. The tacos de pollo and the tacos al pastor are popular with the local patrons as well as its ceviche and other specialties.
El Molino serves up specialty items like mole enchiladas served with a thick, flavorful mole sauce and jicama salad with radishes and mandarin oranges. The tamales are something special as well, as the restaurant uses organic corn, grinds its own masa, and fills the tamales with a variety of meat or vegetables. For breakfast, the must-try dish is the Guajillo Chile Chilaquiles, scrambled eggs and house-made tortilla chips smothered in an aromatic roasted tomato and chipotle salsa topped with fresh chunks of avocado.
Flickr/ Susie Wyshak
Chef Roberto Berrelleza is at the helm at Babita, where he specializes in gourmet Mexican cuisine found in Mexico City. He brilliantly mixes traditional dishes such as chiles en nogada and lamb shank mixiote with innovative cuisine such as his shrimp “topolobampo”. He also believes in sustaining the quality of his dishes. Each dish that leaves the kitchen is prepared by Chef Roberto himself. The chicken and shrimp “Elba” sautéed in tequila with banana chipotle sauce over chayote gratin is another one of the chef’s special creations.
Television celebrity chefs and quality Mexican food aren’t necessarily a match made en el cielo, but in the case of Food Network’s Chicago-born Ecuadorian Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Distrito, the connection pays off. The somewhat gaudy, pink, loud, huge restaurant is dedicated to the cuisine of Mexico City and serves nachos, ceviches, huaraches, tamales, enchiladas, and moles that Philadelphians recognize as some of the most satisfying versions on the East Coast.
Taqueria y Panderia de La Santa Cruz is renowned for bringing local, authentic Mexican food to the fair city of Portland. To get to the actual taqueria you must enter a store (tienda) and head straight to the back. The menu consists of items like a lengua plate (beef tongue), tacos, burritos and camarones rancheros, among other dishes. The specialties are reasonably priced, with tacos ranging from $1-$1.50 and burritos from $3.50-$4.00. Huaraches, another house specialty, are masa formed in a long oval shape and topped with beans, lettuce, cheese, and meat.
Yelp/ Cheng Tsung
Juan Zaragoza is at the helm of Birreria Zaragoza in Chicago. The restaurant is famous for its birria tatemada (roasted goat in ancho mole served with handmade tortillas). Birria is a regional Jalisciense alternative to the more common barbacoa, meat traditionally slow-cooked in a pit. The delicious goat dish is then topped with consomme and garnished with salsa, onions, cilantro, and lime. The dish has gained such notoriety that it has attracted the likes of many food critics and even television personality Andrew Zimmern.
Flickr/ Stu Spivack
Chef Alex Stupak (formerly of WD-50 and Alinea) has brought more national buzz to New York for Mexican cuisine than anyone else in the past few years. There are now two locations of Empellón, which means “push,” and does indeed push the limits of what’s Mexican. There are seven types of salsa; guacamole is accented by guanciale, sea urchin, and pistachio; and the tacos include fillings like fried Maine smelt, head cheese with refried lentils, and Brussels sprouts with toasted almonds. It all comes together in a menu approach that is fun and avant-garde.
Jose “Pepe” Magallanes opened Las Tortugas in 2003 to preserve the integrity of Mexican cooking and cuisine by refusing to Americanize the process or presentation. He sticks to utilizing traditional methods of cooking and assembling the cuisine. The menu features several varieties of tortuga, a freshly baked loaf of bread that is then hollowed out by hand and grilled and filled with beef, pork or chicken and garnished with avocado, roma tomatoes, queso fresco, shredded lettuce, poblano peppers, sliced sweet onion, and a spread of garlic pinto beans. Another favorite dish on the menu is traditional carnitas de Mexico City, Berkshire pork shoulder braised in a copper “olla” pot with whole orange, bay leaf, jalapeno, lime, and allspice.
Flickr/ Memphis CVB
Every Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., an otherwise industrial-looking stretch of Desplaines between Roosevelt and Polk streets in the South Loop transforms into one of America’s required destinations for anyone serious about Mexican food. Tarp-covered, plastic-wrapped, makeshift stands draw lines for hours as the cooks stationed behind hot grills press homemade tortillas and dish out all the classics from carne asada, al pastor, and barbacoa to zucchini squash blossoms and huitlacoche. Taqueria la Flor de Mexico, Rubi’s, Manolo's, and Tacos D.F…. there are great spots here, but we’re partial to La Paz. The quesadillas get covered with the meat of your choice, with tons of onions and cilantro, and the super-hot salsa verde leaves you with a wonderfully spicy mess best paired with a medio litro of Mexican Coke.
Back in 1929, Carmen Garcia began using one of the three rooms of her house as a tortilla factory; she would wake up and make them herself starting at 2 a.m. so that she could sell them for breakfast. She added tamales, then expanded the business with her son in 1945, helping to turn it into the institution it is today. Now owned by Virginia Chittim, El Modelo still makes rave-worthy tortillas and tamales, along with enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, and sopapillas—many of these featuring New Mexico's signature red and green chiles.
Changos Taqueria is dedicated to making dishes using the finest quality products with all natural meats and local Texas ingredients. It also offers different variations of dishes such as the Baja-style fish tacos. The enslada picada is served with chopped lettuce, roasted poblano and red peppers, tomatillo, avocado, red onion and lemon vinaigrette and can be topped with chicken or shrimp. Another crowd favorite is the huevos rancheros, served on the breakfast menu.
Even though Austin has a serious food reputation, its residents can’t count that many Mexican joints that stand up as the best in the state, or the country. Fonda San Miguel, while now a bit kitschy (having been founded in 1975), does fit the bill, and it anchors the city as its premier Mexican restaurant institution. Opt for the mole poblano or cochinita pibil, and remember, there’s no charge for handmade corn and flour tortillas with entrées. Bring your friends—tables seat up to 20.
Fonda San Miguel
San Diegans know that southern California can claim some of America’s best Mexican food, and Las Cuatro Milpas is a great place to experience it for yourself. Yes, there’s a line. Yes, there’s cafeteria-style service. So what? It’s reasonably priced, the tamales are legendary, and the tortillas fresh. They’re fried and rolled today as the staff here has always done—before it was cool.
Las Cuatro Milpas
It may not have the flash of Agave with its pink neon and dramatic décor, or the glitz of Diego Mexican Cuisine in the MGM Grand. But Bonito Michoacan is one of America’s great neighborhood Mexican restaurants for a reason: fresh ingredients, excellent execution, tableside guacamole, and hand-pressed, homemade tortillas. All the basics are covered.
It’s not much to look at — just a small, one-story white shack with turquoise trim, on a corner with palm tree fronds setting the scene behind it — but this place has the kind of reputation that draws a crowd. The late culinary star Julia Child, who divided her time between Cambridge, Mass., and Santa Barbara, mentioned La Super Rica Taqueria on Good Morning America as her favorite taqueria. Some standouts: the Frijol Super-Rica (a bowl of pintos with chiles, bacon, and chorizo); Super-Rica Especial (pork with pasilla chiles); and the tacos de adobado.
Flickr/ Roger Braunstein
Chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu already had the distinction of running one of Los Angeles’s most essential Mexican restaurants before they moved into a neighboring space that allowed them to considerably expand beyond the moles, chilaquiles,enmoladas, and chiles en nogada (pictured) that made them so popular. The expanded menu and wine list includes bone marrow in adobo, blackberry mole, and an exploration of Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe.
La Casita Mexicana
Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza pours more than 250 of Mexico’s top-shelf tequilas, but she certainly doesn’t need them to convince customers to frequent her three colorful dining rooms. From queso fundido to pozole verde, shrimp quesadillas to slow-roasted Mayan-style achiote-spiced cochinita pibil tortas, Barrio Café offers authentic Mexican food that has enthralled Arizonans since 2002.
Three close friends from Tijuana, Mexico, and Brawley, California opened Los Tacos No. 1 to bring the truly authentic Mexican tacos to those living on the East Coast, and they succeeded with flying colors. The menu was crafted entirely from family recipes and offers a variety of tacos, quesadillas and tostadas. Diners can choose from a variety of fillings such as carne asada (grilled steak), pollo asado (grilled chicken), adobada (marinated pork), and nopal (grilled cactus) to incorporate into any taco or tostada. Nopal can be served as a plate or added to a helping of meat as well.
Los Tacos No 1
In business since 1941, no conversation about Mexican cuisine in San Antonio is complete without a mention of Mi Tierra. While they’re the gold standard for Tex-Mex, their Traditional Mexican fare is outstanding: don’t miss out on the cabrito (baby goat), or their menudo, a tripe soup that’s the ultimate hangover buster. Make sure you don’t leave without stocking up on their traditional pan dulce, or sweet Mexican breads, either.
With two locations in Los Angeles, Guisados celebrates the simplicity of Mexican food with a focused menu of tacos made with traditional, home-style braises served in fresh, handmade tortillas. They offer different options for each main taco group including steak, chicken, pork, fish and vegetarian. As for the pork tacos, diners can sample chicharron, chorizo, chuleta en salsa verde, and cochinita pibil. Wash it all down with a melon, lemon, or hibiscus agua fresca and you’ll find yourself in taco heaven.
This family-run business is focused on showcasing cuisine from the Mexican state of Yucatán, in the southeastern corner of the country. Chef and owner Gilberto Cetina has created a menu highlighting the area’s Mayan, Spanish and Lebanese influences. One traditional appetizer is the kibi (ground beef and cracked wheat patties seasoned with mint and spices), which was brought to the region by Lebanese immigrants. The tacos de chicharron (friend pork crackling with pico de gallo and sliced avocado) are served in an order of two. They also serve a stellar version of the traditional rice-based Mexican drink horchata.
Chicago-based Big Star is run by executive chef Paul Kahan and chef de cuisine Cary Taylor, whose goal it is to provide a menu of Mexican-inspired street food with a Californian vibe. The restaurant has a stellar beverage program, highlighting plenty of tequilas as well as single barrel bourbon and whiskeys picked by staff members at distilleries in Kentucky. The food menu keeps it simple with dishes like taco al pastor (marinated, spit-roasted pork shoulder with grilled pineapple and green onions) and torta ahogada, a roasted beef chuck sandwich with spicy arbol chile salsa and lime-soaked onions.
Hugo’s opened in 2002 in a restored Latin-inspired building designed by Joseph Finger (also responsible for the Art Deco–style City Hall) and launched into a diverse regional approach to Mexican food. Chef Hugo Ortega, a finalist for the 2013 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest, cooks food that’s elegant, inventive, and inspiring. Order the much-heralded lamb barbacoa braised in garlic and chiles then slow-roasted in agave, and, for the name alone, the manchamanteles, described on the menu as the “tablecloth stainer,” a sweet mole stewed pork and chicken dish.
“The best tacos and burritos in the whole world,” declares the neon sign outside the white Mission-style arches. Bold words? As the expression goes, It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true. La Taqueria has won more than its fair share of converts with its chorizo, lengua, and carnitas tacos as well as rice-free burritos, and we recently named its carnitas taco America’s best. Come to the Mission District on an empty stomach, and after eating here, you can size up the competition at El Farolito and Taqueria Los Coyotes, popular for its micheladas.
Flickr/ Wally Gobetz
Restaurateur Jimmy Shaw, who was born and raised in Mexico City, opened his first Loteria Grill in 2002 as a way of showcasing traditional Mexican cuisine from his childhood. Today, there are six locations throughout Los Angeles that keep locals and visitors coming back for more. The chicharron de queso is a favorite appetizer, made with Oaxaca and jack cheese and served with fresh corn tortillas, salsa verde, and guacamole. And you can’t miss the tacos, filled with items like nopalitos (fresh cactus salad), lengua de res en salsa verde (braised beef tongue stewed in a tomatillo sauce) and pollo en pipian rojo (chicken in a spicy pumpkin seed, peanut and chile guajillo sauce).
This Denver taco spot’s name isn’t fit for translation—just think of what you say when you’re moved to be either exceptionally mad or really happy, and you’ll get the idea. You’re likely to be the latter when you visit chef Kevin Morrison’s taqueria. Originally a taco truck, it puts a modern twist on comida de la calle (Mexican street food), along with small-batch tequilas. You’ll want to start with an order of queso fundido con chorizo and homemade chips, but from there it gets more difficult to choose. Carnitas? Pollo a la crema? Asada, lengua, or rajas con crema y maiz? There are also chipotle-and-beer-battered fish tacos and citrus grilled shrimp.
Tacos Tequila Whiskey
La Condesa does it all. From inventive guacamole (with chipotle puree and toasted almonds, for example) to a plethora of ceviches, the restaurant offers traditional Mexican dishes with new-age flair. The cocktail list is quite extensive, with specialties like the alma blanca made with habanero-infused tequila, ginger liqueur, agave nectar, pineapple juice, fresh corn, hoja de hierba santa and hibiscus-rose-infused salt rim. But don’t ignore its stellar tequila and mescal menus that pair perfectly with specialty menu items like the mero de ajo negro, a pan-roasted grouper dish accompanied with glazed potato, black garlic puree, chayote slaw and childe de arbol vinaigrette.
With the 1994 opening of Guelaguetza, the Lopez family introduced Los Angeles to authentic Oaxacan cuisine. Now the number of local Oaxacan restaurants trails only that of Mexico City and Oaxaca, at least according to respected critic Jonathan Gold — and much of that can be attributed to the success of this Koreatown spot. Named for the summertime festival celebrating Mexico’s southwestern region, Guelaguetza is a year-round destination for its tamales, memelas, unstuffed enchiladas, and of course, exquisite moles.
Spanish chef José Andrés is renowned for his dedication to learning other cultures’ cuisines. As he noted in 2013: “It was the galleon ships of Spain’s King Philip II that connected these two worlds hundreds of years ago. Those Spanish ships allowed for an exchange of foods, dishes, stories, and traditions.” He spent time in Mexico before opening Oyamel in 2004. Meals start as they should — with complimentary salsa and chips, made fresh and fried daily. Continue with antojitos (“the little dishes from the streets”), papas al mole, and tacos with handmade tortillas, especially chapulines — the Oaxacan specialty of sautéed grasshoppers — if you dare.
Powers & Crewe
Since hosting his 26-part PBS series Cooking Mexican in the late ’70s, Oklahoma-born chef Rick Bayless has been a champion of Mexican cuisine in America. He has even won the approval of the Mexican government—in 2012, he was named to the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest distinction awarded to foreigners. At this slightly fancier and more ambitious next-door cousin of his popular and groundbreaking Frontera Grill, Bayless serves irresistible Mexican fare of a kind not otherwise found outside some of the better restaurants of Mexico itself, if even there. Red snapper in "red ceviche" (cured with crimson hibiscus), frogs' leg tamal with cascabel chile, lamb in ancho-tamarind sauce, and cajeta crêpes with chocolate and plantains are among vividly flavored attractions in this colorful, well-run dining room.