Courtesy of Cosme
Food & Drink

The 31 Best Mexican Restaurants in America

Updated On 10/06/2017 at 05:22PM EST
Courtesy of Avila's

Avila's Mexican Food

El Paso, Texas

If you want a taste of old El Paso -- the border city, not the stuff stocking supermarkets’ “Hispanic aisle” -- there’s only one place to go: Avila’s. The 65-year-old multigenerational family-run restaurant could easily be frozen in a library’s image archive with accompanying pictures of the combo platters and Texas border dishes that rule El Paso. Try the hunk-a-hunk hamburger steak blanketed in Hatch chiles and melted white cheese. Even better, attempt to best the twin molten cheese-stuffed chile rellenos. Go for other local staples like burritos or the one-of-everything Avila’s Super Combination at a the ridiculous (in a good way) bargain of $12.99. -- Jose Ralat

Barrio Cafe

Barrio Café

Phoenix, Arizona

Since 2002, Silvana Salcido Esparza's take on regional Mexican cuisine has wowed patrons even more than the striking graffiti murals bedecking the exterior. The accolades started rolling in pretty much immediately, including multiple James Beard nominations. The cochinita pibil, slow roasted overnight wrapped in a banana leaf with sour orange and achiote, is rightfully Barrio's calling card, but you'd be well advised to come hungry enough to explore more of the menu like the also heralded chiles en nogada -- roasted poblano stuffed with a mixture of chicken, apple, pear, dried apricot and pecan before being covered in almond cream sauce and topped with a Mexican flag-channeling trio of cilantro, queso fresco, and pomegranate seeds. -- Matt Lynch

Courtesy of B.S. Taqueria

BS Taqueria/Broken Spanish

Los Angeles, California

As brilliant as BS Taqueria’s design palate is, Broken Spanish -- the refined sister restaurant to the abbreviated taco shop -- has a sleek look with rustic touches that sets the backdrop for standout creations like squid packed with a colorful mix of brown rice, green chorizo, fava leaves and ravigote, an herbaceous, zinging sauce. The pairing of king oyster mushrooms and lambs neck bound by queso Oaxaca (think a milkier mozzarella) is an absolute must. -- JR

Courtesy of Cala

Cala

San Francisco, California

Gabriela Cámara’s guisado-style taqueria by day, Mexican-style seafood restaurant by night is one of the freshest additions to the Mexican food scene in years. At Cala, taco options -- the homey, slow-cooked variety known as guisados -- and the seasonal, market-driven seafood dishes change daily. Quality, though, is consistent. That goes from the tostadas topped with whole shrimp on a bed of smashed avocado to the toast capped with mussels, carnitas and shaved egg. -- JR

La Veinte

Cantina La Viente

Miami, Florida

The first north-of-the-border outpost from one of Mexico's most prominent hospitality groups, Cantina La Viente's attentive servers clad in blindingly bright pink bowties would really stand out if they weren't competing with an incredibly opulent interior AND a view of the water. And that's all before the food even arrives. Tortillas, made in-house and delicately browned on a rotating plancha, are served alongside proteins like carnitas de pulpo (octopus with a lime-serrano-cilantro sauce) and chamorro (confit pork shank) for a make-your own taco feast. Goat-cheese-stuffed fried chipotles will make you feel deep regret for every jalapeño popper you've ever eaten. But that regret will quickly turn to a desire to keep working your way through the menu. -- ML

Courtesy of Carnitas Urupan

Carnitas Uruapan

Chicago, Illinois

In case the varying styles of animated swine decking the walls didn't clue you in, you're about to get down on some pork. "How many pounds of pork would you like?" is a glorious question in any language, and here you can quickly find yourself working through a platter of delightfully tender shoulder, belly, ribs -- you basically can't make a wrong call on a pig part, as they've been turning out perfectly cooked whole hog carnitas for more than 40 years. And if you were recently told to cut back on the pork intake for medical reasons, you can always opt for a carnitas taco. But get some chicharrones to go, too. Just don't tell the doctor. -- ML

Courtesy of Casa Enrique

Casa Enrique

Long Island City, New York

Since opening in 2012, Casa Enrique has turned Long Island City into an essential destination for New Yorkers seeking the best Mexican cuisine the city has to offer -- just look at the run of Michelin stars they've put up since 2014. Casa Enrique easily represents one of the best bargains among New York's Michelin set, and the conversation about what that means in terms of which cuisines Americans are willing to pay the most for and why merits far too much discussion to be dealt with here. Actually, there's barely space to discuss the food, between the gorgeous spicy and citrusy lime-cured ceviche, the lengua tacos that will turn even the most ardently offal-averse into a believer, the chicken smothered in nutty, complex mole de piaxtla -- yeah this could go on a while. Just make your way to Long Island City. -- ML

Courtesy of Coni' Seafood

Coni'Seafood

Inglewood, California

A taste of western Mexico coastal state Nayarit in Los Angeles, Coni’Seafood is a legendary restaurant known for its ceviches and shrimp dishes. Whole-head shrimp aguachile is a fiery dish cooled slightly by sliced cucumbers. Simple but by no means pedestrian grilled or fried whole fish is a recipe for the remarkable. The large menu is in stark contrast to the small but upmarket trappings, including the dark wood and dark concrete and fancy chairs. The service is equally remarkable. The parking, not so much. The front lot is eternally full. But stick to it and find some street parking -- it's worth the effort. -- JR

Courtesy of Cosme

Cosme

New York, New York

Enrique Olvera -- the chef who revolutionized fine dining in Mexico City -- opened his first stateside restaurant, the elegantly modern Cosme, in New York in 2014. Reservations were locked up for months before folks could actually spoon into a corn mousse dessert restrained only by a snappy corn meringue or pony up for the family-style duck carnitas. With Daniela Soto-Innes helming the ship, the kitchen serves up delights like a broccoli tamal with goat ricotta, arugula and sizzling wasabi and an al pastor dish that replaces the traditional pork with thin slices of cobia topped with paper-thin wheels of chile and onion ribbons. -- JR

Del Fuego Taqueria

Del Fuego Taqueria

New Orleans, Louisiana

Hurricane Katrina obviously forever altered the trajectory of New Orleans' food scene, and, especially in the last five years, one of the changes that's taken hold in its wake has been a huge upsurge in taco trucks, taquerias and Mexican restaurants in general all over the city of po-boys and second lines. Among the standouts is Del Fuego Taqueria, which contrary to its name peddles more than tacos. The narrow restaurant with a tight front patio on Magazine Street does indeed serve killer tacos, but the seared gulf fish with peppy green mole and the intimidatingly messy but glorious Sonoran hot dog leave equally lasting impressions. -- ML

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

El Atoradero

Brooklyn, New York

Whoever said New York didn’t have great Mexican food at moderate price points never bothered looking. If they had, they would’ve found this Brooklyn outpost of a formerly Bronx-dwelling Mexican restaurant. Here, the tortillas come fresh and inky blue. They’re cut and fried for the nachos, which themselves are an intimidating with a lattice of crema and guacamole hillock (best to share them). Reflecting the chef’s heritage and the dominant immigrant population, the menu skews toward the cuisine of Puebla state. There are specials like the sopa de poblana, a vegetable soup with cut corn cob, bantam sliced mushrooms, and a striking, red chili floating in the center. Also stunning are meatballs the size of billiards balls swimming in a chipotle sauce. -- JR

El Charro

El Charro Cafe

Tucson, Arizona

The same family has run El Charro since 1922, and no family in America can claim to have run a Mexican restaurant for longer. The Tucson landmark is frequently noted for its (occasionally disputed) claim to have invented the chimichanga, but hey, how many places have even been around long enough for such a claim to be plausible? While said fried burritos pack enough flavor that it's wholly believable this could be the OG, the realest house specialty is the carne seca, which is dried daily on top of the restaurant before being shredded, grilled up with some peppers, tomatoes and onions, and served on a platter of happiness with rice, beans and cactus. -- ML

El Chingon

El Chingon

Denver, Colorado

After developing a loyal following at a tightly packed, minimally seated strip mall outpost, El Chingon moved onto bigger and fancier spaces in 2013 (like, converted old house and cocktail program fancy), striking the delicate balance of retaining the generations-old recipes that attracted the customer base to begin with while also pushing forward in some exciting new directions. Said new directions manifest themselves most clearly at dinner with options like butternut squash sopas with coriander crema and guajillos, or seared duck breast with cilantro rice and duck fat mole. Then again, you might be just as happy at dinner with their chile rellenos. Some classics aren't to be messed with. -- ML

El Naranjo

El Naranjo

Austin, Texas

Starting with the most important of ingredients -- heirloom, non-GMO corn -- Austin’s El Naranjo brings modern upscale Mexican food into an otherwise Tex-Mex dominated zone. Moles, Mexico’s mother sauces, are front and center, with options like a classic mole negro composed of more than 30 ingredients with the elusive, prized chilhuacle chile. The mole amarillo is delicate enough to pair with shrimp. Want more? Sign up for their occasional seven-day, six-night trips to Oaxaca. -- JR

Courtesy of Galaxy Taco

Galaxy Taco

La Jolla, California

The near constantly buzzing patio only adds to the mod Mexican feel to this two-year-old restaurant from Trey Foshee with executive chef Christine Rivera. Perhaps the most striking visual elements are classic Mexican movie posters and the dazzling mural of purple, red, yellow and orange heirloom corn. While the menu veers toward artistic license, including blue-corn biscuits and gravy topped with crumbled chorizo and earthy birria-steamed clams, familiarity abounds in comforting chicken enchiladas, a quesadilla with funky corn fungus huitlacoche and, oh yeah, tacos. They're right there in the name, after all. -- JR

Ki Mexico

Ki'Mexico

Shreveport, Louisiana

This family-run restaurant swings traditional and wild with no-fail mainstays from prepared-overnight Sunday barbacoa to gringas (a Mexico City taco of pork al pastor and melted white cheese on a flour tortilla), except at Ki’Mexico, you opt for the tofu gringa. The soy block is splotchy red from the same chili marinade applied to the pork and gets cradled in griddled, nearly burned cheese that pulls gently from the flour tortilla. To freshen up go for a seasonal salad, like shrimp tucked into a bramble of baby spinach finished with sliced strawberries. -- JR

La Choza

La Choza

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Spanish for “shed” -- a nod to its iconic sister restaurant in Santa Fe Plaza, The Shed -- adobe-style La Choza specializes in the New Mexican take on Mexican cuisine. There are homey enchiladas, burritos, chile rellenos, carne adovada, and the like, served with whole pinto beans and hominy. A deluge of green or red chilies can (and should!) be applied to practically any dish, and if you refuse to choose a camp you can always give yourself the gift of Christmas-style. -- JR

Maciel's

Maciel's Tortas y Tacos

Memphis, Tennessee

It may garner plenty of well-deserved praise for its barbecue, but Memphis also happens to be one of America’s overlooked cities for standout Mexican food, and perhaps no Mexican restaurant is more popular and more deserving of said popularity than tight diner-type Maciel’s Tortas y Tacos in the city’s downtown. Here, lunch requires a short wait in line for hearty four-handed tortas like the "all the meats" Cubana with pork, ham, and breaded chicken plus all the trimmings, as well as crispy tacos enveloped in freshly fried shells. -- ML

Mezcaleria Oaxaca

Mezcaleria Oaxaca

Seattle, Washington

Sure, Seattle first fell for the Perez family's mole negro at La Carta de Oaxaca (where it's still excellent), but isn't mole negro, like so many things in life, that much better when there is even more mezcal involved? Then again, that mole doesn't really need much help, whether it's coming to you via a banana leaf-wrapped tamale or spooned onto succulent chicken that you'll self-deliver via a stack of tortillas. Soul-satisfying pozole also fares perfectly well without any liquid enhancement, but that shouldn't stop you from knocking back a flight. It's in the name. You kind of have to. -- ML

Courtesy of Mezcalero

Mezcalero

Washington, DC

Opened by brother-sister team Alfredo and Jessica Solis, who first set about elevating DC's sometimes maligned Mexican food scene in 2014 with the opening of El Sol, Mezcalero debuted earlier this year to much fanfare. Channeling their native Mexico City in a menu heavily influenced by street food classics, they're painstakingly stacking towers of thinly sliced pork for properly crisped-up, pineapple-enhanced al pastor. They're slow-cooking goat overnight for the barbacoa. They're baking bread from their tortas in-house, and using said bread to make their the croutons for their jalapeño-kissed caesar salad -- lest you forget that the steakhouse staple is yet another in the litany of foods for which America can thank Mexico. Speaking of foods you should be thankful for, the queso fundido is an exercise in melted cheese perfection. -- ML

Mi Lindo Oaxaca

Mi Lindo Oaxaca

Dallas, Texas

Dallas’ only Oaxacan restaurant is also one of Dallas’ best restaurants, period. Where else does the staff hand-shell the cacao beans to make the chocolate that goes into a mole so balanced the kid-glove sweetness and spice ricochet off your tongue and the sides of your mouth before it touches down in the back of your throat as a slow, welcoming burn? It’s the reason people who know what's good in life flock to this strip mall Mexican restaurant with an awning that held a former establishment’s name for more than a year of its life. Don’t skip out on the roasted grasshopper-topped oval-shaped corn tortilla discs called memelitas. Also not to be skipped: Oaxaca’s iconic pizza-like blue-corn tlayudas. -- JR

Nopalito

Nopalito

San Francisco, California

Sourcing from the surrounding Bay Area, the original Nopalito (est. 2009) and its newer outpost (est. 2012) stay true to the ideal of regionality in Mexican food. Each location maintains its own menu, so the Zacatecas-style birria de res, a grass-fed beef stew dark with ancho chile and roasted tomatoes, and the mighty, sandal-shaped huarache con suadero could be available at one spot but not at the other. You’ll just have to try your luck. Either way, you won’t be gambling on experience or delectability. -- JR

Pollo Norte

Portland, Oregon

It took Pollo Norte all of about three months to be decreed one of the best take-out places in Portland, effectively silencing the cries of “there’s no good Mexican food here” from lazy California imports who seldom look beyond a taco truck for the good stuff. Now situated on Portland’s bustling Division Street, Pollo Norte takes the Kenny Rogers model and cranks it up. Here, glorious achiote- and lime-brined chickens are skewered on a spit and rotated on an imported Mexican rotisserie, where their skin crisps as the juices drop down into the slaw below. The impossibly juicy chicken is then served up with sides -- don’t sleep on the spicy frijoles charros with baked beans loaded with bacon and pork shoulder -- plus handmade tortillas and slaw, allowing you to manufacture your own tacos if you can resist just hoisting it on the bone and into your mouth. Or, to paraphrase The Gambler: You get to decide when to hold ‘the chicken, and when to fold it into tortillas. (Sorry about that one.) -- Andy Kryza

Courtesy of Jose Ralat

Ray's Drive Inn

San Antonio, Texas

As dusk settles on the Alamo City, pickup trucks pull into the covered parking spots at Ray’s Drive Inn. Motorists flash their truck’s lights for service. This is not a scene from a Tex-Mex version of American Graffiti, but rather a daily occurrence at this local institution where puffy tacos are king, but served alongside a feast of a family fish platter for 30 bucks, a carne guisada plate, and burgers aplenty. Not in a car in the restaurant’s lot? No worries. Inside among the clutter of Mexican arcana and religious icons is a 1926 Model T, next to which you can happily munch on your cash-only order. -- JR

Revolver Taco Lounge

Revolver Taco Lounge/Purépecha Room

Dallas, Texas

Revolver Taco Lounge is of three minds. First, there is the taqueria with several dishes on offer. Think: a curry-soaked frog legs and Thai basil taco, carnitas-style octopus with charred leeks, smoking ceviches and mad amounts of goat served at a common table overlooked by a mural by The Book of Life creator Jorge Gutierrez. Then there’s the Purepecha Room, Revolver’s reservation-only back space. Once past the Princess Leia standee sentinel, patrons experience a treasure in dining: an ever-changing tasting menu meant to evoke the kitchen of Regino Rojas’ mother Juanita. And Juanita is in the back kitchen, alongside Rojas’ aunt Teresa (the tortilla whisperer) and executive chef Hugo Galvan. One night, diners can be treated to a lacy corn and chayote soup with a dash of tableside corn husk embers or a delicately seared duck breast fanned along the rim of a plate of pipian (pumpkin seed mole) dotted with raspberries. Finally, there’s brunch, an all-you-can-eat buffet that regularly includes lobster for a flat 30 bucks. -- JR

Courtesy of Taco María

Taco María

Costa Mesa, California

When discussing Taco María it's obligatory to first get it out of the way that this is anything but a standard taco joint -- though if you head there at lunchtime and get yourself some tacos jardineros, filled with bright chorizo, shiitakes, crispy potatoes and queso fundido, you're likely to be pleased with your decision. Dinner, however, is not a time for tacos, but for chef Carlos Salgado's constantly evolving prix fixe whose elegant presentations and innovative flavors tip a hand to Salgado's prior stops in high-end kitchens like Coi and Commis before opening his taco truck, and then opening a perfect combination of the two. -- ML

Courtesy of Taqueria Del Sol

Taqueria del Sol

Atlanta, Georgia

The restaurant that virtually invented Southern US-Mexican food when it opened in 2000 has had lines from Day 1. It’s no wonder with options such as co-owner/executive chef Eddie Hernandez’s fried chicken and sloppy Joe tacos, blue cornmeal battered and fried fish given a poblano tartar sauce, and a jalapeño-infused meatloaf with a tomato-habanero sauce. The demand for Taqueria del Sol’s pioneering culinary hybridization continues: locations can be found across the northern reaches of Atlanta and in Nashville, with what we can only hope are more to come. -- JR

Courtesy of Topolobampo

Topolobampo

Chicago, Illinois

It's been 30 years since Rick Bayless first opened Frontera Grill just north of Chicago's Loop and began changing the way many Americans still confined to a Tex-Mex vernacular saw Mexican food, one plate at a time. Frontera's younger sibling (extremely close: the two restaurants share a building) Topolobampo, representing an even more culinarily ambitious expression of Bayless' encyclopedic zeal for the different regional cuisines of Mexico (he has the cookbook library to prove it). Considering Topolobampo was named America's Most Outstanding Restaurant at this year's James Beard awards, it doesn't appear any of the ambition or zeal has faded. -- ML

Vera's Backyard BBQ

Vera's Backyard Bar-B-Que

Brownsville, Texas

True, traditional South Texas barbacoa -- aka cow head cooked slowly in an earthen pit -- has largely disappeared in a commercial sense thanks to "health codes" and the like. That is, with the vitally important exception of what's happening at Vera’s Backyard Bar-B-Q in the Texas border city of Brownsville, where they've been at it so long that the business was basically grandfathered in. Armando Vera oversees the meticulous production of the aforementioned regional specialty. It can be ordered as cachete (beef cheek), lengua (beef tongue), paladar (palate), ojo (cow eye) and surtida (all the bits). Local, regular customers are crazy for ojo, as the delicacy (read: you should try it at least once) sells out early. The rest of the food is usually gone by noon. Get up and get you some beef. It’s what’s for breakfast. -- JR

Courtesy of Xochi

Xochi

Houston, Texas

Accomplished Houston chef Hugo Ortega's hotly anticipated latest endeavor was part of a flurry of restaurant openings that hit Houston earlier this year in a rush to open before the economic boom of Super Bowl LI. Let's just say things played out better for Ortega than they did for the Falcons. Heyo! But let's also say more. You can someone mitigate your indecisiveness with a tasting of four of seven standout mole dishes, alternately scooping options like shrimp in mole verde and crispy goat in a charred chilhuacle pepper mole with house-made tortillas. Then again, those seven don't include the lechon (slow cooked suckling pig). Nor does it include the memela, a delicate masa pancake topped with roasted pork rib, refritos, and queso fresco. Yeah, you're gonna have tough decisions no matter what. -- ML

Courtesy of Zacatecas

Zacatecas

Albuquerque, New Mexico

From decorated Albuquerque chef Mark Kiffin, Zacatecas is named for one of the central states in Mexico, where influences from different surrounding regions frequently intermingle. His taqueria definitely isn't afraid to explore with its tacos (which come wrapped in impossibly soft corn tortillas, four to an order), with selections like Mazatlan shrimp tacos, seared in molido chile and topped with Napa cabbage tossed in a bright vinaigrette. If you're not feeling tacos though (what's wrong with you), or if you've just finished all the tacos and are still hungry (better) you'll find creations like fried oyster tostadas and pasilla roasted mussels. Oh, and you'll also find one of the finest stockpiles of tequila you've ever encountered. -- ML

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