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Mi Tocaya
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas Mi Tocaya

The 21 best Mexican restaurants in Chicago

From tiny taco joints to newfangled hipster hangouts, these are the best Mexican restaurants in Chicago

By Time Out Chicago editors

The best Mexican restaurants in Chicago run the gamut—from old-school haunts that are steeped in history to newfangled spots that push boundaries and borders. Whether you're looking for the best tacos in Chicago, a soul-warming bowl of pozole or a mountain of carnitas, these Mexican kitchens have you covered. As an added bonus, many of our favorites offer some of the tastiest cheap eats in Chicago, so you don't have to spend a fortune. (If you want to splurge, there's Rick Bayless's Michelin-starred restaurant Topolobampo.) Your search should start in Pilsen and Little Village, where many of the top Mexican restaurants in Chicago established themselves decades ago. Then head north to Logan Square to discover two newer favorites, Mi Tocaya Antojería and Quiote. There's plenty to explore along the way, so scope out the 21 all-time best Mexican restaurants in Chicago.

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The best of the city under one roof

Dos Urban Cantina, Time Out Market Chicago
Photograph: Sandy Noto

Dos Urban Cantina - Time Out Market Chicago

Restaurants West Loop

Brian Enyart and Jennifer Jones Enyart lay claim to the ultimate Chicago love story: They met while working under storied chefs Rick Bayless and Charlie Trotter, respectively. Years later, they opened Dos Urban Cantina in Logan Square (and later, a stand at Time Out Market Chicago), where they use contemporary ingredients and flavors to put their own spin on Mexican staples, like the tamal tots—hunky nuggets of masa served with spicy habanero crema. The only way you can mess up your order here is by skipping Jennifer's famed chocolate cake, which we're convinced is laced with loads of cocoa and pure magic.

Best Mexican restaurants in Chicago

Photograph: Nick Murway

1. Carnitas Uruapan

Restaurants Mexican Lower West Side

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.

Chicken Mole at Ixcateco Grill
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

2. Ixcateco Grill

Restaurants Mexican Albany Park

Topolobampo alum chef Anselmo Ramirez helms this Albany Park spot. Ramirez does red meats best—so pick the tender carne asada, with wood-grilled skirt steak served alongside a hefty container of warm tortillas and a side of black beans, guac and salsa. It’s a dish you’ll be tempted to split with dining companions, but trust us, you’ll immediately regret sharing this one.

Mi Tocaya
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

3. Mi Tocaya Antojería

Restaurants Mexican Logan Square

There are plenty of great new Mexican restaurants in Chicago, but Mi Tocaya in Logan Square is one to watch. 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. Return at the end of the weekend for Dávila’s Sunday dinner series, Domingo Familiar, where you can order additional menu items like fried chicken and churros or elotes.

4. Birrieria Zaragoza

Restaurants Mexican Archer Heights

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.

Saffron rice on the Topolobampo Mexico City 1671 menu.
Photograph: Martha Williams

5. Topolobampo

Restaurants Mexican River North

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.

Photograph: Debbie Carlos

6. La Chaparrita

Restaurants Mexican South Lawndale

Chicago’s best all-around taqueria specializes in tacos de fritangas, or fried meaty things 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.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

7. Quiote

Restaurants Mexican Logan Square

Consider this Logan Square eatery an ode to mezcal and Mexican flavors. The dinner menu offers plenty of surprising, chef-forward finds like Cornish hen with mole verde, grilled scallops with burnt lavender and the fan-favorite crab tostada—most for under $20. Over the lunch hour, belly up for a rotating selection of tacos, tortas and salads. After the sun goes down, return for a drink at Todos Santos, the restaurant's basement mezcal bar, offering balanced cocktails, flights and beer.

8. Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan

Restaurants Mexican Lower West Side

There are a few birrierias (spots that specialize in Mexican goat stew) sprinkled throughout the city, but all it takes is one visit to this one before you stop caring about the rest. 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.


9. Leña Brava

Restaurants Mexican West Loop

Our favorite of Rick Bayless’s restaurants offers a divided menu of fire and ice. Chill out with cold dishes like oysters topped with spicy-citrus shaved ice and fresh ceviche with Hawaiian albacore, tomatoes, olives and spicy green chile. Then warm up with plates from the hearth, like crispy duck leg glazed with ancho and tamarind or Spanish octopus with a classic Oaxacan green mole. It goes without saying that mezcal pairs perfectly with both sides of the menu.

10. Taqueria El Mezquite

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, you’ll want something to wash these sauce-covered cheese-laden guys down.


11. XOCO

Restaurants Mexican River North

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.

12. 5 Rabanitos

Restaurants Mexican Lower West Side

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 $2.75 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. This is his restaurant, and he’s happy to serve you.


13. Masa Azul

Restaurants Mexican Logan Square

This Logan Square restaurant is known for its extensive lineup of agave spirits, which contributes to it top-notch cocktail list. Try a Oaxacan Old Fashioned—tequila, mezcal, agave and mole and Angostura bitters—before tucking into an order of shrimp ceviche and crispy tostones. Finish your meal with a sweet treat from Sweet Lady Flan in Wicker Park.

Photograph: Marina Makropoulos

14. Taqueria Traspasada #2

Restaurants Mexican River West/West Town

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 (pork skin) and slathered with fresh, chunky salsa verde. Weekends bring specials of menudo and birria (goat soup), the latter featuring forkfuls of soft, mildly gamey meat in a smoky broth.


15. Las Palmas

Restaurants Mexican Wicker Park

Come summertime, Chicagoans flock to this family-owned Wicker Park restaurant for margaritas and white fish ceviche on the sunny patio out back. You can't go wrong with any of the carefully crafted entrees, but we're particularly fond of the fish tacos with jicama and mango as well as the cochinita pibil, braised pork shoulder that's roasted in banana leaves and served with black beans, tortillas and roasted habanero salsa.

16. La Oaxaqueña

Restaurants Mexican Irving Park

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.

Courtesy Land & Sea Dept

17. Lonesome Rose

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.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

18. Pueblo Nuevo

Restaurants Mexican Portage Park

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.


19. Taqueria Los Comales

Restaurants Mexican Lower West Side

The bustling sit-down Mexican spot 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.

20. Sol de Mexico

Restaurants Mexican Belmont Cragin

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.


21. Birrieria de la Torre

Restaurants Mexican West Lawn

What this counter-seat-only birria (goat stew) 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.

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