These savory and spicy stops will perk up your palate in surprising ways, from poblano-style cemita sandwiches in Chicago to Guerrero-style fish tacos in San Diego. Grab a margarita and celebrate Mexico’s rich culinary heritage stateside.
1. Avila’s — Dallas
The Tex-Mex cooking found at Avila’s has deep family roots that date back to 1986 when the owners decided to postpone retirement and fulfill their dream of opening a restaurant. Their Mexican and Texan backgrounds melded to form a beloved home-style menu with specialties like chile relleno, pollo con calabaza — a Mexican chicken stew with squash and corn — sautéed pork in cascabel pepper sauce and, of course, the wildly popular brisket tacos that Guy raved about on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. You’ll come for Avila’s food and stay for the cozy atmosphere, so be sure to order those legendary brisket tacos and settle in for a spell, savoring beef slow-cooked in dry red wine with garlic and onions until meltingly tender and juicy.
2. Cemitas Puebla — Chicago
During your next visit to the Windy City, stop in to Cemitas Puebla for a rare breed of sandwich and a taste of Mexican history. This restaurant is the only one of its kind in Chicago serving cemitas, authentic poblano sandwiches built on sesame seed rolls slathered with avocado and chipotle adobo, then stuffed with meaty fillings like breaded butterfly pork chops or more-adventurous options like pata, otherwise known as cow foot! The kitchen’s dedication to flavor is clear, as the owner travels to Mexico specifically for tangy Oaxacan cheese, chipotle peppers and papalo, a strong Mexican herb similar to cilantro. No wonder they sell 300 cemitas a day.
3. Teresa’s Mosaic Cafe — Tucson, Ariz.
Breakfast is the main attraction at this popular Tucson café, and no menu item receives more praise than the huevos rancheros, the ranch-style egg dish so beloved that Bobby Flay challenged Teresa’s chef, David Matias, to a Southwest-style Throwdown. Taking on the Matias family specialty was no easy task, as their huevos rancheros uses homemade fried tortillas, refried beans and a time-honored Oaxacan recipe for roasted green chile sauce that gives the dish a distinctively fresh flavor. In addition to the famous huevos, Teresa’s also makes some mean chilaquiles, another classic Mexican dish of fried tortillas simmered in salsa or mole. The best news? It’s never too late to order these breakfast hits — Teresa’s serves them all day long.
4. Chico’s Tacos — El Paso, Texas
Head due south to this El Paso institution for a cheap-eats feast; Aarón Sanchez calls it “the best taco I’ve ever eaten.” Featured on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Chico’s serves up a nontraditional version of the classic, with hand-rolled, lightly fried beef tacos that swim in a tomato and chile sauce-filled paper boat, buried under a hefty pile of finely shredded cheese. While they won’t win any beauty prizes, these rolled tacos draw crowds from all directions with their secret family sauce and simple pleasures. Open since 1953 with multiple Texas locations, Chico’s Tacos is sure to remain a lone star legend for years to come.
5. Mercadito Midtown — Miami, Fla.
For the spicier side of Cinco de Mayo, try Mercadito’s “Vato Loco” cocktail, described as “the hottest drink on Earth.” It features seven different types of chiles (including habanero, serrano and ancho) and requires you to sign a waiver before your first flaming sip. To douse that tongue-tingling burn, Mercadito offers a vast array of refreshing margaritas, along with a special Cinco de Mayo celebration that involves a live mariachi band and a $40 family-style menu for sharing with friends. This stylish spot dishes out upscale Mexican classics using local ingredients, specializing in tacos like sautéed tilapia with poblano-tomatillo mojo and shrimp with roasted garlic, chipotle mojo and avocado you can enjoy while soaking up the Miami sun.
6. La Texanita — Santa Rosa, Calif.
On Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Guy let us in on his favorite hometown secret, La Texanita, where he takes his family and friends for authentic Mexican grub like sopes, huaraches and molcajetes. Owner Alma Mendez, Guy’s personal friend, also cooks up standout carne asada tacos and authentic posole for all the loyal locals. The carne asada tacos boast fresh homemade masa tortillas filled with flavorful beef that’s grilled with onions and lime juice and served with radish , cilantro and spicy jalapenos. Posole, a traditional stew, gets its deep flavor from pig’s feet cooked in a broth of red chiles, garlic, onion, cabbage and hominy for a rich and hearty taste of Mexico in the middle of Santa Rosa.
7. Suenos — New York
It’s appropriate that suenos translates to “dreams” in English, as this celebrated New York hideaway invokes delicious visions with Chef Sue Torres’ inventive renditions of Mexico’s diverse regional cuisine. Suenos transports you to traditional Mexico with its in-house cocinera, or tortilla lady, who crafts fresh guacamole and hot tortillas on a comal situated in the main dining room. With creative entrees like plantain-crusted cod and achiote-rubbed bronzini, there is a wealth of savory possibilities to try, but an exceptional choice is the smoky chile relleno that Aaron Sanchez said reminded him “of all the flavors of Mexico” on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Chiles stuffed with tender pork filling and chile sauce studded with currants, almonds and olives are battered and fried till crisp, then topped with cool scallion crema.
8. Mama Testa Taqueria — San Diego
Bobby Flay was so impressed with the authentic fish tacos served here that he challenged owner Cesar Gonzalez to a Throwdown, betting his grilled mahi mahi fish tacos against Cesar’s traditional fried version. Cesar’s Guerrero-style fish tacos, prepared with fried catfish and a “deep-fried but not-quite-crunchy” tortilla, come with Mexican slaw, queso fresco, rice and black beans. His mission to stay true to classic Mexican flavors set his fish tacos on top in the Throwdown, but he also specializes in other taco varieties, like blanditos with soft corn tortillas and cesta-style steamed tacos. The impressive salsa bar, with eight different flavors, and the toy wrestling rings that double as condiment holders add to the festive feeling in this Throwdown-approved hot spot.
9. Red Iguana — Salt Lake City
The Cardenas family has been serving Mexican food to the Salt Lake area 365 days a year since 1965. While their extensive menu offers everything from cochinita pibil to enchiladas suizas, the collection of mouthwatering moles (seven in total) is the signature showcase and a tribute to Mexico’s national dish. You’ll find a mole for every mood here, from mole amarillo, sweetened with golden raisins, zucchini and tomatoes, and spiced with guajillo and dried seasonal yellow chiles, to mole negro, “the king of moles,” a blend of dried chile mulato, negro pasilla, Mexican chocolate, raisins, peanuts, walnuts, bananas and more. In fact, there are so many ingredients in the mole negro that Guy joked when he visited on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives that the recipe included everything but his sunglasses. For a host of unexpected flavors and an authentic mole experience, this family-owned eatery is a must-visit in Utah’s capital.
10. El Nopal Bakery — Chicago
Since there’s always room for dessert, you won’t want to miss this Chicago landmark that’s been serving sweet temptations to the city for the past 57 years. They say the bakery is run just as it was in the '50s, using trusted family recipes for traditional Mexican treats like pan dulce, a soft and chewy sweetbread with a flaky decorative topping, and polvorones, the crumbly shortbread cookies flavored with nuts that we often refer to as Mexican wedding cookies. While the bakery will surely satisfy your sweet tooth, it was also featured on Sandwich King for its spongy bolillo bread, which Jeff Mauro used to construct a luscious torta.