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La Oaxaqueña
Photograph: Martha Williams

The 21 best Mexican restaurants in Chicago

Whether you're craving tacos on housemade tortillas or a steaming bowl of pozole, these Mexican kitchens always deliver

Written by
Time Out Chicago editors
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If top-notch Mexican food is what you're looking for, there are few better big cities to explore than Chicago. Craving crunchy al pastor nestled inside housemade tortillas? The best tacos in Chicago are here to satisfy. Want to splurge a little? The Rick Bayless empire, including the Michelin-starred Topolobampo, awaits with open arms. And in between, you'll find old haunts serving up everything from hearty bowls of pozole to what might be some of the country's most delectable birria. Begin your search in Pilsen and Little Village, the longtime hubs of the city's Mexican-American community—you could spend weeks eating your way through the regional cuisines in those two neighborhoods alone. We've also found two newer favorites in Taqueria Chingón and Mis Moles (in Wicker Park and Irving Park, respectively). Wherever your mood takes you, you can't go wrong at the best Mexican restaurants in Chicago.

RECOMMENDED: More of the best restaurants in Chicago

Best Mexican restaurants in Chicago

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

At this tiny Pilsen storefront, regulars get special treatment (a.k.a. refried beans, not always on offer), newcomers just get blank stares, and everybody gets the carnitas. Ordered by the pound, the juicy pork is served to you on a platter with nothing but a side of corn tortillas and a spicy salsa verde so that you can concoct your own tacos. Not leaving any part of the pig to waste, the limited menu also includes fresh, warm, delicious pork rinds.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Archer Heights
  • price 1 of 4

Thick handmade tortillas, salsas made to order, cinnamon-laced horchata. You can get all of that here. Their only purpose, however, is to accompany this restaurant’s signature platters of chopped goat meat. As opposed to other birrierias, this goat doesn’t touch a consommé until it’s plated, when some of the tomato-based broth is spooned over it. At that point, a good dousing of the restaurant’s intricate hot sauce, and maybe a squeeze of lime and some onions, is all you need for one of the city’s best goat tacos.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Logan Square
  • price 2 of 4

Open since 2017, this Logan Square restaurant puts a one-of-a-kind spin on classic Mexican dishes. Upon opening the menu, your eyes will go straight to the tacos (and you should order a few of those), but the antojos section is where you'll find chef Diana Dávila’s best work—guacamole is showered in black ash, the fish con mole is bright and beautiful and the peanut butter y lengua is one of the most intriguing dishes we’ve ever had. 

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Logan Square

A tasty homage to the streetside eateries of Mexico City, Taqueria Chingón is a partnership between Sotero Gallegos (La Sardine), Oliver Poilevey (Le Bouchon) and Marcos Ascencio (Bar Lupo)—three men with a shared passion for the classics. The tacos al pastor are a must, with tender bits of pork finding their match in creamy avocado salsa, sweet pineapple and flecks of cilantro; a veg-based version of the dish subs in portobello mushrooms and celery root to create a spot-on rendition. Chile-laced pozole warms the belly in the winter months, while the zesty octopus and shrimp ceviche is the perfect refresher come summer.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • South Lawndale
  • price 1 of 4

Chicago’s best all-around taqueria specializes in tacos de fritangas, or fried meats cooked on a wide metal stovetop called a charola. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, from the extra beefy suadero to the intricately spiced longaniza sausage. But the showstopper—and perhaps the best taco in the city—is the tripa. Order it crispy, and these little hunks from the cow’s intestine (not, as you would assume, the stomach) arrive as golden-hued and glistening crunchy nuggets.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • River North
  • price 4 of 4

Consistently earning a Michelin star since 2015, Topolobampo is the fanciest and most upscale of Rick Bayless’s Mexican restaurants. As with all of his restaurants, the products used here are local and seasonal. So whether you’re tucking into fresh oysters or ceviche or one of the beautiful moles, you know you’re eating the best the season has to offer. An ever-changing menu means it’s hard to predict exactly what will be on offer day to day—but because Bayless is involved, it never really feels like a gamble.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

The scope of the menu may not win you over at first—this joint serves only about half a dozen items—but after trying the delectable tongue tacos, the cabeza tacos full of luscious beef cheeks, the simple yet rich goat consommé or the goat tacos bursting with sumptuous meat, you’ll find you won’t want for anything else.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • River West/West Town
  • price 1 of 4

The signage on this skinny counter-service taqueria touts its fare as the best Mexican food in town, and while the objective truth of that may be hard to determine, it indeed does some excellent things with pork. Tacos al pastor are tender and laced with rich adobo essence; others are stuffed with delicately flavored chicharron and slathered with fresh, chunky salsa verde. Weekends bring specials of menudo and birria, the latter featuring forkfuls of soft, mildly gamey meat in a smoky broth.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

XOCO alum chef Alfonso Sotelo's dishes are delightfully comforting with just the right amount of personality. Whether you order a big plate of tacos (which won’t break the bank at $2.95 a piece) or our favorite, the warm and hearty green chicken tamal, you’ll feel welcome at 5 Rabanitos. Expect thoughtful plating (with slivers of radishes on every dish—hence the name) and potentially a visit from Sotelo himself. 

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side

This 18th Street spot has only a small smattering of tables inside, but summers bring respite with an outdoor patio. Our favorite? The enchiladas with red sauce, filled to the brim with cheese or chicken and served with a side of addictive refried beans and rice. Order a cup of Jamaica, too—you’ll want something to wash these sauce-covered cheese-laden guys down.

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  • Restaurants
  • Avondale

Tacos seem like the obvious choice at this Avondale standby, and you can't go wrong with the taqueria's extra-crispy al pastor or carne asada (especially when they're $2.50 a pop). But if you happen to be in the neighborhood around breakfast, be sure to grab an order of chilaquiles—doused in a satisfyingly spicy salsa verde, this massive platter offers almost enough sustenance for two. 

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Logan Square
  • price 1 of 4

There are multiple reasons why this Logan Square taqueria is always bustling with activity. The chunky guac is accompanied by fresh-from-the-fryer chips sprinkled with sea salt; fish tacos sport a perfectly fried filet, crunchy cabbage, fresh pico de gallo and a hint of serrano aioli; perfectly-cooked carne asada graces the steak tacos and burritos; and you can get a cup of maybe the least saccharin horchata in Chicago. One thing you’d expect from a fancier taqueria that you don’t get here: inflated prices.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Irving Park

Mole takes center stage at this still relatively-new venture from chef Geno Bahena (Ixcapuzalco, Chipancingo), which opened last year in Irving Park. Seven different varieties of the sauce—one for each day of the week—are offered on the menu, lending smoky complexity to duck breast, shrimp, pork chop and other signature dishes. That wide variety ensures a mole for every mood: a mole verde, for instance, earns its green color and delicate spice from a mixture of tomatillos, pumpkin seeds, cilantro and epazote.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • West Loop
  • price 3 of 4

It might not be owned by Rick Bayless anymore, but Leña Brava still impresses. Inspired by the fire-cooked cuisine native to Baja California Norte in Mexico, the restaurant serves up dishes perfectly charred over an open hearth or within a wood-burning oven. Oysters are braised with a meyer lemon-anchovy compound butter and enlivened with chipotle, while a ancho chile- and koji-aged ribeye steak takes on an even richer character when basted with duck fat and Oaxacan-style sauce. Pair alongside a smoky glass of mezcal to complete the fireside effect. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Lower West Side

Unlike many of Chicago's tamale shops—which favor a corn husk for the steaming process—Yvolina's cooks each tamal in a neat cocoon of banana leaves, which creates a slightly moister masa shell. You'll also find ingenuity among its fillings, which range from the classics (chicken with salsa verde or rojo) to the not-so-classics (tofu and green tomatillo, quinoa with lentils); both ends of the spectrum, however, are equally delicious, especially when drenched in the shop's mole sauce. Vegans and vegetarians will also be happy to note that many of the tamales are meat- and animal product-free.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • River North
  • price 1 of 4

Breakfast at Rick Bayless’s casual River North haunt is damn near perfect: a cup of masterfully concocted hot chocolate, a flaky chorizo-egg empanada, one hell of a sugar-and-cocoa-coated churro. Lunch here is no less delicious, but it’s a frenzy: Lines extend out the door for tortas filled with fatty, crispy pork carnitas. The crowds keep up at dinner, when caldos like braised-short-rib soup and chicken stew with toothsome posole are the ideal prelude to… another churro.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Irving Park
  • price 1 of 4

With hundreds of Mexican joints to choose from, why do we love this one? Maybe it’s the Huatulco torta, a sandwich that layers housemade chorizo, caramelized onions, a slather of pinto beans and fresh avocado atop cecina, thin beef that’s marinated for two days and then grilled. Or maybe it’s the roasted Cornish hen smothered in Oaxacan mole or the crispy red snapper hiding under pickled red onions. Maybe there are too many reasons to count.

  • Restaurants
  • Logan Square

Owned and operated by the same folks behind Lost Lake and Parson's Chicken & Fish, Lonesome Rose is a hipster's paradise, complete with a sweet rooftop deck. The menu leans Tex-Mex, with crispy fish tacos, fried chicken torta and Truck Stop Nachos, which are piled high with black beans, queso, pickled red onions and crema.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Portage Park
  • price 1 of 4

Don't worry about the flashing signs as you enter Pueblo Nuevo; once you're inside, you'll find a cozy Mexican restaurant with trimmings like cactuses in the windows and old tequila bottles decorating the place. To eat? Order a plate of tacos al pastor with a glass of horchata and you'll be set.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lower West Side
  • price 1 of 4

The bustling sit-down Mexican spot (part of a local chain, with locations throughout the city) serves excellent tacos on fresh tortillas piled with fillings like spicy chorizo and tender steak, topped with onions and cilantro. Dress them with salsa served from squeeze bottles and spicy pickled veggies, including carrots and jalapeños, which sit on every table.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Belmont Cragin
  • price 2 of 4

Clementina Flores is a mole goddess, a woman sent from the heavens to create sauces so rich and complex, you’ll want to ingest them with a straw. Formerly the mole master at Chilpancingo and Ixcapuzalco, she now combines her mole with chef Carlos Tello’s food, and magic happens. For each season, mole-doused entrées take on new flavors. Try the signature borrego en mole negro, which matches a New Zealand rack of lamb with a classic Oaxacan black mole sauce and classic Mexican rice.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • West Lawn
  • price 1 of 4

What this counter-seat-only birria joint lacks in size, it makes up for in flavor. Though all of the soups (birria, posole and menudo) are way better than average, it’s the carne en su jugo that kills. A rich broth, chock-full of creamy beans, bacon and chopped-up skirt steak, hits the spot every time. Tacos and tortas round out the tiny menu but seem completely unnecessary when faced with a giant bowl of steak soup. If the restaurant has them, order the homemade tortillas and fashion your own bacon-steak tacos.

Best Mexican restaurants in America

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