Chicago’s Essential Mexican Restaurants

Chicago’s Essential Mexican Restaurants

  • by Brenda Storch and Eater Staff
  • 05/3/24

​​Chicago has lured food aficionados with its well-known local staples for decades. Still, its Mexican culinary scene has undoubtedly positioned itself as one of the best in the country — one that draws, surprises, and delights locals and tourists alike.

And it’s no wonder why: being home to the second largest Mexican-born immigrant community in the U.S. after Los Angeles and being geographically protected from the immediate impact of border town influences, Chicago is a place of culinary convergence, creativity, and discovery.

With its size and ubiquity, the Mexican community’s presence in the city is reflected in the array of easily found quality eateries available far beyond the enclaves that cater primarily to Mexicans of all generations. From traditional flavors, techniques, and ingredients to modern takes on popular dishes and brand-new creations inspired by the diverse collection that makes up Mexico’s flavors, Chicagoans have it all. Here are some of the best spots in Chicago to enjoy this vast and fascinating cuisine.

Eater maps are curated by editors and aim to reflect a diversity of neighborhoods, cuisines, and prices. Learn more about our editorial process.

Pueblo Nuevo

For over a decade, Lulú Álvarez and Joaquín Lara have served street food classics in Portage Park. From tongue tacos, tortas, and pozole, to a lesser-known street food darling: the pambazo, a type of Mexican sandwich made using a soft bread roll dipped in a red guajillo pepper sauce with lightly-fried potatoes. Filling options include chorizo with potatoes, steak, and chicken. Named after a city in Guanajuato, Pueblo Nuevo’s menu could not miss the opportunity to pay homage to one of the local favorites: green pozole. But unlike the pumpkin seed-based version commonly found in Guerrero, this pozole is made with tomatillos, resulting in a unique flavor, and served with chicken instead of pork. Traditionally mild, patrons can adjust the heat. The restaurant recently added mole enchiladas.

Baha Restaurant

It is always summer at Baha Restaurant, where patrons can enjoy the flavors of the ocean in every form — From the traditional ceviche or the whole grilled fish enjoyed beachside in Mexico to fish sandwiches, tacos, empanadas, and even seafood-stuffed chiles rellenos. Do not miss the Instagram-worthy ceviche towers, a Sinaloan seafood fad that stacks ceviche, seafood, avocado, and a generous amount of condiments into tubular structures. The menu features three options: verde, with aguachile, squid, scallops, avocado and jalapeños; Baha, with shrimp, octopus, tuna, lobster, and squid; and the cleverly dubbed “the Sears Tower,” which layers up shrimp, fish, crab meat, mango, cucumber, and tomatoes which are topped off with a signature spicy red sauce. The restaurant ventures off the water with dishes like its parrillada, a small grill with enough skirt steak, chorizo, chicken breast, short ribs, shrimp, and panela cheese to feed two. Its land-inspired breakfast menu features nostalgic classics like conchas con nata — a decadent cream layer achieved by boiling milk — reimagined with sweet cream generously added to halved conchas to make a sandwich. The eatery also offers a wide assortment of chilaquiles and its take on the rich, traditional corn-based drink, champurrado.

Xocome Antojeria

Masa reigns supreme at Xocome Antojería with a menu of tacos, tortas, and tamales, a kind of shrine to “Vitamin T.” Known for its tlacoyos, oval-shaped sturdy masa patties stuffed with beans and finished with an assortment of toppings — including cochinita pibil, squash blossoms, pork rinds, and yes, filet mignon!  Any of these toppings can find their way into your stomach (and heart) by morphing into a taco, a torta, a sope, etc., depending on the vehicle of your choice. The casual, colorful Archer Heights restaurant offers blue or yellow masa for its creations. The eatery offers other street food favorites like the delicious pambazos— a bread roll that is dipped in a red guajillo pepper sauce and then filled with a mixture of potato and chorizo (there’s an option that just features potatoes) before being lightly fried. The finished dish is topped with lettuce, cheese, and sour cream.

Taqueria Los Gallos

The carne en su jugo at this spot in the heart of Little Village has its fan club. Hailing from the Mexican state of Jalisco, the delicate but flavorful broth made with meat, bacon, and beans is finding its stride in Chicago. For soup fans, menudo is available on the weekends. Guests can expect prompt and friendly service. Los Gallos operates two sister locations: Brighton Park (4252 S, Archer Avenue) and Garfield Ridge (6222 S. Archer Avenue). Cash only.

Lucido's Tacos

The stunning quality of Lucidos’s tacos al pastor makes it no wonder that what started as a weekend home-based kitchen has secured a brick-and-mortar location. Lucido’s menu features staples like chilaquiles and sopes and quesadillas and enchiladas. Unlike many typical taquerias which are open primarily during the evening hours, this Little Village restaurant opens in the morning and serves breakfast.  But with al pastor so good, it might be easy to be distracted. To get the full experience, order it “con todo”, meaning, with all the garnishes. Don’t forget to request pieces of grilled pineapple for that perfect sweet and tangy kick (it’s not included with “con todo” here). Experiment with the red and green salsas to add another dimension of flavor or start by squeezing a hint of lime. To fully embrace the taco culture, hold your taco lightly by the middle and lift your pinky finger as the locals do in Mexico City.

Birrieria Zaragoza

The Zaragoza clan has been dishing up the celebratory Jalisco dish for almost more than 15 years sticking to a 100-year-old heirloom recipe from the Los Altos region. The family, featured on Netflix’s Taco Chronicles along with three other Chicago favorites, takes great pride in their process and ingredients, which include raising their goats. The meat is seasoned and cooked for several hours and served with a tomato consommé, red mole, handmade tortillas, and a fleet of garnishes (onions, cilantro, chilis, and lime). Try your birria or head taco with the molcajete sauce made with fire-roasted tomatoes and chilis — it is the G.O.A.T. A second restaurant recently opened in Uptown (4800 N. Broadway).

FONDA cantina

Chef Miguel Escobar and sous chef Carlos Cahue are the creative culinary engines behind this newish suburban ode to the comfort food of Huandacareo in Michoacan and Huitzuco in Guerrero (also the birthplace of chef Carlos Gaytán). In partnership with wine director Sergio Angel and chef Michael Lachowicz (Aboyer, George Trois), the pair deliver fun and thoughtful options like the chile relleno with pipián de hoja santa, a poblano pepper stuffed with beef hash, apple, pear almond and peach, pumpkin seed mole and warm tortillas.

Fonda’s menu is tight yet action-packed.
 Chris Peters/Eater Chicago

Amor y Tequila

Inviting and unpretentious, the space at this Roscoe Village restaurant offers a selection of straightforward favorites, including pozole, tacos, ceviche, and enchiladas. Yet it’s the generous molcajetes that stand out. Popular in cantinas across Mexico, the famous pre-Hispanic lava rock kitchen utensils, transcend simple food preparation and become vessels brimming with sizzling meats, cheese, and a variety of other ingredients. At Amor y Tequila, the version of a molcajete is more like a rock plate, but the spirit is the same. The ingredients, sliced into strips, are presented alongside tortillas, inviting guests to craft their tacos to their liking. Diners have two molcajete options: one with chicken, beef, shrimp, and soft and mild panela cheese and another packed with squash, cactus, and bell peppers. The meats are of excellent quality, offered in generous portions, and impeccably cooked.  Remember to request salsa and limes to enhance the taco enjoyment. Amor y Tequila has a family-friendly environment with a dedicated kid’s menu.

5 Rabanitos Restaurante & Taqueria

This eatery’s unlikely name is a nod to the chef and owner Alfonso Sotelo’s childhood on the farms of southern Guerrero, where he sold radishes in the market with his other four siblings, earning them the nickname Cinco Rabanitos (five little radishes). It’s hard to go wrong with the selection of tacos, tortas, caldos, and vegetarian-friendly dishes, many of which showcase this Tompolobampo and Xoco alum’s heart for his hometown while leveraging longtime family recipes. The tacos ahogados (chicken fried tacos in a tomato broth), the slow-roasted pork in a Guerrero-style red mole known as puerco al rancho, as well as ingredients such as cecina, a type of salty and dry meat, and plantains (to name a few), are clear giveaways of such regional flair. 

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