Being smack-dab in the California coast, San Jose is close enough to Mexico to reap some of its tasty cuisine. Gourmet and street-food dishes central to Mexican culture can be found at countless San Jose Mexican restaurants, though it’s the following eateries that elevate the classics to another echelon. 1. Mezcal’s Mole NegroIf you’re looking for some of the best Mexican food in San Jose, consider the authentic Oaxacan dishes at Mezcal, which packs its menu with regional street foods like memelitas and—for the culinarily curious—sautéed grasshoppers. But Mezcal’s true speciality is mole, a rich Mexican sauce that combines chilis, nuts, seeds, veggies, and chocolate. Served over chicken with rice and handmade corn tortillas, the complex mole is not only the star of this dish but also of Mezcal’s entire menu. 2. Mariscos La Costa’s Shrimp and Octopus CevicheMariscos La Costa’s humble beginnings hark back to a catering truck in a parking lot, but the East San Jose restaurant has blossomed into a go-to spot for fresh Mexican cuisine. And fresh is key when we’re talking about ceviche, a South American dish with marinated raw seafood. La Costa’s focus is on shrimp and octopus, served over fresh vegetables and a flat tortilla shell. 3. The Tamale Factory’s TamalesWell, it wouldn’t be called The Tamale Factory if it wasn’t the speciality, right? Simple and traditional, these tamales are handmade from scratch by owner Claudia Lopez, who’s been in the tamale game since age 19. 4. Taqueria Tlaquepaque’s ChimichangaTaqueria Tlaquepaque offers a variety of Mexican standards, but the chimichanga leads the pack. A golden-brown shell, perfectly cooked, sheathes the restaurant’s chimichangas, which are served with rich sour cream, rice, and beans. Chase it with refreshing chavelas—Mexican beer with lemon and a salted rim—served in frosted mugs.5. Mexico Bakery’s Milanesa TortaTortas are ideal for those reticent to leave the bun, as they’re Mexico’s spin on the traditional sandwich. The milanesa can be found at this charming local bakery, where cooks layer breaded steak, jalapeños, tomatoes, sliced avocado, and cheese between two fresh-baked buns.Read More
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Though the burrito was born closer to the border, it quite literally grew up in San Francisco. In the 1960s, the city’s heavily Hispanic Mission District pioneered its own style of burrito, notable for its gargantuan size and foil wrapper—the latter necessary to keep all the ingredients in one place. Today, San Franciscans continue to line up at taquerias such as Cancún and El Farolito to get their Mission–style burrito fix. You no longer have to travel to the Mission, however, to taste some of the best Mexican food San Francisco has to offer.Read More
Fairly or not, Mexican food is married in the public imagination to inexpensive taquerias and hangover cures. Thankfully, the Bay Area’s large Latino population means that upscale Mexican dining is increasingly varied and plentiful, with enough options to satisfy even high-end diners. Perhaps the fanciest thing to ever open on Divisadero Street, La Urbana is an upscale cantina straight out of Mexico City. Its striking interior, full of murals and gorgeous tile work, complements the mezcal-heavy cocktail list and inviting menu that includes grilled octopus, pork carnitas and red snapper with huitlacoche, the Mexican equivalent of European truffles. The place is always hopping, but if the wait’s absurd, duck into the adjacent space, El Garaje, and snag a bottle of beer while you eye an open table. Many San Franciscans opt for Papalote, a mid-scale eatery that can sometimes feel like a nondescript chain. Thankfully, their burritos are among the city’s best, and Papalote’s pricey tacos, which can run up to two for $10, certainly qualifies as upscale Mexican food. Then again, when you’re paying for wonderfully prepared soyrizo, standout mole or the incredibly flavorful pechuga al achiote chicken, it’s easy to understand why Papalote is a Mission favorite. Nopalito, with two locations in the city, has also recently come into its own. Each location sports a unique menu, but both fuse traditional Mexican cuisine with the California ethos of freshness. Upscale though it may be in spirit, the entrées generally keep below the $19 threshold, making both Nopalito outposts a relative bargain. Healthy and environmentally-conscious diners can also hop over to Gracias Madre, the all organic vegan Mexican food eatery run under the Café Gratitude umbrella. Not only can you find tasty meat-free options on the menu, some of the entrées are downright delicious. And perhaps best of all: Gracias Madre has a full liquor license.Read More