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—and as it turns out, the second-best resides in Washington, D.C.
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 Cocina Mexicana 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. And dare you should, as our panel of experts awarded Oyamel the #2 spot on our compilation and since it’s the highest-ranking Mexican eatery from our nation’s capital, it’s both the second-best restaurant in the country and the very best one in Washington, D.C.