Best restaurants in Los Angeles: LA's best Mexican restaurants

From a Farmers Market Original taco stall to a destination Oaxacan eatery, LA's best Mexican restaurants satisfy your South of the Border cravings



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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Shrimp tostada at PettyCash Taqueria

Mexican food might be the official cuisine of Los Angeles with a tacqueria on every other block. But the South-of-the-Border fare runs so much deeper than tacos, with flavors and preparations that can vary depending on what neighborhood we happen to be in. We tasted our way through moles, barbecue and piquant plates to round up LA's best Mexican restaurants. 

RECOMMENDED: Best Restaurants in Los Angeles

El Cholo

  • Price band: 2/4

Having opened in 1923, El Cholo is Los Angeles' oldest continuously operated Mexican restaurant, and it probably hasn't been at the cutting edge of cuisine for something like 80 years. Still, the Mexican comfort food is fantastic and the atmosphere is historic in a way very few other LA eateries can manage. Must-have options include guacamole (made tableside), green corn tamales and the margaritas, by which all others (at least in LA) are judged.

  1. Downtown, Santa Monica, Central LA
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  • Price band: 2/4

In the same vein of never judging a book by its cover, never judge a restaurant by its façade. From Sunset Boulevard, Diablo Taco looks pompous and cold among Silver Lake’s gritty strip malls, rusty food trucks, and of course, the Los Angeles relic that is Los Globos. Why would any Angeleno opt to get their taco fix from a trendy restaurant rather than the stand on the corner? The answer: Red duck mole, braised pork belly and bison chili. Their “Urban Tacos,” which run between $2 and $6 each, utilize the basic construction of a taco to create unique and exciting flavor experiences. But it doesn’t stop at tacos. The “Knife and Fork” section offers shareable dishes, specifically the carne asada nachos, which come in a pho-sized bowl with no lack of cheese, jalapenos and bacon refried beans. Other highlights are the grilled sweet corn and the Diablo Dog, a bacon-wrapped kobe beef hot dog topped with bison chili.

  1. Silver Lake
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Gracias Madre

  • Price band: 2/4

It should be said, right off the bat, that Gracias Madre is beautiful. A cross between Mexican chic and Palm Springs casual, the vegan Mexican restaurant is decorated with festive cushions and tiles, a gorgeous courtyard and, inside, high ceilings and a comfortable bar. Wherever you choose to sit, order the guacamole—it is truly fantastic. The sopes con piña, looking like mini savory quiches, are two masa cakes piled high with pineapple salsa, cabbage, beans and guacamole. For dessert, a more traditional option might have been the flan, but the pumpkin cake is the way to go. Flanked by creamy vanilla bean coconut ice cream, the seasonal cake is gently spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon, and tastes remarkably like fall. It is a necessary reminder that vegan doesn't have to mean void of flavor, and that Gracias Madre has arrived as an ethically-conscious alternative to LA's growing haute Mexican scene.

  1. West Hollywood
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PettyCash Taquería

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

Before entering PettyCash Taquería, you may note "RIP Playa" tagged right outside the door; this would be a nod to the Beverly Boulevard space's previous occupant, John Sedler’s Playa. Save for that reminder, though, you may fail to recognize its old self: Gone are the dim lighting and the intimate tables. Instead, the bright, open space is filled with graffiti dancing on the walls, communal tables and, as is fashionable for painfully cool places these days, very loud music. This is PettyCash—Mexican street food as reinterpreted by Los Angeles chef Walter Manzke (Bastide, Church & State). Crispy Brussels sprouts are nicely amped-up by Morita-cauliflower crema ($9), a beautiful ceviche negro made with mahi mahi, squid ink, mango and peanuts ($14), and, of course, tacos, at about $4 each, are filled with Berkshire pork, grilled octopus and nicely marinated al pastor. Overall, what you have is truly an upscale taqueria, and quite a good one at that.

  1. Mid-City
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La Casita Mexicana

  • Price band: 2/4

Thanks to chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu, the city of Bell has become a dining destination. The Jalisco natives opened their upscale restaurant in the South LA nabe in 1999 and have since become TV personalities, famously defeating Bobby Flay in a chile relleno Throwdown. Try the duo’s meat-filled version: Chile en nogada ($15.95)—roasted Poblano packed with ground beef, dried fruits, walnuts and candied cactus, topped with pecan cream sauce and pomegranate seeds—is a colorful ode to the Mexican flag. Housemade corn tortillas are similarly patriotic with red (guajillo chile), green (nopales) and white (corn), the perfect accompaniment to a plate of Tres Moles ($14.95) that features three types: traditional poblano and two types of pipián, creamy pumpkin-seen based, sauce. Stop by the adjacent tiendita to pick up Mexican pantry items, but it’s hard to compete with preparations this good.

  1. Bell
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