It’s no wonder so many Chicagoans gravitate to Mexican restaurants year-round — in sub-zero temperatures they equip locals with south of the border vibes; in summer months they provide all the right flavors that warmer climates call for. Thankfully, there are plenty of options in all neighborhoods thanks to Chicago’s booming Mexican population. From hole-in-the-wall taquerias to upscale eateries, here are 16 of the best spots in Chicago for Mexican cuisine. New additions include tacos and tortillas specialist El Milagro, tamale shop Yvolina’s Tamales, and longstanding Pilsen bakery Panaderia Nuevo Leon.Read More
Chicago’s 16 Essential Mexican Restaurants
From taquerias to elevated restaurants, Chicago is full of top-notch Mexican food
1. El Nuevo Mexicano
This restaurant has been serving traditional Mexican cuisine to Lakeview crowds for decades. In that time it has developed a strong following for its dedication to quality ingredients and flavor-forward plates, such as enchiladas in chipotle sauce and pollo asado with epazote sauce. The team also offers a vegan menu for meat-averse diners, featuring options like flautas and quesadillas stuffed with seitan “chorizo” and Daiya “mozzarella.”
2. Mi Tocaya Antojería
Eater-Award-winning chef Diana Dávila opened this Logan Square restaurant to share the experiences she built from her own family travels throughout Mexico — and diners have been eager to partake in the journey. Credit that buzz to the adventurous places she’s taking Mexican flavors and techniques, as evidenced in the peanut butter y lengua (braised and pan seared beef tongue with peanut sauce) and cauliflower fundido.
3. Estrella Negra
The team at this Logan Square eatery works on giving family recipes a creative and modern twist, resulting in gourmet-yet-comforting Mexican street food. Try favorites like the mango salsa goat cheese enchiladas, tamarind chicken wings, and homemade pozole that incorporates chicken breast instead of pork. Kick things off with a kiwi Caipirinha or “La Bandera,” a shot of equal parts tequila, lemon juice, and pozole. Brunch is very popular too.
4. Dos Urban Cantina
Two Topolobampo vets — Brian Enyart and Jennifer Jones Enyart — make up the culinary leadership at this restaurant, which touts an elevated menu puntuacted by bold flavors. Case in point: Soft shell crab gets a morita chile and tamarind glaze; grilled mushrooms are covered in red mole; and pork tenderloin is marinated in sour orange.
5. Alegrias Seafood
Known for large servings of Mexican-style seafood, Alegrias is where folks go to chow down on prawns, langoustines, crab legs, and more at affordable prices. Enjoy complimentary ceviche accompanied with fiery salsa while looking through the extensive menu. The choices can be prepared in a number of different sauces, and it’s best to bring a group to try a bit of everything. There’s a generous BYOB policy as well.
6. Frontera Grill
Arguably Chicago’s most well-known Mexican establishment, Frontera Grill has been exposing new audiences to the country’s distinctive flavors for more than 30 years. Rick Bayless and his team deliver a changing menu of contemporary dishes that are powered by traditional ingredients. From ceviches and guacamoles to rich, complex mole, each refined offering attempts to transport diners to south of the border. Even after three decades and multiple spinoff restaurants, Frontera’s dining room is full day in and day out with both locals and tourists alike.
7. Rubi’s at the New Maxwell Street Market
The Maxwell Street market is an integral part of the city’s cultural fabric. One of the stars of the market is Rubi’s thanks to owners Gilberto Ramirez and Maria Landa’s wondrous tacos. The carne asada is the biggest seller. Go early on Sundays and be prepared to wait in line.
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8. Yvolina's Tamales
Chicago, IL 60608
Tamales can be found on street corners all over the South Side but very few match up to the ones from this Pilsen shop. Mother and daughter Marcelina and Yvonney Hernandez’s creations are a bit nontraditional – the masa is mixed with olive oil and steamed in banana leaves – and come in dozens of flavors. Try them filled with meats, such as pork and chicken, or go for a vegan choice. There are also sweet tamales that make for terrific desserts.
9. Cantón Regio
Chicago, IL 60608
Fans of Pilsen’s iconic Nuevo Leon, which burned in a 2015 fire, can take refuge at this spot from the same owners. Here, they offer updated takes on classics from northern Mexico, such as beef sweetbreads, grilled basket cheese, queso fundido, and an array of skewers.
10. 5 Rabanitos
Chef Alfonso Sotelo, who previously worked at places like Topolobampo and Xoco, opened this casual eatery in 2015. It’s hard to go wrong with the appealing menu of tacos, tortas, caldos, and vegetarian-friendly dishes. Much of the cooking is derived from longtime family recipes and provides a heavy dose of comfort to diners.
11. Panaderia Nuevo Leon
Home to one of the largest communities of Mexican-born immigrants in the United States, Chicago offers much more than just tacos and margaritas. This Pilsen bakery has been specializing in Mexico’s famous sweet breads and other sugary goods since 1973. Grab a pair of tongs and stock up on conchas, butter cookies, and gorditas, all for only a few bucks.
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12. Carnitas Uruapan
Opened in 1975, this family-owned taqueria draws inspiration from the street fare found in the markets of western Mexico and specializes in a third-generation carnitas recipe developed back in the ‘50s. Expect an emphasis on slow-cooked pork carnitas, ordered by the taco or by the pound, and the side dishes that most commonly accompany them, such as cactus salad and chicharrónes.
13. La Chaparrita
Chicago, IL 60623
Little Village’s esteemed Mexican grocery store is a spot for necessities, sure, but it’s also a must for some of the best tacos in town. Start modestly with a sampling of the more traditional variations (including al pastor and asada), then dive into the adventurous items. Cabeza (beef head), crispy tripe, and sesos (brain) are go-tos for regulars.
14. El Milagro
Chicagoans are likely familiar with El Milagro’s products, as they’re readily available in grocers across the region. The company operates several cafeteria-style taquerias and tortillerias as well, and customers line up for plates of guisados (Mexican stews) and tacos. The steak taco in particular is a feast on its own: A big piece of hanger steak is placed on two tortillas and topped with rice, beans, and cabbage slaw.
15. Taqueria Los Gallos
Chicago, IL 60623
Although it’s a taqueria, Los Gallos’s specialty is actually a Mexican soup. The dish – called carne en su jugo (meat in its own juices) – hails from the state of Jalisco and stars a beef broth teeming with steak, bacon, beans, avocado, and more. To satisfy the sweet tooth, head to the sister bakery next door for some pan de dulce.
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16. Birrieria Zaragoza
The Zaragoza clan has spent the past 10+ years serving Archer Heights denizens and visitors birria, a regional stew of spices and goat meat that originated in the state of Jalisco. Today they go through more than 40 goats per week, which are seasoned and cooked for several hours before being served with a tomato consommé, red mole, handmade tortillas, and a fleet of garnishes (onions, cilantro, and lime).