Chef Zé Carlos Jiménez's whole career is a balancing act. As a child growing up in Cuautia Morelos, Mexico, he spent his afternoons in a de facto apprenticeship in his grandmother's kitchen. He watched her roll handmade tortillas and tinker with spices before finding just the right blend to balance out her homespun dinners. As an adult, Chef Zé Carlos treats his own kitchen as a playground, paying homage to his grandmother's family recipes while fusing traditional Mexican street food and fine dining—a style he calls New Mexican Gourmet Cuisine.
The menu—complete with a touching epigraph to Meche, his grandmother—is a compendium of his attempts to blend the two worlds. On the haute end of the spectrum are dishes like the Nopales salad, brimming with pickled cactus and his own housemade vinagrette. Fish-and-shrimp tacos sprinkled with fresh cilantro hold down the street-food side of the culinary fort. Where the menu shines, though, is somewhere in the middle, with dishes such as the molcajetes—Spanish for "stone mortar." The upscale take on Mexican comfort food blends beef or shrimp in the eponymous stone dish along with the tastebud-tingling flavors of nopales, chorizo, and roasted tomato-tomatillo sauce.
When Latin House Burger & Taco Bar originated more than 20 years ago, it wasn’t even a house. Instead, Chef M and his wife, Bella, served their fusion of American and Latin cuisine from the window of one of Miami’s first food trucks, easily eclipsing the still-fledgling industry's typical fried fuzzy dice and mud-flap sandwiches. Nowadays, they've traded their wheels in for chairs, on which patrons sit before savoring plates of tacos, burritos, and tostadas with fillings ranging from cilantro-lime chicken to calamari. As a testament to the eatery's dual cultural influences, Latin House's burgers—usually cooked to a juicy medium-rare—dwell under taco-style toppings such as crema and avocado as well as traditional American accouterments such as bacon and cheese.
Cinco Cantina & Tequila Bar's agave-savvy staff pours artisan tequilas at a bar softly lit by punched-tin lanterns. Duos or quartets of tasters sample three shots of blanco, anejo, and reposado tequilas crafted in small batches by respected distillers such as Don Julio and Tres Generaciones. Spiced chips surf creamy waves of classic guacamole between sips as patrons strain to overhear salsa-themed knock-knock jokes whispered by brightly colored masks on the walls.
Panchero’s placates palates with a menu of authentic Mexican delights that are cooked slow, served fast, and devoured immediately. A fresh tortilla makes the difference between a stale, waning relationship with one's burrito and a fiery, passionate taco love affair, and Panchero’s inflames taste-bud desires with its made-to-order, freshly pressed flour blankets.
Though it’s a national brand with locations sprinkled across 14 states, Chevys Fresh Mex doesn’t succumb to shortcuts at any of its restaurants. The expert chefs at each eatery gather together fresh ingredients to prepare the entire menu from scratch, whether they’re infusing chicken enchiladas with chipotles or simmering fragrant cauldrons of their homemade tortilla soup. Even though this hands-on approach harkens back to the foundations of Mexican culinary traditions, chefs also give each dish a contemporary twist—tacos meet flavorful drizzles of chipotle aioli, slow-roasted carnitas mingle with fresh oranges and lemons alongside fajita platters. Meanwhile, bartenders engage in serious agave innovation with top-shelf margaritas in flavors such as prickly pear and spicy mango.
Taqueria Tenangos's guests are welcomed by a menu brimming with authentic Mexican flavors and anchored by homemade salsas and house-made tortilla chips. Nine protein-packed taco selections arrive overflowing with stuffings of succulent carnitas ($8.99), fresh fish ($10.49), or savory pork ($8.99), before supernachos ($8.99) swoop down to save guests from any lingering post-repast hunger pains. Those unsuccessfully hampering a hankering for sea meats can reel in plates piled high with sizzling shrimp fajitas ($12.99), and tostadas ($7.49+), and cheese-laced enchiladas ($8.99+) provide delicious relief for mouths tired of navigating sharp corners. The authentic eatery's inviting confines welcome famished families to practice their high-school Spanish via a Telemundo-tuned TV or to relax on the outdoor patio that––like bathing in a scalding tub of fortified milk––provides the only surefire means of soaking up a daily dose of vitamin D.