It wasn’t so long ago when “Mexican” food was best represented stateside by a heaping platter of rice and refried beans along with gloopy enchiladas covered in melted cheese, with maybe a couple hard-shell tacos on the side. Thankfully we’ve come a long way, and now the cuisine of just about every region of Mexico is now well-represented in the American culinary landscape. Today, most people realize that the standard menu of burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas, and the like are in fact more Tex-Mex than authentic Mexican, and that once you head south of the border there’s a whole world of flavorful (and non-cheesy) possibilities to explore. Additionally, while authenticity is prized, some of the country’s most highly regarded chefs, like former pastry chef Alex Stupak and Oklahoma-born Rick Bayless, have also turned their attention and creativity to Mexican, which has become somewhat of a cuisine célèbre.
To assemble our ranking of America’s 50 Best Mexican Restaurants, we analyzed results from surveys we sent out to some of America’s leading culinary authorities, writers, and critics, used to assemble our rankings of America’s 50 Best Casual Restaurants and the 101 Best Restaurants in America. We supplemented those with best-of lists both in print and online, and rounded it out with our personal favorites from around the country. We also made sure to include restaurants that specialize in authentic Mexican fare; while some Tex-Mex classics on the menu are acceptable if done really well, the main focus had to be on true Mexican cuisine. We found that from a high-end restaurant in Chicago specializing in ribeye carne asada to a modest taqueria in Mountain View, Calif. serving some of the finest carnitas you’ll ever encounter, America has no shortage of great Mexican restaurants. As it turns out, 8 reside in Los Angeles, which means that 16% of the eateries showcased on our most recent list are in L.A.
8. El Borrego de Oro
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—which are all so tasty, El Borrego was awarded the #39 spot on our compilation.
7. Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita
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, which were judged as deserving the #38 position on our ranking.
6. El Parian
Coming in at #32 on our annual list, El Parian is known as an outstanding birria restaurant with Guadalajara and Jalisco influences. The corn tortillas are handmade every day in house, and the birria del chivo—or goat soup—is slow-cooked in the oven, smothered in chili and garlic, and basted with the pan juices. Regulars also enjoy the carne asada plate in which the marinated strip steak is cooked on the char broiler to order served with beans, rice, and pico de gallo.
Ismael and Yolanda Diego opened Tacomiendo in Culver City in February of 2000 with a mission to serve 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, pork, and skinless chicken breast, and are cooked in 100% cholesterol-free canola oil. According to our expert panel, they are just a little bit better than #32 El Parian, as Tacomiendo grabbed the #31 spot.
With three 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. They’re so heavenly, in fact, that Guisados took the very respectable #11 spot in our ranking of the 50 best in the country.
3. Chichen Itza
This family-run business showcases 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 offer a stellar version of the traditional rice-based Mexican drink horchata, and it’s this variety — along with Cetina’s masterful execution — that earned them the #10 spot on our list, and the title of third-best Mexican restaurant in L.A.
2. Loteria Grill
Restaurateur Jimmy Shaw, who was born and raised in Mexico City, opened his first Loteria Grill in 2002 as a stage for 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 cheeses 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). Loteria Grill placed #6 on our ranking, and is the second-best Mexican eatery in The City of Angels.
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 local restaurant 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. They’re so exquisite, in fact, that Guelaguetza was rank third-best Mexican restaurant in America by our panel; since the establishment is the highest-ranked one from L.A. on our list, then our experts have judged it to be the best Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles.