Chicago Mexican Restaurants
Our South-of-the-Border Picks

Chicago’s vibrant communities of Mexican immigrants have played a key role in defining and redefining Chicago’s culinary landscape. Many of the old neighborhood institutions are still standing but taquerias are now a common sight from Archer Heights to Rogers Park. Though hundreds of miles from the Southern border, Chicago has earned its growing reputation as a destination for Mexican food at almost any price.
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Near North Side: Gourmet Mexican

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.


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Pilsen: Goat Stew

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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Wicker Park: Food Truck-Inspired Tacos

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.


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East Lakeview: Shared Plates BYOB

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.


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Humboldt Park: Poblano Specialty Sandwiches

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.


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Noble Square: Mexican Seafood

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.


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Pilsen: Tortilla Factory

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.


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Pilsen began to assert itself as Chicago’s capital of Mexican culture in the 1960s, when Latinos moved in to supplant the area’s shrinking Eastern European population. The Gutiérrez family found themselves at the center of this transformation when they opened their landmark restaurant, Nuevo Léon, in 1962. Half a century later, Nuevo Léon’s painted façade has become a fixture on 18th Street, and it …


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Pilsen: Carnitas

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.


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Lakeview: Sidewalk Seating

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.


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Bucktown: Tacos Al Pastor

Nobody comes to Arturo’s to be wowed by the ambiance. Plenty of guests flock to the taqueria, however, to be blown away by the simple, yet devastatingly delicious tacos. Prepared behind a walk-up counter, the tacos hold tender al pastor and barbacoa topped only with lime, cilantro, and onion.


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Palmer Square: Mom-and-Pop Taqueria

Blue Line trains frequently rumble to a halt on the tracks above this mom-and-pop taqueria, but murals of a pastoral Mexican village transport guests to another world entirely. In addition to the typical standbys, chefs specialize in shrimp burritos and beef tongue simmered in hot pepper sauce.


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River North: High-End Street Food and Tequila

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.


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Logan Square: Mole and Margaritas

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.


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