Food & Drink

The 31 Best Mexican Restaurants in America

Updated On 05/03/2019 at 05:31PM EST Updated On 05/03/2019 at 05:31PM EST
Mi Tocaya Antojeria
Mi Tocaya Antojeria | Matt Haas/Thrillist
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

For nearly 20 years, 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. -- JR

Birrieria Zaragoza

Birrieria Zaragoza

Chicago, Illinois

This longtime Windy City Mexican restaurant has all the comforting welcome of a diner with all the spectacle of a destination restaurant. Here, at Birrieria Zaragoza, the eponymous family specializes in La Barca-style birria, meaning roasted lamb that makes prominent use of tomatoes. Sit at the counter on the other side of the glass guard from the chopping block where the large chunks of juicy bone-in lamb are cleaved and plated in a pool of the tomato-based consommé. Before you ask, yes, the tortillas are made fresh. You can see that operation from the same counter seat. -- JR

Courtesy of B.S. Taqueria

Broken Spanish

Los Angeles, California

Broken Spanish 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) in the form of a tamal is an absolute must. Desserts are equally as inventive. Arroz con leche gets a graham cracker streusel with brown butter, a port reduction. Honeycomb and edible flowers punctuate the dish.  -- 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 unchanging. That goes from the trout tostadas topped a slice of avocado and a bramble of fried leeks to hefty, charred sweet potato accompanied by an inky, bone marrow-infused salsa negra. -- JR

Carnitas Lonja

Carnitas Lonja

San Antonio, Texas

Focus on one thing and one thing only and hone that specialty, and you’ll go far. Take as an example Carnitas Lonja in San Antonio, Texas. Chef-owner Alex Paredes, whose pedigree includes fine dining, decided to get back to basics -- but by no means basic -- with his Roosevelt Avenue shop, which, as the business’ name describes specializes in pork braised in its own fat until it becomes a silky, succulent edible magic. Carnitas are available by the pound, in tacos, or in tortas. Eat in the main space with a door framed by foggy glass block, on the outdoor patio, or in the enclosed dining space where tables are covered in floral Mexican oilcloth tablecloths and straw sombreros adorn the walls. -- JR

Courtesy of Carnitas Urupan

Carnitas Uruapan

Chicago, Illinois

In case the varying styles of illustrated anthropomorphic 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. This year, there is finally twice as much Carnitas Uruapan. The owners have opened a larger, snazzier place in the Gage Park neighborhood. Instead of a the ordering line pressing up against your booth, there are murals of an indigenous Mexican Tarasco boy and of Michoacán state with its cities to impress the eyes -- JR

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

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 before being shredded, grilled up with some peppers, tomatoes and onions. But if you don't leave room for the amorous alchemy of fried ice cream, you're making a mistake. -- JR

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 Jardin Restaurant

El Jardin

San Diego, California

One of San Diego's most hotly anticipated restaurant openings last summer, El Jardin delivered on the expectations borne out of former Top Cheftestant Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins' previous stint at the much-lauded Bracero, and also her robust travels through Mexico as she made plans El Jardin's ever-evolving menu. The menu feels simultaneously contemporary and deeply rooted in regional Mexican cooking, like crispy tuna carnitas with black garlic and orange aquichile and barbacoa lamb shank with pineapple adobo.  Important note: Zepeda-Wilkins got her start as a pastry chef, so you're going to want to hang around for dessert.

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 -- sauce-like preparations that are a pillar of Mexican cuisine -- 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 traditional-based artistic license, including earthy birria-steamed clams, familiarity abounds in comforting chicken enchiladas and tetala -- a triangular masa dish, which, at Galaxy, goes all-in with the greens with a broccoli mole, a green broccoli salsa and Swiss chard -- and, oh yeah, tacos. They’re right there in the name, after all. -- 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

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

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? Previously housed in a strip mall and “hidden” by awning that held a former establishment’s name for more than a year of its life, MLO, as locals call it, has moved to larger digs, a two-story house on Oak Cliff’s West Davis Street. Don’t skip out on the roasted grasshopper-topped oval-shaped corn tortilla discs called memelitas. Also not to be skipped: Oaxaca’s iconic blue-corn tlayudas. -- JR

Mi Tocaya Antojeria | Matt Haas/Thrillist

Mi Tocaya Antojeria

Chicago, Illinois

A deeply personal restaurant (Mi Tocaya literally translates to "my namesake"), Mi Tocaya Antojeria is chef and owner Diana Davila's celebration of antojitos -- think Mexico's answer to tapas (and the source of the second part of the restaurant's moniker). The menu is rich with innovative yet comforting creations like their peanut butter y lengua, which will make a believer out of even the most tongue-averse diners before being equally wowed by the elote-style spaghetti squash and beer can chicken tacos. It's no wonder it's been nearly universally lauded since opening in 2017, including a spot on Thrillist's Best New Restaurants from that year.

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

Oxomoco NYC

Oxomoco

Brooklyn, New York

Named after an Aztec goddess, Oxomoco opened last summer to much fanfare, the brainchild of Speedy Romeo chef Justin Badzarich and friend and restaurateur Chris Walton. The piping hot heart of the operation is the wood-fired grill, which touches the vast majority of the menu, which draws from regions all across Mexico. Definitely don't miss the taco lineup, with uncommon creations like chicken al pastor with grilled pineapple and crispy chicken skin and beet "chorizo" that'll make even the most hardened carnivore jealous.  -- ML

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 that 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

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 Purépecha Room, Revolver’s reservation-only backspace. 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 Rojas, himself, in the roles of assistant cook to his mother and host. One night, diners can be treated to a lacy corn and chayote soup with a dash of tableside cornhusk 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 and menudo for a just a little over 30 smackers. -- JR

South Philly Barbacoa

South Philly Barbacoa

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller started their barbacoa operation out of their Philadelphia apartment before making what would become South Philly Barbacoa a pop-up and then finally a permanent fixture in the neighborhood the couple honors in their business’ name. The idea that food strengthens community is at the center of the restaurant, which serves as much as a place to fill up on the slow-cooked lamb barbacoa that Martinez grew up preparing in her native Mexico as the restaurant does as a meeting place for the exchange of ideas. The lines of customers queuing up for tacos, consommé, tamales, and other traditional Mexican dishes are made up of workers, culinary tourists, writers, chefs (some of whom are there for their own pop-ups), and neighbors. -- JR

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 U.S.-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

Urbano 116

Urbano 116

Alexandria, Virginia

Balancing the concept of urban contemporary American Mexican (neon-lit luchador motif) with the diner’s concept of traditional Mexican (see Oaxacan food), Alam Mendez, one of Mexico’s greatest contemporary chefs, has given the Washington, D.C., area his first stateside foray after stunning Mexico City with his Pasillo de Humo, a Oaxacan kitchen in a food hall in the capital’s hip La Condesa neighborhood. At Urbano 116, the tortillas are fragrant and freckled from time on the comal. Go ahead, no one will notice you holding a tortilla against your face and inhaling the dominant corn aroma. Carrots and green beans frame braised short ribs in a pool of deep almond mole. The tacos range from the lamb barbacoa to chicken milanesa with cauliflower standing in as the vegetarian option. Finish your time at Urbano 116 with a stack of soft, sugary churros. -- JR

Courtesy of Topolobampo

Topolobampo

Chicago, Illinois

It's been more than three decades 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 the 2017 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), and surtida (all the bits). Local, regular customers are crazy for ojo (cow eye), as the delicacy (read: you should try it at least once) sells out early when available. The rest of the food is usually gone by 1 p.m. Get up and get you some beef. It’s what’s for breakfast. -- JR

Courtesy of Xochi

Xochi

Houston, Texas

James Beard Awarding-winning Houston chef Hugo Ortega’s homage to Oaxacan cuisine was part flurry of restaurant openings that hit Houston in 2017 ahead of 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