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Tamales Elena y Antojitos
Photograph: Courtesy Tamales Elena y Antojitos/Wonho Frank Lee

The 15 best Mexican restaurants in L.A.

Whether at a new stand or a full-service Oaxacan staple, these Mexican restaurants will satisfy your cravings.

Written by
Joshua Lurie
,
Stephanie Breijo
&
Time Out contributors
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Mexican food might be the official cuisine of Los Angeles, with a taqueria or taco truck on seemingly every corner and freshly made horchata a standard summer drink. What can we say? We’re blessed. But the South of the Border fare 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 moles, tamales and picante plates to round up L.A.’s best Mexican restaurants, from old-school traditional to modern and back again.

Try these 15 outstanding Mexican restaurants

  • 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
  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • 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
  • Beverly Hills

Chef Joshua Gil braises thick wedges of short rib, lays them over mashed corn and tops them with wasabi peas all tucked within handmade tortillas, and he’s just as creative when it comes to the fried chicken taco. And the octopus al pastor. And the whole fish swimming in masa jus. At Mírame, a new modern-Mexican spot in Beverly Hills, the fare is exciting and the bites are unpredictable. Pops of acidity might come from a black lime gastrique or a guava-and-tomatillo pico de gallo, with Gil’s creations keeping us on our toes in the best way. You’ll find bold flavors here unique to the Tacos Punta Cabras vet’s whims: oysters with a spiced saffron apple mignonette; striped-bass ceviche under an aguachile granita; all-day breakfast burritos stuffed with lamb bacon and duck carnitas; quesadillas brimming with turkey barbacoa, a thin sheath of cotija griddled and crunchy along the surface. It’s a rabbit hole worth following wherever Gil’s creativity takes you.

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 packed with ground beef, dried fruits, walnuts and candied cactus, 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

Chef Wes Avila's café in Chinatown's Mandarin Plaza 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
  • Commerce
  • price 2 of 4

Aqui es Texcoco gained a steady and committed following with its lamb-barbacoa–focused menu. The no-frills 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 sound altogether enticing but it most definitely is. One of the best parts of Aqui is the unique Mexican beer they have to offer, plus their selection of aguas frescas. Cheers!

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  • 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 at the time trailblazing) ode to regional Mexican food on the map. At Socalo it’s revamped but still streamlined, a casual space for 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 (and reverence for) Mexican food still feel uniquely theirs.

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

Petty Cash Taqueria is a bright, open space filled with graffiti dancing on the walls, plenty of tequila behind the bar and, as is often fashionable for painfully cool places, loud and lively music. This is Mexican street food as reinterpreted by chef Walter Manzke of République: The signature nachos get smothered in kale and a poblano crema; potatoes for the doradoes get sourced from the local and incredible 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. Overall, what you have is truly an upscale taqueria, and quite a good one at that.

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  • 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 (which is 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.

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

With locations in Santa Monica, Hollywood, Manhattan Beach, Pasadena and West Third Street, Mercado brings an inventive mix of food, atmosphere and tradition all over Los Angeles. The menu here has developed somewhat of a cult following; diners flock to Mercado for chef-partner Jose Acevedo’s carnitas and flan. 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.

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

The tacos, sides and steaks are solid 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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