Prevailing wisdom says that Mexican restaurants in NYC can’t compare to the stuff they’re serving out West. Consider this list of the city’s best taco-, burrito- and guacamole-slinging establishments to be our convincing retort. From trumped-up South of the Border imports to homegrown cheap eats joints, these are the best Mexican restaurants NYC has to offer.
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Best Mexican restaurants in NYC
Enrique Olvera’s elegant high-gear small plates—pristine, pricey and market-fresh—more than fills that gap in New York dining. It steamrolls right over it. Tacos make a solitary appearance on the menu, in an atypically generous portion of duck carnitas. But Olvera’s single-corn tortillas pop up frequently, from a complimentary starter of crackly blue-corn tortillas with chile-kicked pumpkin-seed butter to dense, crispy tostadas dabbed with bone-marrow salsa and creamy tongues of uni.
The owners of Bar Henry branch out to Queens with this 40-seat Mexican eatery, specializing in the regional cuisine of Cintalapa, Chiapas. Brothers Cosme and Luis Aguilar, the chef and GM respectively, pay homage to their late mother with traditional plates, including some based on her recipes, such as chicken mole and cochinito chiapaneco (guajillo-marinated baby pork ribs). The white-painted spot features a garden and works from Queens artists.
Small, from-scratch corn tortillas puff up on the grill like blowfish at this West Coaster–approved Chelsea Market taco counter, easing down before they’re piled with superbly juicy adobada pork: The red-chili-marinated pig is trimmed shawarma-style from a glistening spit, its natural sweetness jacked up with shards of pineapple and a squirt of lime.
Denisse Lina Chavez, known around these parts at the Queen of Carnitas, moved her cramped bodega–cum–taqueria from the south Bronx to central Brooklyn with this 32-seat Prospect Heights successor. Inside the cheery space–decorated with bright-green stools and pineapple-painted walls–find the central Mexican specialties that Chavez built her reputation on: The chef nixtamalizes blue corn via a Jalisco-imported custom masa machine to make tortillas, which hug everything from chicken tinga to chorizo to, yes, those juicy, immensely porky carnitas.
Some chefs are like gastronomic Margaret Meads, quick studies in replicating the food of cultures far from their own. Alex Stupak, a notorious tinkerer, is much more original. Everything here is designed for sharing, and a table cluttered with his most impressionistic fare feels Mexican only in the most cosmopolitan sense. Plus the bar has one of the most comprehensive selections of mescal in New York.
Mexican eateries are ubiquitous in Corona, but unlike most, this sunny family-run tortilleria painstakingly grinds corn into fresh masa for many of its dishes. This means that the tamales are delicate and fluffy, and profoundly corny tortillas envelop fillings such as fried skate in the first-rate fish tacos.
You won’t need Spanish skills to gobble down $6 carnitas (pork seasoned with garlic, thyme and oregano and cooked in lard) and garlicky beef tacos at this tiny fast-paced Mexican bodega. Just repeat the following—“Quiero una carnita y un taco de carne”—and get out of the way. If you’re feeling ritzy, the pricier version—lengua—comes in at $7.
Chef Ivan Garcia (Mercadito) explores his Mexico City roots at this eatery, named for the neighborhood where he grew up. The food echoes the multiregional snacks you might find on the capital city’s streets: A trio of tamales presents versions from Oaxaqueño (chicken and mole), Chiapaneco (pork, fruit and nuts) and Veracruzano (tilapia with guajillo salsa). Other preparations come straight from the chef’s family, including a secret-recipe ceviche.
This low-lit East Village cantina from Ofrenda amigos Jorge Guzman and Mario Hernandez busts out of the tortilla-wrapped norm, spotlighting tribal delicacies like grasshoppers, worms and, yes, the namesake ant. Hailing from the Dominican Republic and Cuernavaca, Mexico, respectively, the pair sources those creepy crawlers and the modern Mayan decor straight from their home states. Brave bugged-out snacks like the tlayuda con chapulines or try pest-free plates like punchy papaya ceviche de jurel with yellowtail tuna.
The team behind Colonie pivots from farm-to-table American to regional Mexican cuisine with this 60-seat canteen in Dumbo. Chef Rob Stauning turns out market-driven South of the Border fare, bolstered by from-scratch ingredients, like homemade chorizo and hand-pressed tortillas made with heirloom corn. Diners can dig into plates like quesadillas filled with charred ramps and kale, fluke ceviche with orange and chayote, and Amish lamb meatballs with stewed tomato and morita chile.
Inside the boisterous graffiti-tagged room—clinging to the grit of its ’80s incarnation, punk haunt Alcatraz—servers move tacos from the ordering counter to the self-seat tables with a speed that would impress a track-and-field coach. Alex Stupak's $4 tacos are unfussy, served on paper plates with sides that come in takeout containers (like a great burnt-end-beans riff fortified with hunks of al pastor pork). The tortillas—made from Indiana corn that’s nixtamalized (the grains are cooked in limewater and hulled) and pressed in-house daily—are thin and springy, with a delicate maize sweetness.
Chef-owner Luis Arce Mota (Café Condesa) cooks homestyle Mexicano food at this affordable neighborhood restaurant. All dishes—whether a breakfast item such as the poblano pepper, corn and Manchego omelette; or dinner mains like the breaded pork loin with roasted tomato salsa and zucchini succotash—are priced under $20. Wines are cheap too, with 20 bottles, including some from Mexico, for less than $40. Cocktails, meanwhile, focus on mescal- and tequila-spiked drinks like the Verde (mescal, Patrón Silver, cucumber, agave syrup, cilantro).
Siblings Leo and Oliver Kremer left the Bay Area to teach New Yorkers a thing or two about Cal-Mex cuisine. Their tiny East Village storefront specializes in San Francisco–style burritos—California’s perversely swollen, pico de gallo–drenched wonders. Try one stuffed with rice and beans, along with your choice of protein: carne asada (meaty grilled flap steak), locally raised, brined and grilled chicken, or porky slow-cooked carnitas. Though the burrito is the star, other menu items make for worthy detours: The griddled quesadilla is a crisp, compact parcel of meat, melted Jack cheese and vibrant guacamole.
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Maneuvering through what is almost inarguably the dodgiest area of town to approach China Xiang, my expectations for the restaurant just about imploded. Needless to say it was quite heartening when the food began to arrive to squelch this misperception. The room itself is pretty bare-bones, although a step up from what you normally find in Chinatown. Charcoal grey stonework comprises one wall, and there are some attractive modern lanterns suspended from the ceiling, but the windowed facade looking out onto a shoddy stretch of 42nd street doesn't do much to improve the ambiance. So shift your focus to the voluminous menu, spanning from an innocuous but respectable saute of mixed vegetables, to more audaciously authentic Hunan fare like chili-spiked frog or baked corn with a salted egg. While the former is a laudable, if somewhat uninspired melange of crisp-tender broccoli, enoki and straw mushrooms, plus the requisite water chestnuts and ba mboo shoots, the hacked-up frog jumps in to sate more ambitious palates. It boasts an incendiary duet of chilies, red as an engine and green as… well, frog. It is the scarlet ones to which one should pay deference, although the frog-hued ones too are not just there for decoration. Pay attention to the bones, too, as this meat will need to be sucked off of them. If that's a little much for you, there are numerous soups, rice dishes and noodles, of course, skinny lo mein or fat, hand shaved ones slicked with a subtly sweet, umami-rich glaze b
Venue says: “Nancy Xiao brings Authentic Hunan Cuisine back to Times Square. Enjoy dishes like Hunan Smoked Barbeque Pork and Spicy Braised Short Rib.”