According to an April 2015 report by IBISWorld, the Mexican restaurant industry in America (including Tex-Mex) brings in upwards of $38 billion annually, which reflects this nation’s love affair with tortillas and beans. Our 2016 ranking of the best places in America for Mexican food aims to bring you the crema de la crema of this category.
It wasn’t so long ago that “Mexican” food was represented in the United States largely by heaping platters of rice and refried beans along with enchiladas covered in melted cheese, with maybe a few hard-shell tacos on the side. We’ve come a long way since then. Today, most people realize that dishes like burritos, chimichangas, and quesadillas are more Tex-Mex than actual Mexican — not that there's anything wrong with Tex-Mex — and that once you head south of the border there’s a whole world of flavorful (and non-cheesy) possibilities to explore. Hard-shell tacos are also scarce in Mexico; soft-shell tacos enclosed in steamed or lightly griddled tortillas are much more the norm. And those tacos will typically be garnished with lime wedges, onions, cilantro, and sometimes fresh white cheese, not shredded lettuce and shredded Cheddar.
Thankfully, the cuisine of just about every region of Mexico is now well-represented in the American culinary landscape. Spanish chef José Andrés’ consistently packed Oyamel in our nation's capital, 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 (the corn fungus sometimes called Mexico's truffle), once hard to find in the U.S., are increasingly considered mainstream.
To put together our 2016 list of the 50 best Mexican restaurants in America, we first looked at last year's list, which analyzed results from surveys we sent out to some of America’s leading culinary authorities, writers, and critics. Best-of lists both in print and online supplemented those results, and after rounding the selection out with our personal favorites, we ranked the selections based on editorial discretion. The restaurants we feature mostly specialize in authentic Mexican fare, with little or no Tex-Mex on the menus (there are a few exceptions). Many of our 2015 favorites reappeared on the list, but new venues include Cala in San Francisco and Carnitas Uruapan in Chicago. One of the new restaurants we selected even snagged the number one spot this year.
Enjoy our 2016 ranking of America’s top 50 spots for Mexican, and if one is in your area, you might even be on the phone ordering some tacos by the end of this list.
Additional reporting by Dan Myers and Colman Andrews.