THE BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANTS IN LOS ANGELES
Published by Thrillist
Mexican food’s a birthright to Angelenos -- after all, LA was part of Mexico for nearly three decades, until 1848 (the more you know!). These days, modern Mexican restaurants are opening in the city at a staggering rate, but some great old-school Mexican spots remain as well, and the fusion of new and old creates an atmosphere that’s uniquely LA. While we can’t possibly include every fantastic taco stand or truck without turning this list into a phonebook, here are 28 places to know that serve some of LA’s best Mexican food.
Best for healthy Mexican: Tocaya Organica
Think of Tocaya Organica as the low-maintenance sibling of its fancier sister restaurant in West Hollywood, Toca Madera. This rapidly expanding chain, which has several stunning-yet-unique outposts across LA, lets you customize your own bowls, wraps, burritos, or tacos with locally sourced, organic produce and fresh proteins -- and they’ll gladly accommodate vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free customers without sacrificing bold Mexican flavors. Some favorites include the pomegranate seed-studded guac served with paper-thin plantain chips, cotija cheese-sprinkled sweet potato bravas, and the turkey picante bowl with a hint of serrano pepper heat.
Best for vegetarian-friendly options: Malo
“Malo” in Spanish translates to “naughty” or “wicked” -- which is exactly how you’ll feel after downing several Tapatio-spiced cucumber margaritas at this Silver Lake establishment. The restaurant also brings the heat with lime juice-dressed cucumber slices tossed in chili salt and shrimp diablo, a dish marked with three exclamation points on the menu to warn about its sinus-clearing sauce of arbol chili, tomato, and garlic. And while Malo’s new chef Norberto García Lopez is adding vegan and vegetarian options to the menu, he’s keeping the classics around, including a tender, shredded chicken carnitas soft taco and a hamburger-esque version that boasts ground beef, cheddar cheese, and pickles -- an off-beat but delicious concept.
Best Mexican with a twist: Ortega 120
It’s easy to find standout Mexican food on the Eastside, but things become a little more challenging the closer you get to the ocean. Luckily, the South Bay has Ortega 120: a Oaxaca- and Mexico City-inspired eatery that’s been open for a decade. Though chef Thomas Ortega honed his culinary skills at Lucques, Spago, and Patina, he set an entirely different tone for his first restaurant (he’s since opened Playa Amor in Long Beach and Amor y Tacos in Cerritos). A whimsical Day of the Dead theme is present everywhere with colorful string lights, crosses, skeletons, and other tchotchkes on the walls, and the food is just as deliciously funky, with a nod to some sophisticated ingredients. His take on mac & cheese includes Oaxacan queso, bechamel, and charred jalapeño; gorditas burst with braised short ribs and salsa; and truffle-infused nachos that arrive with avocado puree.
Best happy hour: Mercado
A handful of Mercados are scattered across LA, but the latest outpost recently opened in Pasadena. Owner Jesse Gomez has perfected his chain of cool, appealing neighborhood eateries hawking consistently good, modern Mexican food -- which includes lunch for the first time in Pasadena. A well-rounded meal here might include the Jidori fried chicken torta, Mexican kale salad with candied pepitas, and a carne asada plate. Bonus: They’ve also got a daily happy hour, with margaritas under $10 and jicama shrimp tacos and tamales for $9.
Best Mexican seafood: Coni'Seafood
As you can tell by its name, this beloved spot specializes in seafood -- importing shrimp, whole fish, and more from Sinaloa and Nayarit. Vicente “Chente” Cossio kicked off the concept in the backyard of his Inglewood home in 1987, and daughter Connie has continued the tradition of using family recipes to prepare Nayarit-style ceviche, fish, and shrimp in dozens of ways. The menu’s pièce de résistance, however, is a butterflied whole snook -- grilled until its edges become crisp, and the moist, meaty parts flake away when you pick at it with your fork. It’s served with sweet caramelized onions and warm tortillas to counterbalance the salty, briney, absolutely mouthwatering bits of fish.
Best for Cal-Mex cuisine: BS Taqueria
DTLA has some crazy-good (and cheap) street tacos, but you’ll happily pay a little extra for the ones at BS Taqueria, served in a cheerful, bright space with wooden molinillo whisks and colorful papel picados (decorative Mexican folk art) hanging from the ceiling. Every menu item’s got a clever and delicious twist: a brown paper bag of puffed crackers comes doused in chile-lime and habanero sauce; fries are smothered in black mole; and “rice and beans” means a slightly more gourmet affair with cotija and Fresno chilies. But back to the phenomenal tacos: These thick, hearty, made-to-order vessels hold delicious combos, like Oaxacan cheese melted into a blue corn tortilla and topped with house-made chorizo, fried potatoes, and a touch of salsa roja. You’ll want to lick every last drop of grease off your fingers.
Best not-so-basic tacos: Petty Cash Taqueria
Walter Manzke, the man behind beloved Republique and Grand Central Market’s Sari Sari Store, also owns this Mid-City gem -- a lively spot on Beverly with street art splashed across the walls and communal picnic-style tables. High-quality ingredients are the top priority here. Take the tortillas -- made in-house using organic, non-GMO masa sourced from Masienda, an heirloom corn supplier that gets its maize from Mexico -- or the produce, sourced from the restaurant’s own rooftop garden or local and organic farms. This results in seasonally driven takes on Mexican-style street food: zucchini follower empanadas, crispy sweet potato tacos, and a substantial nacho starter that comes with crunchy chips, melty cheese, and the surprising addition of cauliflower. Wash it down with one of Petty Cash’s famous margaritas or a dirty horchata.
Best slow-cooked Mexican: Guisados
This taco spot pays homage to traditional Mexican stews (or guisados). Each handmade corn tortilla boasts a tender, braised protein that tastes as if it’s been simmering on the stove for days, like slippery, fatty chicharron in chile verde, or the slightly sweet-yet-spicy shredded pork. Though Guisados has locations all over LA, including West Hollywood and Burbank, the braises and masa are still made and delivered from the original Boyle Heights location several times a day to guarantee freshness.
Best moles: Guelaguetza
Mole is the name of the game at Guelaguetza, an authentic Oaxacan restaurant that was first opened in 1994 by now-retired husband and wife duo Fernando Lopez and Maria Monterrubio. Now the kids continue their tradition of making incredibly complex moles -- like a sweet, black version or the green olive-infused estofado. (Pro tip: Order the festival de moles, which allows you to try four of them.) Don’t just stop there though. There are sauteed grasshoppers packing a salty, spicy crunch; pickled pig’s feet; fried corn dough rolls stuffed with soft potato and chorizo; over 50 types of mezcal; and micheladas so good they’ve started selling their own house-made mix. Plus, you can enjoy bottomless micheladas every Saturday from 9am-2pm, and live music -- from Latin jazz to marimba -- every day of the week.
Best Mexican brunch: Mi Corazon
Glendale & Silver Lake
Mi Corazon is part of a wave of Mexican restaurants utilizing organic ingredients and emphasizing vegetarian and vegan dishes. Helmed by husband and wife duo Jeremy Swan and chef Vanessa Swan, this place has a hefty craft cocktail menu with over 60 tequilas and mezcals, and they make a ton of stuff in-house -- even the homemade mayo that’s smeared on the elote. The newer Silver Lake outpost also serves brunch, so expect classics like huevos rancheros and chilaquiles along with hangover-curing micheladas and Bloody Marias.
Best for classic Mexican: Gilbert's El Indio
If you didn’t know about it, it’d be easy to miss this small, family-owned restaurant tucked away on Pico. It’s a worth a visit, though, especially when you’re in Santa Monica, for the Extra Super Mule burrito alone. It’s a knockout brimming with meat, beans, avocado, and lettuce, and choked in melted cheese and sauce. There are other items on the menu -- like an equally impressive chimichanga, shrimp Jalisco, and Valencia chicken -- but you’ll be hard-pressed to find extra room for them.
Best mezcal selection: El Nopal
The majority of El Nopal’s recipes come straight from owner Ivan Vasquez’s mother. She still lives in Oaxaca, but you can taste her cooking in the restaurant’s rich moles and tlayudas -- large tortillas covered with bean paste, Oaxacan cheese, cabbage, and a variety of protein toppings. Don’t miss the vast mezcal selection; El Nopal has 200 different bottles, while its sister restaurant Madre, which opened in Torrance in 2017, has 265.
Best upscale Mexican: Broken Spanish
Sleek, stylish Broken Spanish -- another winner from chef Ray Garcia, who’s also behind BS Taqueria -- is right by Staples Center, making it the perfect spot for a pre- or post-game bite. But whether or not the Lakers are playing, Garcia’s refined take on Mexican food is worth the drive downtown. The chef, who’s had stints at the five-star Peninsula Beverly Hills and Santa Monica’s FIG, combines his haute cuisine training with his modern Mexican-American flavor palate, so you’re coming here as much for flavor-packed lamb neck tamales and melt-in-your-mouth chicharron as you are for the artful presentation of these dishes. Even the humble quesadilla is elevated -- made with oxtail, sprinkled with a cheesy crumble, and dotted with avocado crema. This is one spot where you don’t want to skip over dessert; there’s corn tortilla ice cream, a delicate chocolate taco filled with black truffle ice cream, and goat’s milk flan.
Best vegan Mexican: Gracias Madre
When out-of-towners hear about this organic, plant-based Mexican spot, they roll their eyes and say, “That’s sooo LA.” Sure it is -- but it’s also very, very good. Few other vegan places can whip up cashew nacho cheese-covered cauliflower, barbecue jackfruit carnitas tacos, stewed cactus in chile sauce, and potato-masa cakes accompanied by mango salsa, and make it all taste like you’re eating fantastic, traditional Mexican food.
Best classic burritos: Al & Bea's
Boyle Heights knows how to get down with a good bean and cheese burrito, and Al & Bea’s has some of the best. Beatrice Carreon and husband Albert founded this basic brown stand in 1966, and people still flood the ordering window. Steaming-hot burritos contain re-fried pinto beans and molten yellow cheddar, and if you want to step your game up, you can add green chile or red chile to the mix. If you absolutely must stray from burritos (or, uh, just want to double-stuff your face), also order the guacamole fries and sweet horchata.