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. Running the gamut from super-upscale to inexpensive and no-frills, we’ve rounded up the 50 best in America.
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. But we’ve come a long way since then: 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.
Thankfully, the cuisine of just about every region of Mexico is now well-represented in the American culinary landscape. Chef José Andrés’s consistently packed Oyamel, for example, is proof that our appreciation of the varied regional cuisines of Mexico has come a long way. Oaxaca-inspired dishes like chicken in rich mole sauce and quesadillas filled with huitlacoche, once hard to find in the U.S., are increasingly considered mainstream. And 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.
In order 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 needs to be on true Mexican cuisine.
So come with us on a journey through Mexico’s culinary heritage, by way of Mexican restaurants in locations as unexpected as Tigard, Oregon and Memphis, Tennessee. A warning, however: by the time you get to #1, you’ll be starving.
50) Nuestra Cocina, Portland, Ore.
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.
49) Javier’s, Dallas
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.
Click here for the remaining 48 best Mexican restaurants in America, and head to page two for the full list.
Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers. Additional reporting by Kristen Oliveri and Arthur Bovino.