The Best Mexican Restaurant in Every State
You might think that it’s impossible to find great chicken mole in Rapid City, South Dakota, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.We’re thankfully living in an era when high-quality Mexican fare is within driving distance of just about everyone in America. Don’t believe us? Then keep reading to learn where to find the best Mexican restaurant in every state and the District of Columbia.
In order to find the best Mexican restaurant in every state, we started by consulting previous rankings, including America's 75 Best Tacos. We then checked local rankings and researched review sites to see which ones got the highest marks from in-the-know locals, and judged each contender on quality of ingredients, skill in preparation, level of local renown, and authenticity. Some “fusion” was acceptable, but a focus on being as authentically Mexican as possible was key. We also gave humble taquerías the same consideration as fancy sit-down places and boisterous cantinas.
The next time somebody tells you that you can’t find a great enchilada outside of a handful of cities, you can remind them that, though that might have been true 20 years ago, times have changed, and that’s something for which we should be very thankful.
Alabama: El Barrio (Birmingham)
Hip and popular Birmingham, Alabama, hotspot El Barrio fills up its bar and tables nightly with locals looking for fun cocktails and creative and exciting Mexican fare. Popular starters include chunky guacamole, elote asado, and chorizo empanadas; “big plates” include a killer pozole and red chicken mole; and other popular offerings include beef barbacoa quesadilla, carnitas tacos, and Thursday-only braised duck tamales.
Alaska: El Dorado (Anchorage)
Owned and operated by the Hurtados family since 1997, the homey El Dorado has become an Alaska institution, and not just because a great Mexican restaurant is a bit of an anomaly in these parts. You’ll find all the standards here, as well as some more surprising finds, all made with care: shrimp tostadas, carnitas, enchiladas suizas or mole, carne asada, fajitas, burritos filled with pork chile verde, and even menudo and lengua in tomato-olive-chile sauce.
Arizona: Barrio Café (Phoenix)
Barrio Café 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.
Arkansas: Taquería El Palenque (Little Rock)
Hiding in a hidden corner of an anonymous strip mall, Little Rock, Arkansas’ tiny Taquería El Palenque is turning out some seriously authentic Mexican fare for in-the-know locals. Specialties like enchiladas, carnitas, and shrimp cocktail are fresh and flavorful, and tacos (which only cost $1.49) are available in seven meat options running the gamut from al pastor to buche (pork stomach), and the grilled carne asada is perfection.
California: Guelaguetza (Los Angeles)
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 those of Mexico City and Oaxaca itself, and much of that can be attributed to the success of this Koreatown spot. Named for Oaxaca’s famous traditional summertime festival, Guelaguetza is a year-round California destination for its tamales, memelas (chubby cornmeal cakes similar to sopes), unstuffed enchiladas and, of course, exquisite moles.
Colorado: Tacos Tequila Whiskey (Denver)
Originally a taco truck, chef Kevin Morrison’s Denver, Colorado, hotspot Tacos Tequila Whiskey 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.
Connecticut: El Charrito (Riverside)
This community in the famously posh Connecticut town of Greenwich may be the last place you’d expect to find real Mexican takeout food. But at El Charrito, Carlos and Alex Terrón, who also run a popular food truck in neighboring (and more Hispanic) Stamford, have brought southwestern Connecticut a standard of Mexican cooking usually found only in urban Texas or California. The wide variety of taco fillings ranges from chicken, shrimp, and spicy pork adobada to pig’s ear, tripe, and cow’s tongue. The carnitas tacos are typical: a couple of flavorful steamed corn tortillas with a scattering of sweet, crispy pork bits, minced onions, cilantro, and lime segments on the side to squeeze over everything.
Delaware: El Pique (Wilmington)
Tiny Wilmington, Delaware, hole-in-the-wall El Pique gets packed on a daily basis, but it’s still easy to pass by. Head inside and you’ll encounter just a few tables and, behind the counter, a plancha manned by two ladies cooking an astounding variety of proteins, including hard-to-find cuts like pork snout (trompa), beef head (cabeza), and a combo of all different types of offal (surtida). The best move is to go for the birria, made with lamb. It’s super-flavorful and incredibly tender, crisped up on the griddle and served with onion, cilantro, and your choice of three sauces.
Florida: Talavera (Coral Gables)
Chef Oscar del Rivero oversees Florida’s best Mexican restaurant, Talavera, 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, and 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.
Georgia: El Rey Del Taco (Atlanta)
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 Georgia’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.
Hawaii: Alejandro’s (Honolulu)
California-born Alejandro Alvarado grew up eating the cuisine of his Salvadorean and Mexican parents, and his family recipes serve as the foundation of the menu at his Kalihi Valley, Hawaii, destination, appropriately dubbed Alejandro’s. Specialties include carnitas, beef, or carne asada tacos topped with onions, cilantro, and salsa verde; quesadillas; burritos; and bowls. It’s a simple menu, but it’s the best in the state.
Idaho: Tin Roof Tacos (Boise)
When two Texas sisters realized that they couldn’t find a good street taco in Idaho, they put their heads together and Tin Roof was the result. Full of Texas charm (you’ll find plenty of expats here downing Shiner Bocks and watching the Texas A&M game), Tin Roof serves a variety of creative tacos on tortillas made-to-order on their own tortilla machine. Sure, some aren’t exactly authentically Mexican (like a fried chicken taco with coleslaw and jalapeño ranch); but ones like the Tin Roof (shredded achiote-rubbed pork, pineapple, cilantro, and onion), brisket (slow-roasted beef with queso fresco, cilantro, and onion), and fish (grilled or fried, and topped with chipotle crema, red cabbage, and cilantro) are definitely raising the culinary bar in Boise.
Illinois: Topolobampo (Chicago)
Topolobampo is named for a port city on the Gulf of California in northwestern Sinaloa. At this slightly fancier and more ambitious next-door cousin of his popular Frontera Grill, Rick Bayless serves irresistible Mexican fare of a kind not found outside some of the better restaurants of Mexico itself, if even there. It’s hard to believe that this Illinois institution is now more than 25 years old. Dishes are organized into two five-course tasting menus, at $95 and $110, respectively. What can you expect? Crispy roast suckling pig with winter mole; gorditas filled with huitlacoche and eggplant; a traditional sopa Azteca with wood-grilled chicken; and wagyu carne asada with slow-cooked short rib and mole negro. Bayless is also currently serving a seven-course “Winter Beach Vacation” menu, with fare inspired by Mexican beach resort towns, for $140.
Indiana: Indy Tacos (Indianapolis)
Behind perhaps the most unassuming storefront in Indianapolis, Indiana, hide some spectacular tacos at Indy Tacos, and the daily line out the door during the lunch rush proves it. The menu is simple and straightforward, but it changes often to allow for some creative spins like mango chicken, steak poblano, and fish tacos. But when the chicken mole taco is available, don’t miss it: The chicken is juicy and flavorful, and the homemade mole negro is top-notch.
Iowa: Tacos Mariana’s (Des Moines)
Run by a Mexican native named Mariana, the tiny Tacos Mariana’s is serving some seriously legit tacos to thankful Iowa locals. Though Mariana’s offerings run the gamut from al pastor to chicken, chorizo, and tongue, you can’t go wrong with perfectly seasoned and grilled carne asada, topped with onions and cilantro and served with sliced radishes and lime. And make sure you try her rice and beans, made with slow-cooked heirloom mayocoba beans.
Kansas: Taco Republic (Kansas City)
The low-key and inviting Taco Republic is one of the coolest spots in Kansas City, Kansas — and one of the most popular patios. The fun menu includes items like five-cheese queso, spicy tequila lime wings, grilled shrimp tostadas, and a very popular wood-fired chicken, but the tacos are the star of the show here. The Salazar (pork belly, salsa verde, cilantro, onions, and chicharrónes) and Tecate Barbacoa (beer- and chile-braised brisket with onions and cilantro) are fan favorites, but you have to try the classic slow-cooked cochinita pibil, marinated and roasted pork topped with pickled red onions and tostones. It’s a taste of the Yucatán in Kansas.
Kentucky: El Mariachi (Louisville)
Going strong since 1998, downtown Louisville’s casual and unassuming El Mariachi is spoiling Kentucky locals with its wide variety of authentic Mexican street food, like tacos, tortas, gorditas, huaraches, tamales, and sopesitos, as well as homemade soups and entrees like carne asada and mojarra frita (whole fried tilapia). Customers can choose from 11 taco fillings, including carne asada, chorizo, lengua, pastor, carnitas, and rib-eye.
Louisiana: Johnny Sanchez (New Orleans)
When chefs with the pedigree of John Besh and Aarón Sánchez team up to open an authentic Mexican restaurant in Louisiana, you can bet good money on the end result being spectacular. And by all accounts, Johnny Sanchez is, even though Besh is no longer involved. To get a good idea of the amount of skill (and the quality of the ingredients) on display here, start your meal with an order of carne asada tacos, made with perfectly cooked grilled skirt steak and topped with a one-two punch of pickled jalapeño guacamole and fresh pico de gallo; and then move on to duck carnitas enchiladas, topped with salsa verde, queso fresco, and duck cracklings.
Maine: Taco Escobarr (Portland)
Portland, Maine, has no shortage of great restaurants (it’s got the highest number of restaurants per capita in the country, supposedly), but if you ask locals where the best taco joint is, they’ll say Taco Escobarr. Tacos are available in three varieties: soft corn tortillas, crispy griddle-fried tortillas, or deep-fried San Antonio-style puffy tacos. The crispy taco is the winner of the bunch; fill yours with smoky, slow-braised poblano-kicked shredded beef, melted Chihuahua cheese, cilantro, and pico de gallo.
Maryland: Tortilleria Sinaloa (Baltimore)
Baltimore, Maryland’s perpetually packed restaurant Tortilleria Sinaloa is consistently drawing crowds for the homemade tortillas and fresh, plentiful fillings. Don’t miss the tamales, pozole, and special tilapia tacos with Old Bay butter sauce, but the menu’s standout is the al pastor, tender and flavorful with chunks of grilled pineapple mixed in.
Massachusetts: El Sarape (Braintree)
While a Boston, Massachusetts, suburb 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.
Michigan: Taquería El Rey (Detroit)
Low-key Southwest Detroit, Michigan, gem El Rey is perhaps best known for its adobo grilled chicken, cooked on a massive drum-like grill by owner Chico Fuentes and his son, Sammy. Whole chickens, served with rice, beans, tortillas, and salsa, cost just $11.50, and they’re astoundingly delicious. Tacos and tortas are also spectacular, filled with your choice of 10 fillings, including pastor, asada, tripe, lengua, and cabeza.
Minnesota: El Taco Riendo (Minneapolis)
El Taco Riendo is bringing Mexico City street food to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in a fun and laid-back setting. Tostadas, tamales, sopes, enchiladas, burritos, and chilaquiles keep the crowds coming, but the tacos, made with tortillas produced by local tortilleria La Perla, are really things of beauty.
Mississippi: Green Ghost Tacos (Jackson)
Jackson, Mississippi, hotspot Green Ghost Tacos is run by San Luis, Mexico, native “Mama Yolanda,” and her recipes have been passed down for generations and cooked in small batches. Burritos, tortas, empanadas, enchiladas, quesadillas, chile rellenos, and nachos are all spectacular, and tacos are served in corn tortillas, hard-shell tortillas, and flour tortillas. We suggest you stick with the classic corn tortillas, and use them as a vessel for Mama Yolanda’s spectacular homemade chorizo.
Missouri: La Tejana Taquería (St. Louis)
Located inside an unassuming Missouri strip mall, La Tejana is a no-frills room with a handful of booths and tables, but what’s coming out of the kitchen is spectacular. The selection of meats available is also pretty outstanding: steak, carnitas, cabeza (cow head), tongue, chorizo, chicken tinga, grilled chicken, al pastor, chicharrón, and occasionally goat. If you can’t make up your mind (and even if you can), we suggest you go for the campechano, which is the best of two worlds: steak and chorizo, all mixed up on one perfect taco.
Montana: Taco Del Sol (Missoula)
There’s nothing like a great taco to stop you dead in your tracks in the middle of Missoula, Montana. But that’s exactly what you’ll find at Taco Del Sol, which has a handful of locations in town and additional outposts throughout the state. Modern and inviting, this Mission-inspired taquería has been going strong since 1997, serving tacos in soft flour, soft corn, and crispy corn shells. Though the pulled pork and grilled steak tacos are great, it’s the fish taco (baked Alaskan cod, beans, shredded cheese, fresh salsa, shredded cabbage, white sauce, hot sauce, and jalapeños) that’s a symphony of deliciousness.
Nebraska: La Choza (Omaha)
Specialties of El Salvador and Mexico are on display at La Choza, where Salvadoran specialties like pupusas and plantain leaf-wrapped tamales share the bill with the best Mexican food in Nebraska. To prepare the al pastor, pork is marinated for three days before being grilled with chunks of pineapple, and the end result is a stellar taco.
Nevada: Bonito Michoacan (Las Vegas)
It may not have the flash of Mexican hotspots on the Strip, but Bonito Michoacan is one of Nevada’s (and 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, and the amount of care put into every component results in some spectacular food.
New Hampshire: El Rincon Zacatecano Taqueria (Manchester)
Yelp/ Mark T.
El Rincon Zacatecano Taqueria is a beloved Mexican spot in Manchester, New Hampshire, serving spot-on classic Mexican fare with an eye toward nuance and authenticity in a fun and festive atmosphere. You really can’t go wrong , but don’t miss some of the chef’s specialties, including Chiflando y Aplaudiendo, a mix of carnitas, beef, and caramelized onions with chorizo, served with refried beans, rice, pico, guac, and tortillas.
New Jersey: Panchos Mexican Taquería (Atlantic City)
Located right next door to the legendary White House Sub Shop, the unassuming Panchos Mexican Taquería was opened to cater primarily to employees of the local Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos, but it quickly achieved a level of local renown when chef David Chang stopped by and deemed it “the best Mexican food on the East Coast” in the pages of Lucky Peach, and when legendary Philly chef Michael Solomonov fell in love with it on an episode of “Vice Munchies.” So what makes this place so good, exactly? For one, the tortillas aren’t just homemade, they’re made to order. Second, tacos and huaraches are filled with a wide variety of expertly prepared proteins like steak, chicken, brisket, goat, tripe, chorizo, and carnitas. And third, their mole poblano enchiladas are life-changing. Don’t try to call; they don’t answer the phone much. Just go.
New Mexico: El Modelo (Albuquerque)
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 New Mexico 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.
New York: Cosme (New York City)
Cosme, the hit New York establishment opened late 2014 by Enrique Olvera, chef-proprietor of Mexico City’s top-rated Pujol, is nobody’s idea of a “Mexican restaurant.” There are no concessions to Yankee expectations. Words like tostada, aguachile, and barbacoa do appear on the menu, but they don’t connect with food that looks like what they suggest. If you’re in the mood for fajitas and combination plates, look elsewhere. The fare at Cosme, based on locally sourced ingredients as well as imports from Mexico, is just good food imbued with unmistakably Mexican flavors, whatever it might be made from and however it might look. The constantly evolving menu offers unexpected delights like mussel tostadas with pig’s feet and Mexican cucumber, cobia instead of pork al pastor, esquites (usually a sauteed corn street snack) made with spelt and castelrosso radicchio, and crispy octopus with potatoes pickled in hazelnut mole. And on no account should visitors miss the duck carnitas, a menu staple, rich and crisp and meltingly tender, and large enough for three or four to share.
North Carolina: Super Taquería (Durham)
Ian Maren C./Yelp
The hyper-local Super Taquería 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 are the restaurant’s ceviche and other specialties.
North Dakota: La Carreta (Bismarck)
Chris F./ Yelp
La Carreta has everything you look for in a classic American-style Mexican restaurant, and it’s been serving hungry Bismarck, North Dakota, locals for more than 15 years. It's low-key and inviting, with high-backed booths, great margaritas, and top-notch nachos, burritos, enchiladas, and fajitas (there are also 20 different combination platters if you can’t make up your mind). Traditional Mexican dishes like arroz con mariscos, chilaquiles, and guisado de puerco round out the menu.
Ohio: Barrio (Cleveland)
Beloved Downtown Cleveland, Ohio, hotspot Barrio trusts its guests to build their own ideal tacos from a selection of fillings, including Coca-Cola-marinated steak, braised beef, homemade chorizo, pulled pork, bacon, shrimp with garlic cream, grilled portobello mushrooms, apple jicama slaw, and Western Reserve smoked cheddar, but we suggest you let the masters build it for you and choose from the variety of “El Jefe’s Selecciones.” Don’t miss the spicy Carne Trozo: braised beef, smoked cheddar, lettuce, tomato, cilantro, onion, corn salsa, salsa verde, and secret sauce in a hard shell. It’s a party in one bite. Barrio is so popular, in fact, that it's spawned four additional Ohio locations and another in Portsmouth, New Hampshire).
Oklahoma: Tarahumara’s Mexican Café & Cantina (Norman)
If you’re looking for Oklahoma’s best Mexican food, drive south from Oklahoma City until you reach Norman and pull into Tarahumara’s, a charming family-owned cantina. The hearty, rustic Mexican fare here is made with high-quality ingredients from recipes that date back generations. Make sure you try the spectacular chicken mole, tamales, enchiladas suizas, super-tender pork ribs in red chile sauce, and rich chile Colorado.
Oregon: Tienda Y Panaderia Santa Cruz (Portland)
Taienda y Panaderia de La Santa Cruz is renowned for bringing local, authentic Mexican food to the fair city of Portland, Oregon. To get to the actual taquería 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 to $1.50 and burritos from $3.50 to $4.00. Huaraches, another house specialty, are masa formed in a long oval shape and topped with beans, lettuce, cheese, and meat.
Pennsylvania: Distrito (Philadelphia)
Chicago-born Ecuadoran Iron Chef Jose Garces (who runs some of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s most acclaimed restaurants, like Amada, Village Whiskey, and Volver) serves nachos, ceviches, huaraches, tamales, enchiladas, and moles at Distrito that Philadelphians recognize as some of the most satisfying versions on the East Coast. The somewhat gaudy, pink, loud, huge restaurant is dedicated to the cuisine of Mexico City, which is a rich source of inspiration.
Rhode Island: Tallulah’s Taquería (Providence)
A breath of fresh air in the Providence, Rhode Island, culinary scene, Tallulah’s is serving classic Mexican fare prepared with a deft hand in a trendy space. Tacos, burritos, tortas, bowls, and quesadillas can be filled with your choice of 11 fillings (as well as breakfast ingredients), and though you can’t go wrong with al pastor, barbacoa, chipotle braised potato, or grilled shrimp or fish, don’t miss the carnitas: slow-braised pork belly and shoulder, served (like all the tacos) in a corn tortilla with guacamole, onions, cilantro, salsa, radishes, and lime.
South Carolina: Minero (Charleston)
When chef Sean Brock (of Husk fame) decides to turn his attention to casual Mexican fare, you know the end result is going to be spectacular. And at Minero, it is (even though Brock has moved on to Nashville and is no longer involved in his South Carolina restaurant group). Queso fundido, tacos al pastor, pork carnitas with salsa verde and seasonal carnitas, roasted shrimp tacos with cucumber-jicama slaw and salsa morita... no matter what you order, you can’t go wrong.
South Dakota: Sabor A Mexico (Rapid City)
Believe it or not, you can find great tacos just a stone’s throw from Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota’s Rapid City. Just head down East North Street until you reach the small and unassuming Sabor A Mexico, where you’ll find Michoacán-native Ana Line Munoz cooking her traditional family recipes in the kitchen. Scratch-made salsas, tamales, and sopes are definite crowd-pleasers, but make sure you sample some tacos, especially the chicken mole, with a labor-intensive sauce made by hand by Munoz.
Tennessee: Las Tortugas (Memphis)
Jose “Pepe” Magallanes opened Las Tortugas in Memphis, Tennessee, 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, jalapeño, lime, and allspice.
Texas: Hugo’s Regional Mexican Cuisine (Houston)
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, winner of the 2017 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. Hugo — and his restaurant — are Texas institutions.
Utah: Red Iguana (Salt Lake City)
One of Salt Lake City, Utah’s most popular restaurants (owing in no small part to a feature on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”), Red Iguana has been lavished with more awards than you can count, and now we’re officially naming it the best Mexican restaurant in Utah. And it’s not just hype: This place is really, really good. Founded in 1985 by Ramon and Maria Cardenas, who’d been opening restaurants since 1965), today it’s run by their children, who continue to use their family’s tried-and-true authentic Mexican recipes. The massive menu features six different moles (each meticulously handmade), pork doused in red or green chile sauce, slow-roasted cochinita pibil; eight enchiladas, a variety of tacos and burritos, and some outrageous breakfast dishes, among dozens of other specialties. If you live in Salt Lake City and you’re not a regular here, reconsider.
Vermont: El Gato Cantina (Burlington and Essex Junction)
El Gato is providing Vermont residents with a fun and relaxed environment in which to enjoy a couple margaritas and some high-quality Mexican fare made with local ingredients and based on the owners’ old family recipes. Tamales are homemade; tacos and burritos are available with proteins, including marinated carne asada, slow-braised carnitas, chicken mole, beef barbacoa, braised tongue, and grilled or fried fish; fajitas; and a killer pozole.
Virginia: Taquería Tres Reyes (Manassas)
The unassuming Tacos Tres Reyes in Manassas, Virginia, is completely off-the-radar, but very worthy of a pilgrimage. The fare here is essentially flawless, perfect representations of down-home Mexican cuisine. Huaraches, chiles rellenos, crisp gortitas, chicken mole enchiladas, cemitas, tacos, tortas, roast chickens, soups, fried fish, coctel de camarones, barbacoa, cecina, carne asada... Tres Reyes is like a greatest hits list of the most legendary Mexican dishes, and each one hits the nail right on the head.
Washington: Mezcaleria Oaxaca (Seattle)
The Dominguez family runs two of Seattle, Washington’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.
Washington, D.C.: Oyamel
Spanish-born chef and humanitarian 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 Washington, D.C., 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.
West Virginia: Maria’s Taquería (Shepherdstown)
Northern Virginia native Maria Allen opened Maria’s Taquería on a whim after graduating from West Virginia’s Shepherd University, and it became a hotspot almost immediately, necessitating a move into bigger digs. The reason? The food here is fresh, scratch-made, and tasty, and there’s an expansive menu that will make just about anyone happy. The fish taco is a real crowd-pleaser in particular: Crispy fried cod is tucked into a soft flour tortilla and topped with cilantro, jalapeño aioli, and spicy cabbage slaw.
Wisconsin: Taquería Guadalajara (Madison)
The small and unassuming Taquería Guadalajara, located one block from Madison, Wisconsin’s Monona Bay is a beloved institution in a city not known for its culinary diversity, and during peak times the line can stretch out the door. The secret to its success? Using all fresh ingredients and making all of its proteins in small batches. This is most evident in the juicy carne asada made with high-quality local beef and grilled until a perfect medium.
Wyoming: San Juan (Jackson)
There’s actually no shortage of decent Mexican spots in Wyoming, and the best of all is San Juan, formerly known as Sanchez. Owners Maria and Rigoberto Sosa, who hail from Guerrero, Mexico, and purchased the restaurant from its previous owners in 2014 after working there for 12 years, transformed the space from a taquería into a full-service Mexican restaurant, taking over the adjacent outdoor seating area and acquiring a liquor license. Peek into the kitchen and you’ll see the Sosas turning out dishes from their old family recipes, including tacos, enchiladas, tortas, quesadillas, and other iconic street foods that everyone should try.
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