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Best Mexican restaurants in the U.S.

Arthur Bovino
April 8, 2013

The menu at D.C.’s Oyamel has several pages devoted to drinks, but not a single frozen margarita. Instead, diners can expect limited-edition mezcal, as well as fries in mole sauce and tacos with chapulines (sautéed grasshoppers). 

Chef José Andrés’s consistently packed restaurant is proof that our appreciation of the varied regional cuisines of Mexico has come a long way. While authenticity is prized, some of the country’s most highly regarded chefs have also turned their attention and creativity to Mexican, which has become somewhat of a cuisine célèbre.


Check out our picks of the best Mexican restaurants in the U.S., and share your go-to Mexican restaurant in the comments below.

Tortilleria Nixtamal,
Queens, N.Y.

In a city obsessed with its often-validated Mexican food insecurities, there are bright spots. Tortilleria Nixtamal in Queens makes New York's best case. Partner Fernando Ruiz’s restaurant sources produce from Mexico, doesn’t overcomplicate toppings beyond cilantro and onions, serves homemade salsas, and makes its own tortillas from nixtamal (dried corn soaked in lime solution then ground) on machinery hecho en Mexico.

La Taqueria,
San Francisco

“The best tacos and burritos in the whole world,” declares the neon sign outside the white Mission-style arches. Bold words? As the expression goes, It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true. La Taqueria has won more than its fair share of converts with its chorizo, lengua, and carnitas tacos as well as rice-free burritos.

Come to the Mission District on an empty stomach, and after eating here, you can size up the competition at El Farolito and Taqueria Los Coyotes, popular for its micheladas.

Los Angeles

With the 1994 opening of Guelaguetza, the Lopez family introduced Los Angeles to authentic Oaxacan cuisine. Now the number of local Oaxacan restaurants trails only that of Mexico City and Oaxaca, at least according to respected critic Jonathan Gold—and much of that can be attributed to the success of this Koreatown spot. Named for the summertime festival celebrating Mexico’s southwestern region, Guelaguetza is a year-round destination for its tamales, memelas, unstuffed enchiladas, and of course, exquisite moles.

Washington, D.C.

Spanish chef José Andrés is renowned for his dedication to learning other cultures’ cuisines. As he noted this year: “It was the galleon ships of Spain’s King Philip II that connected these two worlds hundreds of years ago. Those Spanish ships allowed for an exchange of foods, dishes, stories, and traditions.” He spent time in Mexico before opening Oyamel in 2004.

Meals start as they should—with complimentary salsa and chips, made fresh and fried daily. Continue with antojitos (“the little dishes from the streets”), papas al mole, and tacos with handmade tortillas, especially chapulines, the Oaxacan specialty of sautéed grasshoppers.

Las Cuatro Milpas,
San Diego

San Diegans know that Southern California can claim some of America’s best Mexican food, and Las Cuatro Milpas is a great place to experience it for yourself. Yes, there’s a line. Yes, there’s cafeteria-style service. So what? It’s reasonably priced, the tamales are legendary, and the tortillas fresh. They’re fried and rolled today as the staff here has always done—before it was cool.

Barrio Café,

Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza pours more than 250 of Mexico’s top-shelf tequilas, but she certainly doesn’t need them to convince customers to frequent her three colorful dining rooms. From queso fundido to pozole verde, shrimp quesadillas to slow-roasted Mayan-style achiote-spiced cochinita pibil tortas, Barrio Café offers authentic Mexican food that has enthralled Arizonans since 2002.


Hugo’s opened in 2002 in a restored Latin-inspired building designed by Joseph Finger (also responsible for the Art Deco-style City Hall) and launched into a diverse regional approach to Mexican food. Chef Hugo Ortega, a finalist for the 2013 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest, cooks food that’s elegant, inventive, and inspiring. Order the much-heralded lamb barbacoa braised in garlic and chiles then slow-roasted in agave, and for the name alone, the manchamanteles, described on the menu as the “tablecloth stainer,” a sweet mole stewed pork and chicken dish.

Nuestra Cocina,
Portland, Ore.

Husband-and-wife chefs Benjamin Gonzales and Shannon Dooley-Gonzales have collaborated on a restaurant with peasant-style Mexican cooking in a less-expected corner of the U.S., Southeast Portland. Flavors span the cuisine of Zacatecas in north-central Mexico to those of Veracruz on the eastern coast and Tampico to the north. Signature dishes include the tamarind-marinated grilled Mexican prawns, tacos de puerco, sopes de chorizo, cochinita pibil, and puntitas de res en chile chipotle, sautéed beef tips with chipotle, chayote squash, and refried beans.

The Shed,
Santa Fe, N.M.

This lunch institution east of Santa Fe’s plaza has been drawing people into a rambling adobe hacienda since 1953. Is it the red chile cheese enchiladas? The green chile stew with potatoes and pork? The pozole? The lunch-offered charbroiled Shedburger? We vote for all of the above.

Dishes benefit from chiles grown on farms in Hatch, N.M., and processed daily in the Shed’s own mill. All traditional entrées come with blue corn tortillas, and the cold raspberry soup makes a delightful palate cleanser.


In the land where Tex-Mex is king, Javier’s in Highland Park serves Dallas Mexican, focusing its upscale take on Mexico City fare. There’s mounted game on the walls, lest you forget that you are still in Texas. Javier’s is not necessarily a critic’s darling, yet it’s the go-to choice for locals when they’re tired of the flashy scene at nearby Mi Cocina—and one that’s outlasted many other Mexican upstarts since it opened more than 30 years ago.

See more of the Best Mexican Restaurants in the U.S.