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Photograph: Allie Faszczewski

The 27 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
Contributor
Samantha Nelson
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Some of the best restaurants in Chicago serve Mexican fare, ranging from amazing tacos folded in handmade tortillas to plates of grilled meat and seafood flavored with rich mole. You’ll find bare-bones counter service storefronts in the Mexican-American enclaves of Pilsen and Little Village and upscale restaurants run by chefs with Michelin Stars in River North. These restaurants are as varied as Mexican fare itself, presenting both fusion cuisine and traditional dishes from multiple regions often paired with drink menus that provide a tour of agave spirits served straight or blended into margaritas and palomas. Whatever you’re craving, the best Mexican restaurants in Chicago are sure to leave you full and satisfied.

RECOMMENDED: More of the best restaurants in Chicago

Time Out Market Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • West Loop

Chef Rodolfo Cuadros refers to himself as a “nomad” after a decade spent working alongside Latin American cooks in Miami, London and France. When he opened Wicker Park restaurant Amaru in 2019, Cuadros set out to serve pan-Latin cuisine and share parts of the various cultures that inspire his recipes. Lil Amaru is a continuation of Cuadro’s mission to explore the soul of Latin American cooking, focusing on delicious dishes that are commonly sold by street vendors in countries like Mexico, Cuba and Colombia. You'll find amazing guac and tacos galore.

 

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 coffee—you can get all of that here. Their only purpose, however, is to accompany this Bib Gourmand-rated restaurant’s signature platters of chopped roasted 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 and cilantro, 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—discover an ever-changing menu of dishes like bay scallops and snails served with garlicky salsa, or a savoy cabbage tamale steamed in banana leaves and covered in mole amarillo.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Logan Square

A tasty homage to the streetside eateries of Mexico City, Taqueria Chingón is a partnership between Oliver Poilevey (Le Bouchon) and Marcos Ascencio (Bar Lupo)—two 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. The restaurant recently enclosed its patio to offer year-round seating, rain or shine.

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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
  • 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
  • West Elsdon

Reborn after being closed for two years due to a fire, this sibling spot to La Josie offers the same laid-back vibe. Start with an order of tiger shrimp ceviche then dig into an order of tacos with options including beer-battered striped bass topped with carrots, pickled jalapenos and agave chipotle aioli, or achiote-marinated pork served with baby kale and cilantro. Previously BYOB, the spot now boasts a menu of more than 100 agave spirits including mezcal, tequila, raicilla and Bacanora.

  • 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 $3.25 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 dish—hence the name) and potentially a visit from Sotelo himself.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • West Loop

The new addition to Fulton Market, which opened in June 2021, serves up Mexican-inspired fare from chef Guillermo Reyes with novel dishes like chorizo gnocchi with pearl onions, birria meatballs with queso fresco crema and barbacoa short ribs served with parsnip puree. The bar offers a wide selection of agave-based spirits, expanding beyond tequila and mezcal to sotol and raicilla. Gather a group and share weekend brunch and a pitcher of margaritas on the patio or at one of the long tables inside.

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

Longtime Maxwell Street Market vendors Rubi's have moved into a brick and mortar space in Pilsen, serving a menu of tacos and quesadillas featuring charcoal-grilled asada and pastor. Hours are limited and you'll probably want to order head to avoid waiting in line, but the generously-stuffed tacos and quesadillas are well worth the trouble—especially if you've missed digging into Rubi's signature dishes every Sunday on Desplaines Street.

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  • Restaurants
  • River North

Chef Carlos Gaytán, who became the first Latin American to earn a Michelin Star for his French-Mexican restaurant Mexique, continues to prepare the flavors of his native Mexico with haute cuisine techniques at this River North restaurant. The menu is full of extraordinary dishes like a perfectly prepared guajillo-roasted octopus and ultra tender pork shank served with pickled red onions and habanero salsa. While the crispy red snapper filet is recommended for two, it’s light enough that you can order if solo.

  • 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
  • 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 what might be the least saccharine horchata in Chicago. One thing you’d expect from a fancier taqueria that you don’t get here: inflated prices.

  • 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. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Avondale

Sample the flavors of Mexico City in Logan Square at Con Todo, which serves charcoal-smoked al pastor and tacos with housemade chorizo along Mexican-American fusions like the Pamburguesa, a pamboza prepared like a smashburger. Palomas and margaritas are the stars of the bar menu, the latter customizable with tequila or mezcal and flavors like prickly pear and guava. Try one during happy hour from 4–6pm Wednesday through Friday or 9–10pm Wednesday and Thursday alongside chips served with a sampler of guacamole, salsa and elote dip.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Irving Park

Mole takes center stage at this family-owned restaurant in Irving Park. They offer three different varieties of the sauce—rojo, pipian and verde—and you can try them all alongside chips and salsa before picking your favorite to top chicken breast or enchiladas. Come from 5:30–8:30pm Saturday to listen to a guitarist play flamenco and boleros while sipping a passionfruit margarita or visit during brunch for a hearty meal of chilaquiles or huevos rancheros.

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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
  • West Loop
  • price 3 of 4

The name Leña Brava means “ferocious firewood,” a nod to the restaurant’s focus on classic wood-fired dishes such as the signature garlic-marinated chicken served with jalapeno garlic sauce and a  Oaxacan grilled tlayuda, which comes stuffed with red-chile braised short rib and chihuahua cheese to produce a giant quesadilla. You can also build your own tacos with corn tortillas, caramelized onions, grilled chiles and skirt steak, chicken or cauliflower. Pair your meal with beer from sibling spot Cruz Blanca.

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

Brunch at Rick Bayless’s casual River North haunt is damn near perfect, boasting a michelada with housemade sangrita and breakfast enchiladas featuring handmade tortillas stuffed with scrambled eggs and topped with creamy tomatillo salsa. Lunch and dinner is equally impressive, offering red chile pork belly tacos and spicy steak with ramp aioli piled on giant wood-fired corn masa tostadas. Finish your meal on a sweet note with a cup of masterfully concocted hot chocolate blended with chile and allspice and a pistachio-glazed churro.

  • 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.

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  • Restaurants
  • Logan Square

Owned and operated by the same folks behind Longman & Eagle 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, burritos and Truck Stop Nachos, which are piled high with black beans, queso, pickled red onions and crema. Share a pitcher of margaritas made with tequila or mezcal or order a sweet glass of horchata you can get spiked with rum or bourbon.

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

This cozy restaurant decorated with cacti, Mexican art and flowers is a popular spot for both date nights and family dinners. Warm up with a bowl of pozole sprinkled with dried chili peppers or enjoy a lighter meal of shrimp served in spicy tomato sauce with a side of rice. You also can’t go wrong with pastor or grilled beef tacos nestled served in warm tortillas and sprinkled with cilantro and onions.

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