Best Mexican restaurants in Chicago

From Rick Bayless’s empire to tiny taco joints, these are the best Mexican restaurants Chicago has to offer

Chicago’s Mexican food scene is rich and steeped in history. The options here range from lavish dishes at Rick Bayless’s restaurants to counter-service tacos to tamales that randomly appear at the city's best dive bars. There’s truly something for every craving in neighborhoods across the city. If you're looking for something authentic, your search should start in Pilsen and Little Village, but you'll find funky twists on the cuisine on the North and South sides, too. Whether you’re looking for Chicago’s best tacostop margaritas or some damn good salsa, we have a Mexican restaurant to fit your fancy.
RECOMMENDED: Our complete list of the best Chicago restaurants

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Photograph: Nick Murway
Restaurants, Mexican
Carnitas Uruapan
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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.
icon-location-pin Lower West Side
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Photograph: Debbie Carlos
Restaurants, Mexican
La Chaparrita
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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 seriously 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.
icon-location-pin South Lawndale
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Restaurants, Mexican
Mi Tocaya Antojería
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Plenty of new Mexican restaurants opened their doors in 2017, 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 verde is bright and beautiful and the peanut butter y lengua is one of the most intriguing dishes we’ve tasted this year. Return at the end of the weekend for Dávila’s Sunday Dinner series, where you can order additional menu items like fried chicken and churros or elote. 
icon-location-pin Logan Square
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Restaurants, Mexican
Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan
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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.
icon-location-pin Lower West Side
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5
Restaurants, Mexican
Leña Brava
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Our favorite of Rick Bayless’s restaurants boasts a menu based around ice and fire in a mid-to-upscale setting with plenty of tables. The ice portion of the menu is filled with cold and raw dishes like aguachiles and ceviches. We’re fans of the verde ceviche, with baja hiramasa yellowtail, green chile adobo, daikon radish, cucumber, shaved fennel, grilled garlic chives and avocado. On the fire side, try the braised shortrib with Oaxacan pasilla salsa, set pleasingly on top of creamy cauliflower mash. Between the bite of the ice plates and the warm smoke of the fire dishes, your taste buds will be delighted.
icon-location-pin West Loop
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Las Quecas
Photograph: Jaclyn Elizabeth Rivas
Restaurants, Mexican
Las Quecas
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Tucked in the back of La Catedral Cafe & Restaurant is Las Quecas, the only Chicago outpost of the quesadilla chain (there are also locations in Carpentersville and Melrose Park). The tortillas are made right in front of you and it shows—they’re thick, fresh and perfect vessels for fillings that range from carne asada to squash blossom. Chicharrones are tender and cloaked with a vibrant salsa roja that ofers a slow burn, while a spin through the salsa bar reveals some excellent, piquant sauces.
icon-location-pin South Lawndale
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Saffron rice on the Topolobampo Mexico City 1671 menu.
Photograph: Martha Williams
Restaurants, Mexican
Topolobampo
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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 eating 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.
icon-location-pin River North
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Restaurants, Mexican
Taqueria El Mezquite
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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.
icon-location-pin Lower West Side
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5 Rabanitos
Restaurants, Mexican
5 Rabanitos
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This newer Pilsen spot comes from chef Alfonso Sotelo, a XOCO alum. His 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 $2.25 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 plate—hence the name) and potentially a visit from Sotelo himself. This is his restaurant, and he’s happy to serve you.
icon-location-pin Lower West Side
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Restaurants, Mexican
Birrieria Zaragoza
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Thick handmade tortillas, salsas made to order, cinnamon-laced coffee. 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.
icon-location-pin Archer Heights
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11
Quiote
Restaurants, Mexican
Quiote
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Consider this Logan Square eatery an ode to mezcal and Mexican flavors. The dinner menu offers plenty of surprising, chef-forward finds like chorizo verde, crab tostada and bone marrow with avocado and cilantro—most for under $20. Over the lunch hour, belly up for a rotating selection of tacos, tortas and salads. And after the sun goes down, it’s all about the subterranean Todos Santos mezcal bar, offering balanced cocktails, flights and beer. 
icon-location-pin Logan Square
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Masa Azul
Restaurants, Mexican
Masa Azul
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This Logan Square eatery is known for its extensive lineup of agave spirits, which contributes to it top-notch cocktail list. Try a Oaxacan Old Fashioned—tequila, mescal, agave and mole and Angostura bitters—before tucking into an order of lime ceviche and crispy tostones. Finish your meal with a sweet treat from Sweet Lady Flan in Wicker Park.
icon-location-pin Logan Square
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Photograph: Marina Makropoulos
Restaurants, Mexican
Taqueria Traspasada #2
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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.
icon-location-pin River West/West Town
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Los Comales
Restaurants, Mexican
Taqueria Los Comales
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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 jalapenos, which sit on the table.
icon-location-pin Lower West Side
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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Restaurants, Mexican
Pueblo Nuevo
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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? All you need to do is order a plate of tacos al pastor with a glass of horchata and you'll be set. 
icon-location-pin Portage Park
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Photograph: Heather Shouse
Restaurants, Mexican
Taqueria El Milagro
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This sunny Pilsen café, which is covered in bright purple, yellow and orange paint inside and out, is next door to one of the city’s most successful purveyors of corn and flour tortillas. Employees clearly know how to put those tortillas to good use: piling them with tender chicken legs submerged in mole rojo, or sumptuous, slow-cooked beef in a rich tomato sauce. Satisfying tamales are available for a more portable meal—but keep in mind that you can’t take the sunniness with you.
icon-location-pin Lower West Side
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Goat Albondigas at Dos Urban Cantina
Photograph: Courtesy Dos Urban Cantina
Restaurants, Mexican
Dos Urban Cantina
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On a stretch of Armitage Avenue that’s become a major hub of Logan Square’s dining scene, Topolobampo alums Brian Enyart and Jennifer Jones Enyart deliver joyful, inventive Mexican food. See, for instance, the juicy carnitas, crowned with an unorthodox tangle of cabbage, and the lovely arrangement of grilled mushrooms and sweet chestnut cornbread anchored in earthy red mole. End with glazed plantains and queso fresco over rich, mildly funky cajeta, and sip on the Rosita, a Negroni reimagined with tequila and Amargo-Vallet bitters.
icon-location-pin Logan Square
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Chicken Mole at Ixcateco Grill
Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki
Restaurants, Mexican
Ixcateco Grill
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Chef Anselmo Ramirez, an alum of Topolobampo, helms this Albany Park spot. Ramirez does red meats best—so pick the juicy carne asada, with wood-grilled skirt steak served with a hefty container of warm tortillas and a side of black beans and guacamole. It’s a dish you’ll be tempted to split to try more things, but trust us, you’ll just want two.
icon-location-pin Albany Park
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Restaurants, Mexican
XOCO
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Breakfast at Rick Bayless’s most casual spot yet is quiet perfection: a cup of masterfully concocted hot chocolate, a flaky 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.
icon-location-pin River North
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Restaurants, Mexican
Sol de Mexico
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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, mashed potatoes, jack cheese and green beans.
icon-location-pin Belmont Cragin
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Restaurants, Mexican
La Oaxaqueña
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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.
icon-location-pin Irving Park
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Restaurants, Mexican
Birrieria de la Torre
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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.
icon-location-pin West Lawn
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