America’s 50 Best Mexican Restaurants
January 28, 2016
There’s no need to head south of the border for truly delicious Mexican food
America’s 50 Best Mexican Restaurants 2016
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.
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.
#50 Big Star, Chicago
Chicago-based Big Star is run by executive chef Paul Kahan and chef de cuisine Cary Taylor, whose goal it is to provide a menu of Mexican-inspired street food with a Californian vibe. The restaurant has a stellar beverage program, highlighting plenty of tequilas as well as single-barrel bourbons picked by staff members at distilleries in Kentucky. The menu keeps it simple with dishes like taco al pastor (marinated, spit-roasted pork shoulder with grilled pineapple and green onions) and torta ahogada, a roasted beef chuck sandwich with spicy árbol chile salsa and lime-soaked onions.
#49 Los Gemelos, Port Chester, N.Y.
You know this friendly restaurant and tortillería in this diverse Westchester County community, just over the line from Connecticut, is the real thing when you walk in and smell the woodsmoke and see the oak logs stacked behind the counter. The wood-fired grill turns out first-rate whole chickens (for $12, including tortillas and rice and beans — a steal) and one-pound racks of pork ribs, among other things. The tortillas (and chips) are homemade, as are the salsas. And the wide-ranging menu includes everything from the expected (guacamole, fish tacos, chicken mole) to the less so (a torta of stewed carnitas, pork stomach burritos, beef tongue taquitos — which, trust us, are a revelation). There's tequila as well as beer, and for dessert fried plantains with caramelized condensed milk. There's a lot to like about this place.
#48 Nuestra Cocina, Portland, Ore.
Husband-and-wife chefs Benjamin Gonzales and Shannon Dooley-Gonzales have collaborated on a restaurant with country-style Mexican cooking in southeastern Portland. Flavors span the cuisine of Zacatecas in north-central Mexico to those of Veracruz and Tampico on the country's eastern coast. Signature dishes include 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.
#47 Rocio’s Mole de los Dioses, Los Angeles
Chef Rocio Carmacho hails from Oaxaca, where her grandmother was a great cook and her mother, a respected “molera,” or maker of moles, ran a food stall in the Oaxaca market. Now, her daughter Rocio’s famous mole sauces, which are included in many of her restaurant’s dishes, are also widely praised. Rocio’s mole negro oaxaqueno won an award presented by food critic Jonathan Gold for being the best mole in Los Angeles. Menu highlights include the mole sampler with cactus tortillas and for dessert, Diosa del Universo, or Goddess of the Universe — fried plantains topped with a tequila sweet cream and broiled sesame seeds.
#46 Mezcalería Oaxaca, Seattle
The Dominguez family runs two of Seattle’s best Mexican restaurants, La Carta de Oaxaca and Mezcalería Oaxaca. At the latter, try the fried-to-order tortilla chips with guacamole or refried pinto beans, the banana-leaf-wrapped chicken, or the 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.
#45 Mi Tierra Cafe y Panadería, San Antonio
No conversation about Mexican cuisine in San Antonio is complete without a mention of Mi Tierra, in business since 1941. While it is the gold standard for Tex-Mex, its traditional Mexican fare is outstanding too. Don’t miss the cabrito or the menudo, a tripe soup that’s the ultimate hangover-buster. Make sure you don’t leave without stocking up on traditional pan dulce, or sweet Mexican bread, either.
#44 Tehuitzingo, New York
Yelp / Kenny C
This taquería prides itself on offering healthy and fresh Mexican sandwiches, burritos, quesadillas, tacos, and more. Fajitas, nachos, huaraches, soups, and breakfast items like eggs with chorizo or chilaquiles also make an appearance on the menu. We have our eye on the breakfast burrito, made with rice, beans, guacamole, scrambled eggs, and sour cream. Can you say Sunday brunch?
#43 La Super-Rica Taquería, Santa Barbara
Yelp / Mary O
It’s not much to look at — just a small, one-story white shack with turquoise trim, on a corner with palm tree fronds setting the scene behind it — but this place has the kind of reputation that draws a crowd. The late culinary star Julia Child, who divided her time between Cambridge, Mass., and Santa Barbara, mentioned La Super Rica Taquería on Good Morning America as her favorite taquería. Some standouts: the Frijol Super-Rica (a bowl of pintos with chiles, bacon, and chorizo); Super-Rica Especial (pork with pasilla chiles); and the tacos de adobado.
#42 Talavera, Coral Gables, Fla.
Chef Oscar del Rivero oversees one of Florida’s best Mexican restaurants, 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 with mild guajillo chile rub) a different pozole every Thursday, and a traditional Caesar salad said to follow the original recipe from Tijuana.
#41 Sanchez Taquería, Tigard, Ore.
Yelp / J D S
Portland doesn’t suffer from a lack of good Mexican food, but for a real taquería experience, you’ll want to head out of the city on 99W, and stop in at Sanchez Taqueria, a roadside institution since 1999 that declares: “We’re not fancy, we’re delicious!” The house specialty is chavindecas — a hard-to-find regional dish from small towns near Mexico City — basically quesadilla-like sandwiches made with fresh corn tortillas layered with beans, meat, crema, cabbage, onion, cilantro, avocado, and cotija.
#40 El Sarape, Braintree, Mass.
Yelp / Miyuki A
While Boston isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of great Mexican food, El Sarape has been serving first-rate food with from-scratch sauces in its cozy environs since it opened in Braintree in 1988. Highlights include carnitas, grilled pork tenderloin, enchiladas verdes, and a 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.
#39 Cemitas Puebla, Chicago
Fresh ingredients and vibrant flavors drive the menu at Cemitas Puebla. Ingredients the establishment is proud of include adobo chile peppers, avocados, papalo greens, and hand-pulled Oaxacan cheese. Types of cemitas — torta-like sandwiches on soft rolls — include chicken, ham, breaded pork loin, and vegetable. The menu also offers options like tacos, chalupas, and ceviche.
#38 The Black Ant, New York
The Black Ant takes traditional Mexican cuisine and turns it on its head, with an inventive spin on every dish. Try the guacamole with black ant salt, the enchapulinados of grasshopper-crusted shrimp, or the crispy duck dumplings with mole negro and plantains. You can’t go wrong with a menu so unique, and the handcrafted cocktails are also high-quality.
#37 Flor del Rio, Los Angeles
Yelp / Pancho V
There is no menu at this neighborhood classic. The restaurant is known for one thing, and one thing only: birria de chivito Zacatecas-style. Esteemed food critic Jonathan Gold put it best when he described the dish in LA Weekly as “young goat roasted and stewed and simmered until it is an animal transformed, a soft, gelatinous sigh drawn from the carcass of a tough-minded bully, an etude in the keys of chile, strong meat, and clove.”
#36 Elote Café, Sedona
Yelp / Casey H
Chef Jeff Smedstad traveled through Mexico for over 15 years and put his experiences into this café, which makes use of local products and ingredients like Black Mesa goat cheese and produce from the Sedona and Verde Valley areas. Menu highlights include smoked chicken enchiladas, with house-smoked organic free-range chicken, salsa verde, and chipotle crema; roasted squash chile relleno with seasoned butternut squash, corn, Jack cheese, mole verde, and pepita crema; and smoked pork cheeks, with cascabel chile sauce, buttermilk cumin drizzle, and “grandma’s corn cake.” Count us in.
#35 Nopalito, San Francisco
Nopalito calls itself a vibrant neighborhood Mexican kitchen, and we couldn’t agree more. Sustainable, local, and organic ingredients are a must for Nopalito, which serves lunch and dinner seven days a week. Options include the Quesadilla con Repollitos de Bruselas, a corn tortilla with ingredients like sautéed Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, and Jack cheese; and Carne Asada con Nopales, a grilled marinated sirloin steak combined with house-made red chorizo, refried black beans, grilled cactus, and salsa cascabel.
#34 Toloache, New York City
Owner and chef Julian Medina has over 15 years of experience in creating refined Latin cuisine, and his restaurant reflects that — think menu options like seared sea scallops with quinoa risotto, porcini mushroom, and huitlacoche butter. The menu also offers guacamole, ceviche, tacos, and many main course options.
#33 Taquería del Sol, Atlanta
Yelp / Ryan P
This fast-casual Mexican restaurant, which opened in 2000, serves its patrons some of the best Southern, Mexican, and Southwestern dishes around. The main goal of the restaurant is to provide quality ingredients at fast-food price points. For starters, the salsa trio is a fan favorite, while dishes like Sloppy José (sloppy joe meat, jalapeños, Cheddar cheese, and Fritos) and The Bob (fried shrimp, crayfish, mayonnaise, and pickled jalapeños) are often found on the weekly specials list.
#32 Tortillería Nixtamal, Queens, N.Y.
Yelp / Chris K
Tortillería Nixtamal in Queens makes a strong argument against those who claim there is no "authentic" Mexican food in New York. Partner Fernando Ruiz’s restaurant sources produce from Mexico, doesn’t overcomplicate toppings beyond cilantro and onions, serves homemade salsas, and makes its own tortillas from nixtamal (dried corn soaked in lime solution) ground on machinery hecho en Mexico.
#31 Jacala, San Antonio
Yelp / Noelle D
Rudolph and Adele Quinones began Jacala in the aftermath of World War II. The restaurant began as a small 16-seat shop that grew large and successful due to its fabulous cuisine. Today, a second generation of Quinones carries on the tradition of their parents. The menu showcases items like chalupas with chicken, guacamole, or beans and cheese; flautas; fish tacos; and cheese enchiladas. Patrons can also order Jacala’s tamales by the dozen for parties or take-out orders.
#30 El Parian, Los Angeles
Yelp / Brenda D
L.A.’s El Parian is known for as an outstanding birria restaurant with Guadalajara and Jalisco influences. The corn tortillas are handmade every day in-house. The birria del chivo, or goat soup, is slow-cooked in the oven, smothered in chiles and garlic, and basted with the pan juices. Regulars also enjoy the carne asada plate where the marinated strip steak is cooked on the char-broiler to order and served with beans, rice, and pico de gallo.
#29 Tacomiendo, Los Angeles
Yelp / Jeff B
Ismael and Yolanda Diego opened Tacomiendo in Culver City in February of 2000 to focus on healthy Mexican cuisine. The menu offers a combination of traditional Mexican and American dishes. Mexican favorites include menudo, birria de chivo, and mole. Menu items are made with extra lean steak and pork and skinless chicken breast, and cooked in 100 percent cholesterol-free canola oil.
#28 Super Taquería, Durham, N.C.
Yelp / Young B
This hyper-local Mexican restaurant 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 patrons, as is the ceviche.
#27 El Molino Central, Sonoma, Calif.
El Molino Central serves up specialty items like mole enchiladas with a thick, flavorful mole sauce and jicama salad with radishes and mandarin oranges. The tamales are something special as well, as the restaurant uses organic corn and nixtamalizes its own masa. For breakfast, the must-try dish is the guajillo chile qhilaquiles, scrambled eggs and house-made tortilla chips smothered in an aromatic roasted tomato and chipotle salsa topped with fresh chunks of avocado.
#26 Babita, San Gabriel, Calif.
Yelp / Lynn N
Chef Roberto Berrelleza, at the helm here, specializes in gourmet Mexican cuisine of the kind found in Mexico City. Cooking every dish himself, he brilliantly mixes traditional dishes such as chiles en nogada and lamb shank mixiote with innovative cuisine such as his shrimp topolobampo. The chicken and shrimp Elba, sautéed in tequila with banana chipotle sauce over chayote gratin, is one of his memorable creations.
#25 Distrito, Philadelphia
Food Network’s Chicago-born Ecuadorian Iron Chef Jose Garces serves nachos, ceviches, huaraches, tamales, enchiladas, and moles here 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.
#24 Carnitas Uruapan, Chicago
“El Guero” Carbajal opened the original branch of this restaurant in 1975 to showcase the carnitas he enjoyed growing up in his hometown of Uruapan, in the state of Michoacán. Along with carnitas, from his family’s recipe, Carbajal’s menu includes tacos dorados de papa, or crispy tacos with a potato filling; chicharrones, or crispy pork skin cracklings; and menudo, or spicy tripe stew with cilantro, red pepper, oregano, onion, and lime.
#23 Birriería Zaragoza, Chicago
Yelp / Tony H
Juan Zaragoza is at the helm of Birrería Zaragoza in Chicago. The restaurant is famous for its birria tatemada (roasted goat in ancho mole served with handmade tortillas). Birria is a regional Jalisciense alternative to the more common barbacoa, meat traditionally slow-cooked in a pit. The delicious goat dish is then topped with consommé and garnished with salsa, onions, cilantro, and lime. The dish has gained such notoriety that it has attracted the likes of many food critics and even television personality Andrew Zimmern.
#22 Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana, Memphis
Yelp / Jeffrey A
Jose “Pepe” Magallanes opened Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana 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 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 with whole orange, bay leaf, jalapeño, lime, and allspice.
#21 El Huarache Azteca, Highland Park, Calif.
Yelp / Chia C
El Huarache Azteca, regarded as one of the best Mexican restaurants in LA, is famous for its breakfasts, showcasing items like huevos rancheros and chilaquiles, but it also does an excellent job with its mole verde and mole rojo, as well as its fajitas and namesake huraches.
#20 El Modelo, Albuquerque
Yelp / Michael W
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 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.
#19 Changos Taquería, Austin
Changos Taquería is dedicated to making dishes using the finest quality products with all-natural meats and local Texas ingredients. It also offers different variations of dishes such as the Baja-style fish tacos. The enslada picada is served with chopped lettuce, roasted poblano and red peppers, tomatillo, avocado, red onion, and lemon vinaigrette and can be topped with chicken or shrimp. Another crowd favorite is the huevos rancheros, on the breakfast menu.
#18 Los Tacos No. 1, New York
Three close friends from Brawley, California, and Tijuana opened Los Tacos No. 1 to bring the truly authentic Mexican tacos to those living on the East Coast, and they succeeded with flying colors. The menu was crafted entirely from family recipes and offers a variety of tacos, quesadillas, and tostadas. Diners can choose from a variety of fillings such as carne asada , pollo asado, and nopal (grilled cactus) to incorporate into any taco or tostada. Nopales can be served as a plate or added to a helping of meat as well.
#17 Fonda San Miguel, Austin
Even though Austin has a serious food reputation, its residents can’t count that many Mexican joints that stand up as the best in the state, or the country. Fonda San Miguel, while now a bit kitschy (it was founded in 1975), does fit the bill, and it anchors the city as its premier Mexican restaurant institution. Opt for the mole poblano or cochinita pibil, and remember, there’s no charge for handmade corn and flour tortillas with entrées. Bring your friends — tables seat up to 20.
#16 Las Cuatro Milpas, San Diego
Yelp / Kookie D
San Diegans know that Southern California can claim some of America’s best Mexican food, and Las Cuatro Milpas is a great place to experience it for yourself. Yes, there’s a line. Yes, there’s cafeteria-style service. So what? It’s reasonably priced, the tamales are legendary, and the tortillas fresh. They’re made today as the staff here has always done — before it was cool.
#15 Bonito Michoacan, Las Vegas
Yelp / Eric S
It may not have the flash of Agave with its pink neon and dramatic décor, or the glitz of Diego Mexican Cuisine in the MGM Grand, but Bonito Michoacan is one of 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.
#14 La Casita Mexicana, Bell, Calif.
Yelp / Yvette T
Chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu already had the distinction of running one of Los Angeles’ most essential Mexican restaurants, Flautas, before they moved into a neighboring space that allowed them to considerably expand beyond the moles, chilaquiles, enmoladas, and chiles en nogada that made them so popular. The expanded menu at La Casita Mexicana includes bone marrow in adobo and blackberry mole, and the wine list includes an exploration of Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe.
#13 Barrio Café, Phoenix
Yelp / Jennifer S
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.
#12 Hugo's Regional Mexican Cuisine, Houston
Yelp / Kevin L
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, a finalist for the 2013 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, or “tablecloth stainer,” a sweet mole-stewed pork and chicken dish.
#11 Pinche Taquería, Denver
Yelp / Melissa C
This Denver taco spot’s name isn’t fit for translation — just think of what you say when you’re moved to be either exceptionally mad or really happy, and you’ll get the idea. You’re likely to be the latter when you visit chef Kevin Morrison’s taquería. Originally a taco truck, it 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 maïz? There are also chipotle-and-beer-battered fish tacos and citrus grilled shrimp.
#10 Guisados, Los Angeles
With two 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.
#9 Chichen Itza, Los Angeles
Yelp / Viet N
This family-run business showcases cuisine from the Mexican state of Yucatán, at the far southeastern tip 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), brought to the region by Lebanese immigrants. The tacos de chicharrón (friend pork crackling with pico de gallo and sliced avocado) are wonderful. The restaurant also serves a stellar version of the traditional rice-based Mexican drink horchata.
#8 La Taquería, San Francisco
“The best tacos and burritos in the whole world,” declares the neon sign outside the white Mission-style arches. Bold words? As the expression goes, “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.” La Taquería has won more than its fair share of converts with its chorizo, lengua, and carnitas tacos as well as rice-free burritos, and its carnitas taco is a must-try. Come to the Mission District on an empty stomach, and after eating here, you can size up the competition at El Farolito and Taquería Los Coyotes, popular for its micheladas.
#7 Oyamel, Washington
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 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.
#6 Cala, San Francisco
Yelp / Cherylynn N
Gabriela Cámara, whose seafood-focused Contramar and Baja-influenced surf-and-turf place MeroToro are among Mexico City's best modern restaurants, opened this buzzy, skylit establishment in Hayes Valley last September, and her blend of tradition and innovation has quickly propelled her into stardom in this food-conscious city. Using ingredients we don't usually think of as "Mexican," but imbuing her creations with flavors that couldn't be anything else, she redefines her country's cuisine in a way that is no less appealing than what Enrique Olvera does at his Cosme (see No. 1), though it's slightly more familiar in basic form. The menu changes often, but expect dishes like nettle and cheese quesadillas, yellowfin tuna ceviche with kohlrabi and cilantro, cod in red chile adobo with collard greens, and Cámara's famous butterflied whole fish, wood-roasted, served with two salsas. The small wine list regrettably contains nothing from Mexico, but offers some good choices; much of the clientele seems to be drinking palomas or mezcal margaritas anyway.
#5 Lotería Grill, Los Angeles
Restaurateur Jimmy Shaw, who was born and raised in Mexico City, opened his first Lotería Grill in 2002 as a way of showcasing traditional Mexican cuisine from his childhood. Today, there are six locations throughout Los Angeles that keep locals and visitors coming back for more. The chicharrón 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).
#4 La Condesa, Austin
La Condesa does it all. From inventive guacamole (with chipotle purée and toasted almonds, for example) to a plethora of ceviches, the restaurant offers traditional Mexican dishes with new-age flair. The cocktail list is quite extensive, with specialties like the alma blanca made with habanero-infused tequila, ginger liqueur, agave nectar, pineapple juice, fresh corn, hoja de hierba santa, and hibiscus-rose-infused salt rim. But don’t ignore its stellar tequila and mescal menus that pair perfectly with specialty menu items like the mero de ajo negro, a pan-roasted grouper dish accompanied with glazed potato, black garlic purée, chayote slaw, and chile de árbol vinaigrette.
#3 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, at least according to respected 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.
#2 Topolobampo, Chicago
Since hosting his 26-part PBS series Cooking Mexican in the late ’70s, Oklahoma-born chef Rick Bayless has been the preeminent champion of Mexican cuisine in America. He has even won the approval of the Mexican government — in 2012, he was named to the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest distinction awarded to foreigners. At this slightly fancier and more ambitious next-door cousin of his popular and groundbreaking Frontera Grill, Bayless serves irresistible Mexican fare of a kind not otherwise found outside some of the better restaurants of Mexico itself, if even there. Red snapper in "red ceviche" (cured with crimson hibiscus), frogs' leg tamal with cascabel chile, lamb in ancho-tamarind sauce, and cajeta crêpes with chocolate and plantains are among vividly flavored attractions in this colorful, well-run dining room.
#1 Cosme, New York
It could be argued that Cosme, the hit Gramercy Park establishment opened late 2014 by Enrique Olvera, chef–proprietor of Mexico City's top-rated Pujol, is not so much the best Mexican restaurant in America as it is the best restaurant that's Mexican. This warm but sparsely furnished hotspot, that is, 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 (including at some of the other places on this list). 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 (ling) instead of pork al pastor, esquites (usually a sautéed corn street snack) made with spelt and castelrosso radicchio, and crispy octopus with potatoes pickled in hazelnut mole. And on no account miss the duck carnitas, a menu staple, rich and crisp and meltingly tender, and large enough for three or four to share. Don't miss the extensive mezcal selection, either; there's plenty of tequila here, but a shot of something like the Del Maguey Minero or Fidencio Tobalá, served in a glass rimmed with worm salt, with an orange slice on the side, will make you forget about that margarita.