By now you've got more than enough evidence to demonstrate how strong Chicago's taco scene is. One of the benefits of having that growing circuit is the constant addition of great new Mexican restaurants to the area. Whether you need a cheap lunch or a special night out, these are the finest Mexican spots in town.
The Best Mexican Restaurants in Chicago
There are lots of Mexican seafood restaurants in the city but none are as popular as this. Folks from all walks of life have lined up for big plates of shrimps and crab legs to go with whatever booze they brought with.
Owner Alfonso Sotelo came to Pilsen from Xoco where he learned under Chef Rick Bayless. So when you eat here you get a little bit of the mom and pop feel as many of the recipes are longtime family classics. But you also get some of the stuff one can only learn by training under a chef such as Bayless. cochinita pibil, tamales, and tortas that all look as good as they taste.
Chicago has produced many a Taco King, men who started off with one location only to grow to multiple spots scattered throughout the city. The couple behind Guapo Taco is next in line to the throne. Basket Tacos -- steamed tacos popular all over Mexico -- are the star here, and the supporting role is played by some of the best tamales in the city. Add in aguas frescas for refreshments and that's all the menu you need.
To visit the city's best overall taqueria one must venture over to Little Village (of course). Located at 25th and Whipple, away from the hustle and bustle of 26th St, this used to be one of the city's best hidden gems. Nowadays any taco lover worth his/her weight in carnitas has been. If you haven't you're missing out on the closest thing Chicago has to an authentic Mexico City taco stand.
Chicago's large population from the Mexican state of Michoacán makes for lots of carnitas around town. None of them are as special as this longtime Pilsen business that only sells pork. You can get it by the pound or in a taco, either way it's just well-executed, succulent fried pig.
Not just one of the city's best Mexican restaurants but one of its best places to eat period. The Zaragoza family has built up a loyal following for their braised goat. If it's good enough for Andrew Zimmern it's good enough for you.
A bit of a sleeper to many, this place has put out consistently good food since opening in 2008. It’s definitely a date night-type place but their BYO policy allows you to go all-in on the Pan-Mexican menu with must-try Ensenada-style fish tacos.
The new Baja inspired eatery from Rick Bayless might be his best work yet. Taking his turn at the open fire cooking trend has made the fish-heavy menu one of the most sought out in town. Anything on the menu that's grilled over the hearth is worth getting, but start out with an order of sushi inspired by the Japanese who moved to Baja in the 1920s.
Sundays at Maxwell are a staple for many local Mexican families and also those of us that can't get enough of the street food. Hitting the market is about as close to transporting directly to Mexico as you can get. Popular stands include the tacos at Rubi’s and whoever is making enchiladas on that day.
Another group of Bayless proteges (the man is everywhere!). The couple behind this Logan Square hotspot took use of everything they learned with Rick and combined that with their own visions. The end result is one of the best restaurants to have opened in 2016.
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1. Maxwell Street Market800 S Desplaines St, Chicago
2. Birrieria Zaragoza4852 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago
3. Carnitas Uruapan1725 W 18th St, Chicago
4. Dos Urban Cantina2829 W Armitage Ave, Chicago
5. 5 Rabanitos1758 W 18th St, Chicago
6. La Chaparrita Taqueria2500 S Whipple St, Chicago
7. Guapo Taco2430 W 47th St, Chicago
8. Leña Brava900 W Randolph St, Chicago
9. Mixteco Grill1601 W Montrose Ave, Chicago
10. Restaurant Veneno De Nayarit1024 N Ashland Ave, Chicago
It's a Chicago tradition for many to head to this open air market featuring a whole bunch of bargains. But the real reason to go is the food that you get to snack on from a myriad of different vendors.
This cozy counter-serve spot on the South Side is owned by a friendly family who bring Chicago a beloved regional specialty from Jalisco, Mexico: spicy, braised goat, or "birria." The grass-fed, locally sourced goat is the one and only dish you'll find in this unfussy, orange-accented space -- served in tacos, in quesadillas, and by-the-pound so you can take the tender, piquant meat with you. The move is to order the birria tatemada, which places the goat on chewy, freshly made tortillas. On the side, go for the fire-roasted salsa presented hot inside a stone bowl.
You can find carnitas at almost every Mexican supermarket and taqueria in town, but when you want the real thing, head over to Pilsen and enjoying them at this family-owned spot that has basically nothing else on their menu.
This Mexican-inspired eatery surprises with dishes like butter chayote with avocado, serrano chile, and peanut mole, sea urchin with tomatillo & green apple salsa and chicharron cream, and more.
Helmed by chef Alfonso Sotelo, this festively colored eatery serves time-honored Mexican fare like ceviche verde, enchiladas, tortas, tamales, and tacos. The sheer speed of the kitchen at 5 Rabanitos makes it a popular lunch destination, aided by the affordable price point and a slew of vegetarian options. It's BYOB, but don't fret -- there's a liquor store just across the street.
Make a visit to Little Village to check out this corner grocery which serves some seriously bomb tacos and tortas. The fresh juice drinks are also on point.
Tacos de canasta, or basket tacos, which are steamed and popular all over Mexico, are the name of the game at this unassuming Brighton Park joint. They come served in a rustic tray with salsas and sides, which matches the few wooden picnic tables they use for seating -- and that are usually full. Once you taste the tacos stuffed with ingredients like refried beans, chicharron prensado, and pierna de puerco, you'll understand why. Guapo's also got some of the best tamales in the city, which you'll want to cut with a refreshing agua fresca.
Rick Bayless' West Loop Mexican restaurant takes a cue from Baja California with its "fire and ice" theme menu. The fire refers to Leña Brava's open hearth and wood-burning oven, where everything from octopus and scallops to cauliflower and braised short rib are charred to smoky perfection. The ice section features raw bar options like oysters, uni, and ceviche. Mezcal and tequila cocktails are the heart of the cocktail program. The 75-seat restaurant is right next door to Bayless' accompanying concept, Cruz Blanca Cerveceria brewery.
Mixteco Grill is all about flair, from the walls' warm golden tones to the Oaxacan-inspired dishes. Don't expect anything less from the Lakeview Mexican spot, which may have you turning colors with its habanero salsa.
You won't find any Mexican seafood restaurant in Chicago that's as popular as this buzzy, colorful spot in Ukrainian Village. Inside its cozy space with teal-painted walls and kitschy nautical decor, plates of shrimp, octopus, and crab legs are being served the size of a small child. Avoid a food coma and share a platter (small or large) with friends, like the Alegria's Mix, which contains octopus, shrimp, oysters, scallops, crab, clams and fish ceviche. The only cocktails you'll find on the menu here are shrimp -- this joint is BYOB.