Mexican cuisine is as iconic to America as burgers and fries. From the fast-casual drive-thru to the authentic taquerias experience, this cuisine is as diverse as it is delicious.
It’s pretty easy to find incredible tacos and complex Oaxacan moles in border states like California and Texas. But the proliferation of outstanding Mexican food stretches beyond the expected, to cities like New York, Portland, and beyond. It’s such a popular and dynamic family of food that you will likely have trouble picking out your favorite spot in your hometown alone, wherever it may be.
So, while this is by no means the definitive list of best Mexican restaurants in the nation, it is a collection of some of the finest. If you’re looking for an iconic experience, authentic dishes, or simply a great a meal, these options will never disappoint.
A trip down the East Coast isn’t complete without a dip into Plaza Azteca. This Mid-Atlantic Mexican chain was opened in 1990 in Virginia Beach, VA by a chef from Jalisco, Mexico. The franchise became a fast favorite in the community, celebrated for its festive décor, fresh ingredients, and authentic taste. Ask a local and they’ll say they keep coming back for the in-house chips and salsa, especially the Plaza Azteca’s signature salsa blanca.
Guelaguetza has been described by many food writers as the best Mexican restaurant in America. And for good reason, as the Los Angeles institution makes some of the best mole outside of Oaxaca. Set in Koreatown, the place is warm, welcoming, and redolent with vibrant Oaxacan dishes. The mezcal cocktails are amazing and the family style platters, fit with an assortment of award-winning moles, are a joy to plunge into.
Portland’s Nuestra Cocina has been a model of consistency for years. The seafood specials are always fantastic and the house margaritas area easily some of the best in the business. The restaurant is responsible for one of the best chile relleno dishes in existence, a perfectly roasted poblano pepper packed with shredded pork, raisins, and almonds. When dine-in happens again, grab a seat at the bar and take in the delicious corn tortillas being assembled by hand.
Established in 2002, Barrio Cafe has become one of the best Mexican restaurants in the American Southwest. The Phoenix eatery basks in national attention pretty much always. Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza’s Cochinita Pibil is mouthwatering, made from 12-hour-smoked pork hit with citrus and served with Yucatan-style pico de gallo. The tequila selection is virtually unmatched and the table side guacamole is legendary. It’s a must-stop for any hungry souls hanging out in or near the Valley of the Sun.
To be frank, there’s a ton of great Mexican food in LA. Coni’Seafood, though, stands above the crowd, an Inglewood restaurant that specializes in Nayarit-inspired seafood. At it has been doing since 1987, the second-generation restaurant still imports most of its seafood from Mexico, making for extremely authentic dishes. The ceviches are magical, along with a number of shrimp-centric entrees. If you like things fresh from the sea with the perfect touch of Latin flair, this place is for you.
This unassuming New York joint serves up some of the best tacos on the east coast, if not anywhere. Based in Queens, Taqueria Coatzinga specializes in finger-food from south of the border. It’s a straightforward, counter-service kinda place but the food would be fit for someplace much fancier. There’s an urban legend that suggests there’s no good Mexican food in NYC but this place refutes that instantly.
The Original Ninfa’s
A Houston restaurant with plenty of history, Ninfa’s is beloved for its assortment of tamales and enchiladas. The restaurant got its start in 1973 when Mama Ninfa is believed to have jump-started America’s love for fajitas. The establishment touts delicious Mexican comfort food along with a priceless slogan in “the best Mexican food in Texas since Texas was Mexico.”
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