San Francisco

12 Essential Mexican Restaurants in San Francisco You Need to Try Right Now

Because it’s always taco time.

Mexican food and San Francisco go together like tacos and margaritas (sorry, SoCa!). This city has a ton of stellar taquerias for when that burrito craving hits—looking at you El Farolito, La Taqueria, and Taqueria Cancun—but we also have a ton of excellent Mexcian spots that aren’t burrito joints in the Mission, like all of the spots on this list. Whether you’re looking for a lowkey tamale, the best margarita in the world (yup, we said it and we stand by it), or something in between, this list sets you up for a meal full of vibrant flavors, fresh ingredients, and a fair amount of tequila.

After nearly 100 years, this 24th Street classic is still a neighborhood favorite for tamales (in flavors like shredded pork, shredded chicken, caramelized butternut squash, and sweet corn masa). The tamales are always a solid bet, but the chile colorado and chile relleno are also hard to pass up. The brunch menu is limited—chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, machaca, and chorizo con huevos—but as you can see, has just what you need after a big night out (including a Tecate or two).

Available for Delivery/Takeout

Cadillac Bar & Grill opened in 1982 as a spinoff from the original location that opened in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, in 1926, and has been serving San Franciscans in style (white coats and bow ties) ever since (well, except for a hiatus from 1999 to 2012, but let’s not be nitpicky). The food is straight-to-the-point Mexican and Tex Mex with go-tos like sizzling fajitas, enchiladas, and the beloved puffy tacos (quick-fried masa tortillas with a choice of baja fish, lobster, carnitas, chicken, skirt steak, or spicy Beyond Beef). And, of course, you can not (or should not, anyway) sit down for a meal here without ordering the top shelf Cadillac margarita, which comes in a glass, bigger glass, or pitcher. Obviously, the bigger glass or pitcher is the way to go.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

Underdogs Tres

Inner Sunset

It’s been a busy and tough year for the Underdogs folks. First, the Taco Shop at Underdogs in the Outer Sunset closed because its tiny kitchen wasn’t practical for pandemic times/tons of takeout. Then, Underdogs Too by Ocean Beach suffered a major fire. The good news for them and us is that they opened Underdogs Tres in the Inner Sunset where you can get all of their fresh fusion taqueria fare: quesadillas, California burritos (with fries inside), and the famous “Nick’s Way” crispy double-layer tacos and, yes, also watch sports, just like at the other spots. Round out your order with Tecates, Modelos, or a pitcher of margs. Check the website for deals like the mid-day happy hour (1–3:30 pm) with $2 tacos, $3 Tecates, and $5 margaritas.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

The Sunset location of Nopalito closed during COVID, but the Broderick Street original is still open and there’s a new taco window with a more limited menu in the Mission. The OG Nopalito’s menu remains full of elevated Mexican dishes like mole poblano and asparagus quesadillas, quality tequilas, as well as stellar cocktails.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

StreetTaco

Multiple locations

This underrated mini-chain of taquerias nails the fundamentals: super burritos, quesadillas, one of the best tostada salads in town, and of course, street tacos. Throw in the unexpectedly excellent “street Caesar” salad (with pico de gallo and cotija cheese) as a gesture at eating your greens.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

TacoBar

Lower Pacific Heights

It makes sense that a taco shop on Fillmore Street would offer a lot of healthy options, like burrito bowls, grilled fish or shrimp tacos, and a comforting bowl of tortilla soup. If you’re not ready to shed your COVID weight, you’re also covered with beer-battered fish tacos, short rib tacos, nachos with the works, and churros. TacoBar offers margaritas, but the sangria is really the way to go.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

Typically a popular gathering spot for the post-work crowds, this family-owned spot is now depending on takeout and delivery to keep its classic neon sign lit. Support them by ordering the extremely popular enchiladas verde, quesabirria tacos, or breakfast all day (huevos rancheros and huevos con chorizo). And since you’re ordering, might as well add a liter of the house margarita (or single servings if you prefer).

Available for Delivery/Takeout

Gordo Taqueria

Inner Sunset and Outer Richmond

Gordo’s has been slinging its famous burritos since 1977 and in that time has built a very loyal customer base who come back again and again for the classic super burritos. It’s the go-to spot for folks in the Sunset and Richmond, and not just because there’s a dearth of burritos in those neighborhoods. Well, maybe a little, but the truth of the matter is—once you become a Gordo’s convert, you stay that way for life.

Available for Delivery/Takeout

It’s hard to conceive of not liking Mexican food, but if someone in your friend group is trying to rain on your fiesta, Bonita offers the best of both worlds: al pastor tacos and carnitas nachos for you, rotisserie chicken and crispy potatoes for them. And nachos to share because who doesn’t like nachos? (If your answer to that redundant question is “someone in my friend group” then, well, we’re very sorry.)

Available for Delivery/Takeout

We probably don’t need to tell you about Tommy’s famous margaritas since they’re known around the world (seriously), but in case you’re new here: Tommy’s has famous margaritas and they live up to the hype. The margaritas are definitely the draw, but the food is also good—very much what you expect from a quintessential Mexican restaurant. Not surprisingly, Tommy’s also has an amazing selection of tequila, which the knowledgeable bartenders can tell you all about. 
How to enjoy: Tommy’s is open with limited indoor and outdoor dining. Call 415-387-4747 for takeout.

Padrecito
Photo courtesy of Padrecito

Padrecito

Cole Valley

Padrecito is the spot for elevated Mexican dishes made with local ingredients from small purveyors and farms. The food is also seasonal, which means just as you fall in love with something, you’ll likely have to wait a while before it comes back, but all the better to try new things, like duck chilaquiles, grilled arctic char tacos, and the very addictive guacamole con queso fresco (okay so maybe that’s not a new thing, but it is a thing you should order). Pardrecito also has a lineup of truly creative cocktails (in “normal” times, it’s worth going to the bar side of the space just for drinks). Look carefully at the drawings on the menu to see just how much of each ingredient every cocktail contains. 

Available for Delivery/Takeout

This first-ever women-led food hall in the United States was much-anticipated and for good reason. We can’t pick between the two Mexican spots, as they’re both phenomenal. Los Cilantros is all about a large selection of tostadas and fan-favorite ensalada de col, a simple salad not to be skipped. Mi Morena focuses on Mexican street food, like fish tacos and quesadilla chilangas. You can also order taco kits, which include everything you need to build 24 or 48 tacos, which seems like a great option for entertaining, a thing we can (almost) do now. Every restaurant inside of the food hall also has a $5 plate, which is a nutritionally complete meal and a way to give back to the Tenderloin community.

Available for Delivery/Takeout
Daisy Barringer is an SF-based writer who very, very sadly has the “cilantro aversion,” which is genetic, so it’s not her fault. It does explain, however, why when she was little she didn’t understand why all of her tacos tasted like soap. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf to see what she’s eating these days.
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