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Apr 11, 2013 12:17 PM

Best Mexican Restaurants in the US

So Travel & Leisure has weighed in with a list of the best Mexican restaurants in the U.S. Some I agree with many I do not (particularly #6). I think the list might have been more aptly named, the Best Places to get Tacos and Burritos in the US

Whatdya'll think?

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  1. I don't know. I would say nearly 2/3 of the restaurants listed were not taquerias and the summaries barely mentioned burritos. Most of the places listed were either high-end or well-respected, sit-down restaurants that are essentially local institutions (but with very great food).

    Sure the list includes some hole-in-the-wall taquerias, but that is a big part of Mexican food in the US. And, even then, the taquerias selected specialize in different things like tamales, fish tacos, chavindecas, pastor, etc. To be honest, if someone put together such a list and did not include a healthy dose of taquerias, I would criticize the list for ignoring a lot of great Mexican food. (I would add that the failure to include some more of LA's taquerias and taco trucks is a glaring oversight.)

    14 Replies
    1. re: Jwsel

      Sorry but I have to disagree. At least half the places listed (if not more) specialize in gussied up street food, i.e. tacos, burritos etc. and while some of them may be "sit down" restaurants it doesn't automatically mean they're serving good food let alone good Mexican food.

      For me the list is more representative of what Americans *think* Mexican food is, not what it really is.

      1. re: DiningDiva

        You and I have a very different idea of what Americans *think* Mexican food is. I think most Americans think Mexican food is that stuff they get at fast food places like Chipotle, Taco Bell, or El Pollo Loco, or sit-down chains like El Torito, Chevy's, or On the Border. I don't think they would think of a fish taco from Ricky's Tacos or pastor off a trompo when they think of Mexican food.

        And so what if that is gussied up street food? That is authentic. Frankly, in Los Angeles, I would take a cachetada or vampiro from Mexicali or tacos from King Taco, El Parian or Leo's over anything from Red O or Rivera, let alone El Torito or Chipotle.

        Nonetheless, let's look at that list a little more closely. There are 11 taquerias/street food places. Now, I can't speak to all 11, but I have been to four of those places -- La Super Rica, Ricky's Tacos, La Taqueria, and Las Cuatro Milpas -- and none of them jump out at me as completely undeserving. Would I call them among the 50 best Mexican in the country? It's debatable, but only because I might include some other taquerias higher due to personal preference. (Mexicali in Los Angeles is definitely missing.) And that leaves 19 other restaurants. I don't think most of the others are gussied-up street food, as I break them down below. Of the ones I've tried, I don't think Babita or La Casita are undeserving. I could see debate about Guelaguetza. I think the moles are fabulous, but is it top 50 in the country? I don't know. And yet, I consistently recomment it to people for a great Oaxacan option.

        Here is how I break down the restaurants on the list.

        High end. These are either expensive Mexican restaurants run by elite chefs or concept places, such as Jose Andres' small plate Oyamel.

        Oyamel (D.C.)
        Hugo’s (Houston)
        Empellón Cocina (New York)
        Distrito (Philadelphia)
        Babita (Los Angeles)
        Topolobampo (Chicago)

        Mid-Level. These are mid-price, sit-down restaurants. They are not "typical" taco and burrito restuarants. They either focus on a particular region, are somewhat refined in their style, or are their own Americanized style (e.g., Javier's representing Tex-Mex).

        Guelaguetza (Los Angeles)
        Barrio Café (Phoenix)
        Nuestra Cocina (Portland)
        Javier's (Dallas)
        Mezcaleria Oaxaca (Seattle)
        Fonda San Miguel (Austin) (this could also be an institution due to its longevity, but its food is hardly Americanized)
        Nido (Oakland)
        Talavera (Coral Gables)
        La Casita Mexicana (Los Angeles)
        Bonito Michoacan (Las Vegas)

        Institutions: The "institutions" are places that may have food that we associate with Americanized notions of what Mexican food is, but that doesn't mean they are not authentic.

        The Shed (Santa Fe)
        El Sarape (Boston - though its menus has plenty of non-Americanized options)
        Mi Tierra Cafe & Bakery (San Antonio)

        Taquerias. These are small hole-in-the-wall places that, yes, specialize in tacos and in a couple of cases burritos, but they are not your American tacos or burritos. They are authentic street food, which is a major part of Mexican cuisine.

        Tortilleria Nixtamal (New York - tacos)
        La Taqueria (San Francisco - tacos and Mission burritos)
        Las Cuatro Milpas (San Diego - tamales)
        El Rey Del Taco (Atlanta - tacos, including buche, cabeza, tripa, barbacoa, and suadero)
        Ricky’s Tacos (Los Angeles - fish tacos)
        La Super Rica (Santa Barbara - tacos)
        Pinche Taqueria (Denver - tacos)
        Sanchez Taqueria (Tigard, Or - chavindecas)
        Maxwell Street Market (Chicago - tacos/quesadillas)
        El Modelo (Albuquerque - tamale/tacos)
        Las Teresitas (Minneapolis - tacos)

        1. re: Jwsel

          You analyzed this far more than I. But I went through about the first dozen and except for La Taqueria (hello? Taco. Taqueria.) and I believe one in Santa Fe, it was hard to even find tacos and even hard burritos. I can only speak as a Left Coast person, but I wouldn't even toy with the idea of ordering a taco in a restaurant. I make 'em at home cause they're easy, good and cheap. A burrito is almost a food group in itself to me :) And the places I get them serve little other than them.

          As I said, I live in CA so YMMV.

          1. re: c oliver

            I'm not really sure what your point is. So you can make good tacos at home. Are you saying that means that restaurants that serve tacos don't deserve to be considered among the best in the country? I make a pretty spectacular steak, but that doesn't mean Peter Lugar's steaks aren't far superior.

            Are your tacos on par with the tacos de rajas they make at La Super Rica? Do you manage to cook the pasilla chiles, onions, cheese and crema so the ingredients blend together perfectly and the juices soak into soft, pillowy tortillas hecho de mano? Do you make a fresh and spicy pico de gallo that is just the right balance of tomatoes to onions and serrano peppers? If you do, all power to you. I'm content to pay $4 for two of of those. Plus, I also can choose from their alambres de filete or pollo, tacos de bistec, chuleta or adobado; or an occasional tamale or enchilada. I doubt your house has such a selection.

            And does your taco repertoire also include lengua, buche, tripa, barbacoa, and cabeza? What about guisados? Tinga de pollo? Conchita pibil? Do you have a trompo in your house spinning the pork so you can carve your al pastor off the spit? Is it topped with pineapple so the juice flavors the meat as it cooks? There is a reason that people who know a lot about Mexican food will stand in long lines to buy al pastor tacos at Leo's Taco Truck in Los Angeles.

            And does your "good taco" compare to the chorizo or asada cachetada at Mexicali Taco in Los Angeles, which is a flat, fried tortilla with a dry (not greasy) chorizo or perfectly cooked flank steak topped with melted cheese and chipotle sauce. (Plus you can have it served ranchera sauce for an additional charge with a fried egg.) And I can make a nice quesadilla at home in a pinch, but it won't come close to Mexicali's vampiro because I can't replicate the delectable garlic sauce they use.

            By the way, all of the places I mentioned are not sit-down, formal restaurants. They are order at the counter (or at the truck window, in the case of Leo's). I also rarely order tacos at restaurants with table service, because I find it hard to justify the prices they charge for tacos that I can get for much less at taquerias. But that doesn't change my view that taquerias are utterly deserving of being on this list.

            1. re: Jwsel

              Mercy, take a deep breath! I was simply making the points that, of the restaurants listed that I looked at, tacos were an insignificant part of their menu, and that it seems I and the people I see dining in Mexican restaurants aren't dining on tacos. Dining Diva was indicating that there were more tacos and burritos that what I saw in my short perusal. Okay?

              1. re: Jwsel

                Ouch...that's a pretty harsh reply! Does it matter how "authentic" the posters tacos are or aren't as long as his/her family enjoys them? Ya don't have to get mean spirited about it.

            2. re: Jwsel

              No, I think Americans include the genre of taco truck food in their perception of "Mexican" food along with the fast food joints and those serving the combo plates laden down with bad refried beans, rice, and far more cheese than is prudent.

              What they're missing - becuase they've been trained to eat the mediocre stuff - is the stunning depth, breadth, freshness, lightness and diversity of what is one of the world's great cuisines. American's focus their attention on such a small slice of the cuisine and then think they "know" it. This is not the case. It's more than tacos, tortas and combo plates.

              I'd fly across country to try Oyamel, it's one of the best menus I've seen. It's also a menu that includes a lot of tacos, both lunch and dinner. I've cooked and eaten with Rick Bayless and I love that he's moved beyond the trite, tried and true. I had a lovely meal at Distrito last Octoberm but it's gussied up street food. The Shed is more New Mexican than Mexican and Mi Tierra more Tex-Mex (loved the bakery there). I enjoyed the food at both, but it's not Mexican. I haven't eaten at La Super Rica in a long time and Las Cuatros has no business on any list of "best" Mexican places.

              My point still remains that with a few exceptions, the T&L list of "Best" Mexican places is an ode to a mainstream idea of what Mexican food is in America. What it is in Mexico is totally different...

              1. re: DiningDiva

                Your take on how Americans view Mexican food is true with just about any ethnic non-western European cuisine.

                It doesn't make the list bad, but simply myopically limited in its applicability.

                Does that make it an inaccurate list? Perhaps, but not necessarily a useless one.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  I don't think I called the list useless, but it definitely myopic

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    You view the list as myopic only because your understanding and appreciation is so vast.

                    It's like Einstein said (to paraphrase), the more you know the more you realize you don't know.

                    Because you have such a deep understanding of Mexican cuisine you are able to discern just how limited a list like this is.

                    It's the curse of the erudite.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      IpseD, you crack me up. Point taken. There are some good choices on the list, and I really would consider flying cross country to try Oyamel. Maybe my nephew might be up for a road trip ;-)

                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        Oyamel is not worth the cross-country flight.

                        I think it is literally one of Andres weakest efforts, esp. in DC.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Drat, the menu looked really promising. But thanks for saving me the air far :-)

            3. re: DiningDiva

              'gussied up'
              Fave word of the decade!

          2. El Sarape? Granted its the most authentic mexican you can find on the South Shore but one of the best in the country?? I don't think so.

            2 Replies
            1. re: foodieX2

              I suspect that there are a few choices there that are heavily influenced by geography. El Sarape is one, but without it, the furthest you would have no restaurants in the northeast above New York. I also doubt that the place they list for Las Vegas is really deserving of being listed.

              1. re: foodieX2

                ha! i was just going to comment on el sarape. so weird that it made the list.

              2. Tacos, peasant food, and other comida may be tasty, and may comprise a preponderance of daily meals in Mexico, but I agree with DD that they should not be over-represented as the best of Mexican, either in Mexico or in the U.S.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Veggo

                  Doesn't "comida" mean "food"?

                  We go out for Mexican probably every couple of weeks and are going for the birria, the carnitas in salsa verde, the chile rellenos. And the people I see around us are generally doing the same. I don't feel tacos are over-represented. Not sure what "peasant food" consists of so I don't know if I'm eating it or not :)

                  1. re: c oliver

                    Yes,and it also is the term for the noon peasant meal.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      Thanks. I'm just into "comidas y bebidas." Didn't know it got more specialized. Gratefully it's the same in Portuguese :)

                      1. re: Veggo

                        peasant? Comida corrida is usually translated as businessman's lunch, or in this blog, 'hot lunch'

                        On one low budget trip to Mexico, I traveled by bus, made commida corrida my main meal, and got breakfast and supper from panaderias.

                        1. re: paulj

                          That's an easy and very economical way to travel :-)

                          There's a comida corrida place on the road into Patzcuaro behind a Pemex station that offers up a delicious comida corrida. Go early to avoid the crowds :-). It's inexpensive, good cooking. Beverage, starter, entree, dessert all for about $5 +/- USD. On the other end of the spectrum, La Olla in Oaxaca offers a comida corrida for about $9 USD that is upscale and fabulous.

                  2. The Red Iguana in Salt Lake City should be on there.

                    1. I nominate Rio Tomatlan in Canandaigua, NY. Best chile relleno I have had, excellent mole, enchiladas with guajillo or tomatillo sauce, and great margaritas. Liberal use of cotija cheese, no pepper jack used. I give it four thumbs up.