Beach-adjacent taco spot perfect for a quick pre- or post-surf bite
Azule is one of the latest restaurants to join Third Street Promenade’s The Gallery food hall. It’s got a tightly edited but creative menu with all of the essentials: roasted cauliflower al pastor, slow-braised barbacoa with queso fresco, and a delectable breakfast taco that consists of a fried egg, Oaxacan cheese, and roasted pork belly. And if you feel like adding a boozy element to your meal, there’s house michelada, sangria, and a neat cerveza selection, so you can stumble the rest of your way to the beach.
Torrance & Palms
Authentic Oaxacan food with a killer mezcal selection
Many of Madre’s traditional recipes have been passed down through the generations. Owner Ivan Vasquez’s mother still lives in Oaxaca, but you can taste her cooking in the restaurant’s rich moles, goat barbacoa, and tlayudas -- served with thick masa tortillas called memelas. To maintain the menu’s authenticity, Vasquez imports chiles, cheese, and spices from his native Oaxaca and tends to the restaurant’s extensive bar program, which boasts over 300 mezcals and tequilas. Hot tip: opt for one of the flights ranging from beginner to advanced.
Mexican-style BBQ next door to the revitalized LA River
Salazar is a former auto body shop transformed into a massive outdoor space, perched next to the LA River and filled with desert plants and a splashy technicolor bar. The sprawling place feels like a marriage between a funky Austin BBQ joint and a vibrant Mexico City restaurant, where Executive Chef Jonathan Aviles presides over an open kitchen and smoky mesquite grill, cooking meat, seafood, and veggies folded into homemade yellow corn and Sonoran-style flour tortillas. Pair all that with craft beer and cocktails (like boozy horchata), and you’ve got one of the Eastside’s coolest spots right now.
Urban taqueria cooking small but mighty tacos for the LBC
Located in a brand-spanking-new mall complex in Long Beach, Amorcito’s the first fast-casual concept from Chef Thomas Ortega -- who also helms critically acclaimed Amor Y Tacos and Playa Amor. Ortega’s known for innovating the contemporary pocho cuisine movement, a growing style of Mexican-American cooking in SoCal. Watch through a window as Amorcito’s designated tortilla-maker whips up fresh corn and flour tortillas daily, which are utilized in an array of meaty, spicy, flavorful tacos. Not in the mood for tacos? Other standouts include a hatch chile cheeseburger stuffed with grass-fed Angus beef and garlic aioli and loaded al pastor fries.
Hollywood & Sherman Oaks
Upbeat neighborhood cantina with a diverse menu and daily happy hour
With over 300 types of tequilas (they claim to have one of the largest tequila libraries in LA), Te’Kila boasts the sort of lively, fun, alcohol-fueled vibe that every restaurant on that busy stretch of Hollywood Boulevard should have. They’ve also got a Sherman Oaks location that shares its love of tequila and great bang-for-your-buck daily specials, like Margarita Mondays and Taco Tuesdays.
Rapidly expanding chain with a build-your-own take on modern Mexican fare
Think of Tocaya Organica as the low-maintenance sibling of its fancier sister restaurant in West Hollywood, Toca Madera. This rapidly expanding chain, which has several stunning-yet-unique outposts across LA, lets you customize your own bowls, wraps, burritos, or tacos with locally sourced, organic produce and fresh proteins -- and they’ll gladly accommodate vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free customers without sacrificing bold Mexican flavors. Some favorites include the pomegranate seed-studded guac served with paper-thin plantain chips, cotija cheese-sprinkled sweet potato bravas, and the turkey picante bowl with a hint of serrano pepper heat.
Day of the Dead-themed beachside spot filled with lively crowds
It’s easy to find standout Mexican food on the Eastside, but things become a little more challenging the closer you get to the ocean. Luckily, the South Bay has Ortega 120: a Oaxaca- and Mexico City-inspired eatery that’s been open for a decade. Though chef Thomas Ortega honed his culinary skills at Lucques, Spago, and Patina, he set an entirely different tone for his first restaurant (he’s since opened Playa Amor in Long Beach and Amor y Tacos in Cerritos). A whimsical Day of the Dead theme is present everywhere with colorful string lights, crosses, skeletons, and other tchotchkes on the walls, and the food is just as deliciously funky, with a nod to some sophisticated ingredients. His take on mac & cheese includes Oaxacan queso, bechamel, and charred jalapeño; gorditas burst with braised short ribs and salsa; and truffle-infused nachos that arrive with avocado puree.
Sleek, stylish space serving up contemporary Mexican with a twist
A handful of Mercados are scattered across LA, but the latest outpost recently opened in Pasadena. Owner Jesse Gomez has perfected his chain of cool, appealing neighborhood eateries hawking consistently good, modern Mexican food -- which includes lunch for the first time in Pasadena. A well-rounded meal here might include the Jidori fried chicken torta, Mexican kale salad with candied pepitas, and a carne asada plate. Bonus: They’ve also got a daily happy hour, with margaritas under $10 and jicama shrimp tacos and tamales for $9.
Nayarit-style seafood prepared using traditional family recipes
As you can tell by its name, this beloved spot specializes in seafood -- importing shrimp, whole fish, and more from Sinaloa and Nayarit. Vicente “Chente” Cossio kicked off the concept in the backyard of his Inglewood home in 1987, and daughter Connie has continued the tradition of using family recipes to prepare Nayarit-style ceviche, fish, and shrimp in dozens of ways. The menu’s pièce de résistance, however, is a butterflied whole snook -- grilled until its edges become crisp, and the moist, meaty parts flake away when you pick at it with your fork. It’s served with sweet caramelized onions and warm tortillas to counterbalance the salty, briney, absolutely mouthwatering bits of fish.
Not-so-basic tacos and stiff cocktails well-suited for big groups
Walter Manzke, the man behind beloved Republique and Grand Central Market’s Sari Sari Store, also owns this Mid-City gem -- a lively spot on Beverly with street art splashed across the walls and communal picnic-style tables. High-quality ingredients are the top priority here. Take the tortillas -- made in-house using organic, non-GMO masa sourced from Masienda, an heirloom corn supplier that gets its maize from Mexico -- or the produce, sourced from the restaurant’s own rooftop garden or local and organic farms. This results in seasonally driven takes on Mexican-style street food: zucchini follower empanadas, crispy sweet potato tacos, and a substantial nacho starter that comes with crunchy chips, melty cheese, and the surprising addition of cauliflower. Wash it down with one of Petty Cash’s famous margaritas or a dirty horchata.
Simple, straightforward menu starring slow-cooked braises and homestyle tacos
This taco spot pays homage to traditional Mexican stews (or guisados). Each handmade corn tortilla boasts a tender, braised protein that tastes as if it’s been simmering on the stove for days, like slippery, fatty chicharron in chile verde, or the slightly sweet-yet-spicy shredded pork. Though Guisados has locations all over LA, including West Hollywood and Burbank, the braises and masa are still made and delivered from the original Boyle Heights location several times a day to guarantee freshness.
Oaxacan spot renowned for its complex moles and live mariachi band
Mole is the name of the game at Guelaguetza, an authentic Oaxacan restaurant that was first opened in 1994 by now-retired husband and wife duo Fernando Lopez and Maria Monterrubio. Now the kids continue their tradition of making incredibly complex moles -- like a sweet, black version or the green olive-infused estofado. (Pro tip: Order the festival de moles, which allows you to try four of them.) Don’t just stop there though. There are sauteed grasshoppers packing a salty, spicy crunch; pickled pig’s feet; fried corn dough rolls stuffed with soft potato and chorizo; over 50 types of mezcal; and micheladas so good they’ve started selling their own house-made mix. Plus, you can enjoy bottomless micheladas every Saturday from 9am-2pm, and live music -- from Latin jazz to marimba -- every day of the week.
Glendale & Silver Lake
Cool, buzzy destination with vegetarian- and vegan-friendly options
Mi Corazon is part of a wave of Mexican restaurants utilizing organic ingredients and emphasizing vegetarian and vegan dishes. Helmed by husband and wife duo Jeremy Swan and chef Vanessa Swan, this place has a hefty craft cocktail menu with over 60 tequilas and mezcals, and they make a ton of stuff in-house -- even the homemade mayo that’s smeared on the elote. The newer Silver Lake outpost also serves brunch, so expect classics like huevos rancheros and chilaquiles along with hangover-curing micheladas and Bloody Marias.
Long-standing local haunt with classic dishes and a festive vibe
If you didn’t know about it, it’d be easy to miss this small, family-owned restaurant tucked away on Pico. It’s a worth a visit, though, especially when you’re in Santa Monica, for the Extra Super Mule burrito alone. It’s a knockout brimming with meat, beans, avocado, and lettuce, and choked in melted cheese and sauce. There are other items on the menu -- like an equally impressive chimichanga, shrimp Jalisco, and Valencia chicken -- but you’ll be hard-pressed to find extra room for them.
Highly creative, not-your-typical Mexican food with an upscale approach
Sleek, stylish Broken Spanish -- another winner from chef Ray Garcia, who’s also behind BS Taqueria -- is right by Staples Center, making it the perfect spot for a pre- or post-game bite. But whether or not the Lakers are playing, Garcia’s refined take on Mexican food is worth the drive downtown. The chef, who’s had stints at the five-star Peninsula Beverly Hills and Santa Monica’s FIG, combines his haute cuisine training with his modern Mexican-American flavor palate, so you’re coming here as much for flavor-packed lamb neck tamales and melt-in-your-mouth chicharron as you are for the artful presentation of these dishes. Even the humble quesadilla is elevated -- made with oxtail, sprinkled with a cheesy crumble, and dotted with avocado crema. This is one spot where you don’t want to skip over dessert; there’s corn tortilla ice cream, a delicate chocolate taco filled with black truffle ice cream, and goat’s milk flan.
Vegan Mexican eats beloved by hipsters and Hollywood A-listers
When out-of-towners hear about this organic, plant-based Mexican spot, they roll their eyes and say, “That’s sooo LA.” Sure it is -- but it’s also very, very good. Few other vegan places can whip up cashew nacho cheese-covered cauliflower, barbecue jackfruit carnitas tacos, stewed cactus in chile sauce, and potato-masa cakes accompanied by mango salsa, and make it all taste like you’re eating fantastic, traditional Mexican food.
Unassuming burrito stand with a no-frills, no-fail menu
Boyle Heights knows how to get down with a good bean and cheese burrito, and Al & Bea’s has some of the best. Beatrice Carreon and husband Albert founded this basic brown stand in 1966, and people still flood the ordering window. Steaming-hot burritos contain re-fried pinto beans and molten yellow cheddar, and if you want to step your game up, you can add green chile or red chile to the mix. If you absolutely must stray from burritos (or, uh, just want to double-stuff your face), also order the guacamole fries and sweet horchata.
Mexican comfort food helmed by two established chefs and collaborators
Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger have been repping Mexico with Border Grill since 1985 -- first on Melrose, then moving to Santa Monica near the Third Street Promenade. Though that location closed in 2016, BG is still going strong in downtown (and Las Vegas). Walls sport colorful murals, the bar dispenses a river of margaritas, and tables host hearty plates of comfort food. Classic dishes include chilaquiles, cochinita pibil, and green corn tamales, and the duo also serves interesting riffs like the chile relleno burger, which features a ground black Angus brisket patty and a roasted Poblano chile stuffed with Manchego, panela, and cotija cheeses.
Strong margs and tasty bites at the Valley’s beloved Mexican institution
The Vega family celebrates 62 years of business in Sherman Oaks in 2018. Daughter Christy Vega now presides over the restaurant, which features red leather booths, wrought iron chandeliers, and paintings of pueblos. Nearly every table has either a margarita, a combination plate with rice and beans, or both. Chopped guacamole comes with wonton-like flour tortilla chips. If you want to really ball out, invest in their meaty lobster enchiladas.
Family-run, old-school hole-in-the-wall shilling the city’s tastiest taquitos
No old-school Mexican list is complete without a nod to LA’s first street -- literally. Spanish settlers installed Olvera St in 1781, and the tourist destination still has a number of restaurants. Aurora Guerrero served food in front of an Olvera Street bar before opening this casual spot in 1934, specializing in shredded beef taquitos that are pan-fried to order and doused in a tangy green avocado-garlic-chile sauce. Granddaughter Dianna Guerrero Robertson now runs Cielito Lindo, along with neighboring Las Anitas. In the ‘40s, Hollywood legend Orson Welles evidently engulfed 44 taquitos during one meal, which means the Citizen Kane auteur achieved greatness in two ways you could never, ever hope to match.
Dimly lit cantina ideal for tequila-charged happy hours and late nights
Sure, this restaurant technically qualifies as a taqueria, and they serve plenty of tacos, quesadillas, and nachos, but let’s be honest: more people come to El Carmen for tequila and agave-fueled cocktails. It’s not a drinkie-come-lately, though: El Carmen dates to 1929 (1951 in its current location) and dispenses dozens of different blancos, añejos, and reposados. By the end of the night (and after a flood of tequila), El Carmen’s lucha libre imagery, which looms overhead, may start to feel eerily lifelike.
Dependably delicious Mexican chain famous for top-notch tamales
Sonora natives Alejandro Borquez and wife Rosa opened the first El Cholo in 1923, originally billing it as a “Spanish café.” These days, grandson Ron Salisbury carries on family traditions at this sprawling hacienda-style spot, where menu items appear alongside their years of introduction; original dishes include chile con carne, albondigas, and green corn tamales. This year, the restaurant celebrates is 96th anniversary -- no easy feat in this business.
Intimate spot where everyone orders the birria
El Parian is a Jalisco-style restaurant from owner Maria Garcia that has thrived for over five decades in Pico-Union. The brick-fronted restaurant specializes in birria: roasted goat with intense flavor that’s simultaneously crusty and juicy. Each order comes with a funky bowl of goat consomé and a squeeze bottle of tangy, vinegar-rich habanero sauce.
Pint-sized venue churning out fresh, homemade tortillas and beloved burritos
This East LA classic has been making tortillas and using them as fuel for fantastic burritos, quesadillas, and tacos for over seven decades. Ownership has changed over the years, but now the Villa family -- including father Juan, wife Candy, son Juan, and daughter Cynthia -- is making the most of La Azteca’s masa. The space is small but bold, with a mural of a woman in Aztec garb holding a basket of maize. Their quesadillas feature griddled flour tortillas, molten Monterey Jack cheese, sautéed pico de gallo, and if you’re smart, chicharrones. Burritos get no better than La Azteca’s version with egg-battered, Jack-filled chile relleno, pinto beans, pico de gallo, and nopales.
Quaint neighborhood joint that always satisfies your Mexican cravings
Sparr Heights, a north Glendale neighborhood that very few Angelenos visit, has one of the city’s most memorable Mexican restaurants. Francisco Jimenez and wife Patricia opened this “little cabin” in 1989, and they’ve been successful enough to expand the footprint since then. Standout dishes including pork chops baked in pasilla chile sauce, a variety of chiles rellenos, and massive meatballs filled with hard-boiled eggs and cooked in spicy chipotle sauce. Hell, it might be worth visiting La Cabañita for the mural alone, which tells the story of Mexico’s founding and includes the iconic eagle and snake that appears in the country’s flag.
Bungalow-style, Pan-Mexican restaurant with local and tourist crowds
Consuelo Castillo de Bonzo founded “The Swallow” in 1924, and current owner Vivien Consuelo de Bonzo -- Consuelo’s granddaughter -- has kept LA’s first brick building bustling. Pan-Mexican dishes include banana leaf-baked cochinita pibil and chicken breast covered with rich mole. La Golondrina’s margaritas are available with fresh mango, strawberry, or coconut. On Friday nights, mariachis show up in force, and norteños visit throughout the week.
Westside destination for specialty Mexican food and old-timey charm
This two-story, hacienda-style restaurant debuted in 1968 and remains open 365 days a year near Santa Monica’s eastern border. The space features art-lined yellow walls, wood beams strung with Christmas lights, and a family seal that tells the story of Lares, a family of nobles from Portugal and Spain. Sure, they’ve got burritos, enchiladas, and fajitas, but you’re better off exploring the menu section titled “famous dishes of the South,” which includes steak picado, lengua en chile verde, and chuletas adobadas -- “pickled” pork chops with refried beans and rice.
Stuffed-to-the-gills bomb burritos served from an Eastside roadside stand
This open-air burrito stand from the late, great Lupe has been family-run in East LA since 1972, which seems prescient, since it’s now near a Gold Line stop, the 710... and a Serbian Cemetery. People pile into red cushioned stools and picnic tables to score 12 kinds of burritos, including basic bean and cheese, panic-inducing red beef that tastes like its engulfed in flames, and a California burrito that combines beans and cheese with steak, guac, sour cream, and... wait for it... french fries.
LA landmark famous for its football-sized burritos
Laughably large burritos are the claim to fame at this Boyle Heights institution that’s been near Evergreen Cemetery since 1955. Manuel Rojas passed away in 2013, and daughter Elena persists with beastly burritos like the Hollenbeck, named for prominent 19th-century real estate developer John Edward Hollenbeck, who played a key role in the foundation of Boyle Heights. The cafe honors him with seared pork simmered in chile verde, rice, bean, and guac, all wrapped in a flour tortilla and smothered in more chile verde. Enchiladas, nachos, and sandwiches help round out the menu (and your stomach).