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Damian Dining Room
Photograph: Courtesy Araceli PazDamian DTLA

The best Mexican restaurants in L.A.

When it comes to tacos, mole and more, these full-service eateries are the crème de la crème.

Edited by
Patricia Kelly Yeo
Contributors
Joshua Lurie
&
Stephanie Breijo
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Mexican food is probably the official cuisine of Los Angeles, with a taqueria or taco truck on seemingly every corner and freshly made agua frescas the summer drink of choice for thirsty Angelenos. What can we say? We’re blessed. But fare from south of the border runs so much deeper than tacos, with flavors and preparations that can vary depending not only by seasonality and provenance, but simply by which L.A. neighborhood we happen to be in at the moment. We tasted our way through every taco, mole, tamale and more to round up L.A.’s best sit-down Mexican restaurants, from old-school traditional to modern and back again.

The best Mexican restaurants, ranked

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Koreatown
  • price 1 of 4

Guelaguetza has served as a culinary institution in L.A. since the Lopez family opened the restaurant in 1994. Named after an Oaxacan dance, the popular Koreatown spot is known for its unparalleled moles, which are paired with plates of hearty tacos, rice, meat and vegetables. Lively music usually accompanies your meal—whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner—and it’s not unusual to see diners get up and dance. Want to try and replicate your dish at home? An attached store sells jars of Guelaguetza’s moles—red, black and coloradito—along with ingredients to make their fantastic micheladas.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Downtown Arts District
  • price 3 of 4

Since its lockdown era debut, Enrique Olvera's Damian has quietly become one of the best upscale Mexican restaurants in the city, as well as one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles, period. Damian’s understatedly stylish ambience and unforgettable seafood-centric small plates, grilled meats and playful vegetable mains easily put it in the same league as its always-popular parking lot neighbor, Bestia, but the restaurant defies any simple comparison. When every bite reflects Damian’s commitment to traditional Mexican cooking techniques and ingredient sourcing, there’s no one singularly great dish to order, but you’d be remiss not to order the unforgettable duck al pastor and art-like hibiscus meringue. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Inglewood
  • price 2 of 4

Anything east of LAX doesn’t exactly scream seafood, but Coni’Seafood’s Cossio family turned Inglewood into an oceanic dining destination before expanding the operation to Marina Del Rey—where it’s still holding its own, even right by the water. The lean menu of Nayarit-cuisine hits includes popular smoked marlin tacos, more than a dozen shrimp dishes, from raw to deep-fried, and more elaborate specialties such as the beloved (and so-photogenic) pescado zarandeado—butterflied snook fish that’s marinated in soy sauce and grilled to savory perfection over charcoal.

  • Restaurants
  • Mid City
  • price 1 of 4

Oaxaca natives David Padilla and Maria Ramos’s Mid-City restaurant is where Angelenos and their families pay respects to all things spiced and barbecued. Barbacoa dishes draw large crowds chowing down on goat meat enchiladas in a tomato broth with crunchy cabbage and cilantro, or bone-in lamb served with salty queso-sprinkled refried beans. Adventurous eaters opt for the lamb: pancita (stomach) cooked with iron-rich blood, onion and spice seals the deal. The house trinity of salsas reside in bins under a shiny painting of the Virgin Mary: tangy tomatillo with avocado and cilantro, roasted tomato and spicy jalapeño. Of course, no Oaxacan eatery would be complete without mole. Gish Bac’s mole negro is particularly good, with chicken leg and thigh blanketed in a well-balanced sauce of smokiness and spice.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Southeast Cities
  • price 1 of 4

This Afro-Mexican restaurant makes some of the best food in Los Angeles—and Southern California, period. Cauldrons of hours-long–simmered pozoles; piles of tender and steaming tamales; and phenomenal crisped tacos from Mexico’s Guerrero region hum with spice and heat and passion from the mother-and-daughters team of the Lorenzo family. With the metamorphosis of their food truck into a walk-up restaurant they’ve been able to add and add and add, thankfully giving us a now-lengthy menu of saucy picadas, a number of pozoles piled with chicharrones and avocado, and just-barely-fried tacos so thin you feel like you could (and definitely want to) eat 20 of them.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • South LA
  • price 2 of 4

Inside South Central’s Mercado La Paloma, this small family-run food stall run by Gilbert Cetina offers some of the city’s best Yucatecan-style mariscos. From bold, bright ceviches to tostadas brimming with uni and kanpachi, there are no wrong orders in the raw seafood realm at Holbox—though you might also want to order a taco filled with plump, perfectly seared scallops every once in a while. Weekend-only six-course tasting menus help diners besieged by decision paralysis, but the technique, recipes and heritage of Cetina’s first award-winning restaurant, Chichen Itza, live on here in more seafood-centric form.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Beverly Hills

At this bright, airy restaurant on Canon Drive, you’ll find some of the city’s most exciting Mexican cuisine courtesy of chef Joshua Gil (of Santa Monica’s now-closed Tacos Puntas Cabras). Pops of acidity might come from a black lime gastrique or a guava-and-tomatillo pico de gallo, with the chef’s creations keeping us on our toes in the best possible way. No matter the dish, bold, unique flavors abound: the Niman Ranch pork belly with strawberry pico de gallo; tender local squid under an aguachile granita infused with fennel and hibiscus; oysters with a lemon verbena & basil seed mignonette; even a funky pork terrine tostada. More evergreen standouts include the salmon skin chicharron and “mexikosho”-inflected seafood tostada.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Torrance
  • price 2 of 4

This vibrant Oaxacan restaurant keeps the party going all day and night with one of the most impressive mezcal collections in L.A.—and California—and with food that’s just as awe-inspiring. With locations in Torrance, West Hollywood and Palms, Madre has made finding some of the most flavorful tlayudas, moles, antojitos, tacos and tamales a breeze all over the region, and it’s always worth seeking out. House-made tortillas, long-simmered braises, perfectly charred grilled meats, and some achingly fresh seafood demonstrate just how much care owner Ivan Vasquez pours into each location.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Downtown Arts District
  • price 3 of 4

If you’re itching for a taste of Mexico City, head to this stunning palm- and cacti-lined patio in the Arts District, where chef Paco Moran’s luscious, seafood-oriented share plates and addicting housemade tortillas chips add up to a transportative meal any day of the week. The same precision and seasonality extends to the upscale restaurant’s cocktails and desserts, including a gorgeous, crystal-clear strawberry milk punch and arroz con leche topped with puffed rice and mango passionfruit gel. For an equally transportative experience, post up at the bar all evening and pound spicy margaritas and palomas served in a traditional clay pot or try Cha Cha Chá’s cachaça, rhum and mandarin Jarritos-based painkiller.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Downtown Arts District
  • price 2 of 4

The goods at Guerrilla Tacos are seasonal and well-crafted, and this former food truck, now restaurant, is one of the stars of the California taco style: where chefs combine Mexican traditions with California cuisine and culture. The small menu here features local ingredients and changes regularly, which is part of the fun since you can try something different each time, though you can almost always find the now-iconic sweet potato tacos and a tostada or two. Past creations have included everything from foie gras and oxtail tacos to Puerto Vallarta-style crab tacos. If you’re an early riser, stop by the sibling coffee shop, Guerrilla Cafecito, for some of our favorite breakfast burritos.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Hollywood

When you’re craving cozy Mexican American food with (literal) flaming margaritas, the Hollywood location of El Compadre (the other is in Echo Park) is ready to serve you every iteration of cheese, tortilla, rice, beans, salsa and a dash of sour cream and guacamole under the sun. Endless chips and salsa also mean that you’ll never leave hungry from this old school spot, which dates back to the '70s and has the look and feel of a Mexican hacienda, complete with clay roof tiles, wrought iron lanterns and stained glass chandeliers. El Compadre’s fun, unfussy atmosphere and solid food mean that it’s a party almost any day of the week—so make a reservation if you can.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Bell
  • price 2 of 4

Jalisco natives and chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu opened their restaurant in Bell 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—roasted poblano peppers packed with ground beef, dried fruits, walnuts and candied cactus, then topped with pecan cream sauce and pomegranate seeds—a colorful ode to the Mexican flag. House-made corn tortillas are similarly patriotic with red (guajillo chile), green (nopales) and white (corn), the perfect accompaniment to a plate of tres moles, which features three types: traditional poblano and two types of pipián, creamy pumpkin-seen based versions of the sauce.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

This Chinatown café by Wes Avila, the founding chef of Guerrilla Tacos offers a little bit of everything: The tortas, tacos and burritos that comprise the regular menu are stellar, but the daily specials really allow the founding chef of Guerrilla Tacos to play. You might find duck ramen one day, or an eggy Spanish tortilla topped with razor-clam conservas another. You could catch roasted bone marrow—meant to be scraped onto a tuna tostada—or you could pop by the casual walk-up window and see the daily menu features caldo de siete mares, a stew brimming with clams, mussels, prawns and more. What we're saying is: Order the tortas and tacos and burritos and the tamal, but always, always check the daily specials here.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Sherman Oaks
  • price 2 of 4

​​This family-run SFV institution has served families, groups, the after-work crowd and date-night couples since 1956. The dimly lit space spans a main front bar and two separate dining rooms. Spread out on red leather banquettes and dig into fairly solid Tex-Mex favorites such as sizzling fajitas, queso fundido and Mexican pizza. The vast menu also boasts lobster enchiladas to enchilada and tamale combination plates, and even a burger. To tipple, there's an extensive margarita selection of the spiked house specialty from blood orange-blended to toasted coconut-rimmed. Open until 2am, the eatery also guarantees a good time for any late-night Valley revelers.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Commerce
  • price 2 of 4

Aqui es Texcoco gained a steady and committed following with its lamb barbacoa-focused menu. The no-frills Commerce restaurant distills lamb into its finest parts—with mixed results, to be sure, but always with care and a cheery disposition channeled through the most kind and helpful servers. To get a glimpse of how Aqui strives to honor lamb at its fullest, look no further than the lamb broth consomé, which arrives alongside most entrées. Is there any way to describe this soup other than pastoral? It smells as fresh as a barn, which doesn’t exactly sound enticing, but it most definitely is. One of the best parts of Aqui is their Mexican beer they have to offer, plus their selection of aguas frescas. Cheers!

  • Restaurants
  • Torterias
  • Highland Park
  • price 1 of 4

For nearly three decades, El Huarache Azteca has been drawing crowds of hungry fans for their excellent Mexico City-style huaraches. Don’t be fooled by their stylish makeover—switching red walls to black and expanded the seating options—because they’ve maintained the magic. For the uninitiated, huaraches are a flat, oval of masa that resembles a sandal (where the dish gets its name) that is topped with beans, meat or vegetables, crema, crumbled cotija cheese and cilantro. Topped with fillings and salsas, it can be a beautiful, delicious mess. Besides the signature huaraches, we also recommend the quesadillas (particularly those filled with huitlacoche, an earthy corn fungus) and the barbacoa. Cool off with a refreshing agua fresca.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Fairfax District
  • price 2 of 4

Chef Walter Manzke’s upscale Mid-City taco joint offers finely honed renditions of your average street taco, with always delicious, though fairly pricey results. Here, the signature nachos get smothered in kale and a poblano crema; potatoes for the doradoes get sourced from the local chef favorite Weiser Family Farms; and, of course, tacos—at $6 to $8 apiece—are filled with Berkshire pork, grilled octopus, and nicely marinated al pastor, to name a few options. When it comes to upper middle price tier tacos in a trendy, sit-down setting, there’s no better place in central Los Angeles than Petty Cash, especially once you factor in the freshly made tortilla chips, killer vegetarian nachos and bountiful margaritas.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Santa Monica
  • price 2 of 4

Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken returned to Santa Monica after years away, and as it turned out, opening a colorful cantina around their old Border Grill stomping grounds meant an all new rainbow of citrusy, produce-forward, hyper-fresh and beachy Cal-Mexican dishes—the kind of cooking that put their lauded (and once-trailblazing) ode to regional Mexican food on the map. Socalo brings a revamped but similar approach to casual all-day tacos, burritos, ceviches, and salads tossed together with ingredients pulled from the nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market. There are vegetables and California influence tucked into every dish—sometimes sneakily so—in a way that makes Feniger and Milliken’s execution of Mexican cooking still feel like it's uniquely theirs.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • West Third Street
  • price 2 of 4

With locations in Santa Monica, Hollywood, Manhattan Beach, Pasadena and West Third Street, Mercado brings a certain kind of consistently solid, middle ground Mexican food and lively atmosphere all over Los Angeles. During brunch, chipotle bloody Marys can be paired with a canela French toast or decadent chilaquiles. And if you’re a fan of tequila, Mercado is your spot: There are more than 70 kinds of premium silver, reposado and añejo tequilas and mezcals, in addition to draft beer.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Frog Town
  • price 2 of 4

The tacos, sides and steaks are only slightly above average at this alfresco Frogtown spot, but the vibe is undeniably one of the best in the city. Humming, lively and entirely outdoors, Salazar gives us one of the breeziest, most fun settings—and a great spot for people-watching as we nosh on al pastor quesadillas, loaded carne asada fries, a rainbow of tacos and larger entrées, not to mention the desserts (we still love the horchata bread pudding, years in). But don’t miss the drinks—they’re just as important as the food here, especially since the bar serves up one of L.A.'s best palomas.

See the best Mexican restaurants in America

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