The sister restaurant of Frontera Grill shares a head chef—the acclaimed Rick Bayless, who creates nothing short of art from traditional mole sauces, spices, and wild game. The menu changes monthly as Bayless pulls influences from regional Mexican cuisines into dishes such as lamb in Oaxacan black mole.
A staple of the foodie and food-truck scene, Big Star’s menu features battered tilapia and pork-belly tacos with homemade tomato guajillo sauce and queso fresco. Seating can be scarce inside the former mechanics garage, but the outdoor patio opens up on warmer days. Here, guests can order from a walk-up, cash-only window.
Featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, this BYOB eatery uses local, sustainable ingredients to craft a menu of upscale dishes that rotates monthly. Recent sightings include grilled pork ribs with honey-pasilla sauce and vegetarian corn masas memelas with aged goat cheese and arbol salsa.
Home to the famous cemitas sandwich—a regional take on the Mexican torta sandwich native to Pueblo, Mexico, that fills a sesame bread bun with meat, Oaxacan cheese, and chipotle peppers—this low-key taqueria also spit-roasts pork for its taco arabes and shreds chicken for chalupas smothered with salsas verde and roja.
The menu isn’t the only thing steeped in aquatic imagery; the restaurant itself is shaped like a ship—complete with life-sized blue marlins hanging from the ceiling. Blended margaritas pair well with seasonal delicacies such as the red snapper in garlic wine sauce, which helped earn the restaurant CLTV’s praise as Chicago’s Best option for Mexican.
If the aroma of fresh-baked tortillas seems particularly strong inside Taqueria El Milagro, there’s a good reason: the restaurant is located on the ground floor of the El Milagro tortilla factory. The factory’s tortillas find their truest purpose in the burritos and tacos that guests can serve themselves at the cafeteria–style counter.
In 1962, the Gutiérrez family opened this neighborhood landmark to pay tribute to their homeland of Neuvo Léon, Mexico. Half a century later, the menu’s juicy ribeye steaks and carne asada tacos remain nearly as colorful as the restaurant’s painted façade, which stands out among the storefronts on bustling 18th Street.
Rick Bayless’s latest brainchild has earned the Chicago Tribune’s praise for balancing rustic Mexican flavors with a casual ambiance. The inevitable line files past chefs as they chop cochinita and barbacoa or grind cocoa beans for Mexican hot chocolate. Those who don’t mind waiting can snag a seat inside the intimate dining room; others opt for take-out.
It’s worth waiting in line for the lard-simmered carnitas, which Serious Eats praises as “simply lip-smacking.” The chopped-to-order pork finds its way inside tortillas and to-go bags; even the cooks have been known to shave off a bit of pork for a snack on their way home from work.
Centerstage Chicago notes that Birreria Reyes de Ocotlan’s sign makes a somewhat audacious claim: “The best birria in the whole world.” This doesn’t seem so farfetched after sampling a spoonful of the goat stew. Tender, bone-in goat meat simmers in a hearty broth alongside smoky ancho peppers.
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For more than 30 years, the Espinoza family has stocked La Pasadita’s six locations with fixings for authentic Mexican tacos. The original location on Ashland is widely recognized as the best of the bunch. It may not have much in the way of ambiance, but all is forgiven with a bite of the tender carne asada taco.
El Cid’s burritos were tasty enough to take home CBS Chicago’s Best of 2011: Fast Food award, but not all the food is casual or handheld. Enchiladas in mild mole, peppered skirt steaks, and organic margaritas—not to mention weekly live music—all contribute to the outdoor patio’s perennially festive atmosphere.
When the Parra family wants to add a new recipe to their menu, they go straight to the source. Their frequent trips to Mexico have inspired innovative dishes such as crepas de pollo in chipotle cream sauce. The restaurant’s 34-year history is impressive, but diners get even more excited about the sidewalk seating that opens up during warmer months.
Though it may be difficult, restrain the urge to sample all of Zocalo’s 130+ tequilas on one visit. You’ll need your wits about you to navigate a menu of steak and shrimp simmering in Yucatan–style marinades. Zocalo’s variation of elote—a street-vendor specialty—stands out for its mixture of mayo, cotija cheese, and chile piquin.
Inside Real Tenochtitlan Restaurant & Grill, vibrant murals by Pilsen artist Oscar Romero give walls eye-popping color, and the chefs here mix up new moles each day, pairing the complex sauces with chicken, game meats, and seafood. The cantina's bartenders pour Mexican beers and margaritas blended with 100% blue-agave gold tequila, Gran Torres orange liqueur, and fresh lime juice.
Cesar’s sizzling fajitas and homemade salsas face the unlucky task of living up to the bar’s famous margaritas. They do so admirably, serving as a spicy counterpoint to 11 tequila-soaked flavors that include tamarind, lime, and blood orange with passion fruit and pomegranate.
The story has remained largely the same since 1977: two brothers cook steaks with jalapeno and tomato salsa, cheese enchiladas with poblano mole, and fish tacos with mango pico de gallo. Hailing from Jalisco, Mexico, the siblings draw on their heritage to perfect 12 tostadas topped with everything from ceviche to carne asada.
Foodies may be put off by the late hours and the boasts of “burritos as big as your head,” but La Bamba charmingly tells it like it is. Centerstage Chicago lauds the taqueria’s focus on freshness, and for good reason. Chefs make everything to order, taking cranial measurements to ensure that their burritos don’t disappoint.
Deal or no deal, our editors strongly recommend these businesses based on their reputation, popularity, and quality of service.