When it comes to Mexican restaurants, Chicago has it all. In fact, our Mexican food is one of the main reasons your friends will visit during the winter, and then end up staying on your couch for three extra days. We have cash-only neighborhood places, we have BYOB restaurants for you and 13 friends on a Saturday night, we have spots perfect for a date or kicking off a big night out - and in all of those categories (and more), we’ve gathered the best of the best below.
Of course, Chicago has excellent counter-service taco spots as well, but here, we’re focusing on sit-down restaurants. Look for our forthcoming taco guide for all the best places to grab tacos across the city.
This is an excellent restaurant that works for any occasion - whether it’s date night, catching up with a few friends, or dining solo when you need to cure a really bad mood. The menu primarily focuses on small plates, like a refreshing burrata and cactus salad, a rich cow tongue dish with peanut butter, and some very good tacos. There’s a high likelihood the chef will come out and ask you how everything is - and you’ll be too busy stuffing your face to answer, “Great!” On top of all that, the space is bright and upbeat, making this a perfect choice for a summer hang (especially if you can get a seat on the patio).
The specialty at Huaraches Dona Chio, a tiny spot on a side street in Edgewater, is (unsurprisingly) huaraches. But anything here that involves their housemade masa is delicious - you also want the tacos, sopes, and mole enchiladas. You get to pick your toppings (with options like pastor, steak, or calabaza), plus your salsa (red or green), and there’s really no wrong decision. There are only six tables here, but in the summer they also have a cute side patio which is right next to a park.
5 Rabanitos is a casual restaurant in Pilsen, and the food here is so good that you’ll find yourself thinking about it when you should be doing other things - like dialing into a conference call, or handing over the rings during your friend’s wedding. The menu has about 3,589 delicious things for you to choose from, with a great selection of tacos, a ton of vegetarian options, fantastic carne asada, and a very spicy ahogada torta with carnitas that happens to be one of the best sandwiches in Chicago, period.
We challenge you to find a more enjoyable group dinner spot than Canton Regio in Pilsen. It looks like a cross between a rustic Southwestern barn and an old church - all brick and wood, with incredibly high vaulted ceilings and things like saddles and wagon wheels on the wall. The service is really friendly, and the menu focuses on grilled meat, which means you can share things like incredibly tender steaks, brochetas with shrimp or chicken served dangling from medieval-looking hooks, and fajitas. Everything is well-seasoned and perfectly cooked, and this place also makes its own flour tortillas - which are so good we’d consider coming here just to eat those.
The original Carnitas Uruapan in Pilsen is great, but it’s more of a carry-out operation. The one we’re talking about here is the Gage Park location, which is newer and much, much bigger. The menu is still the same, and it focuses on carnitas - which you can get in a taco or by the pound, with fantastic homemade tortillas on the side. Because pigs are magical animals and every part of them is somehow delicious, you can’t go wrong choosing the rib, belly, or shoulder.
Don Pedro has been in Pilsen for over 30 years, and clearly they’ve spent every day of those three decades perfecting their carnitas. This spot is small and very casual, and on the weekends you can expect a line out the door. Once you claim your table, order the carnitas platter, with pork that’s perfectly crispy from being fried in its own fat. It comes with tortillas and chicharrons, so keep making tacos until someone stops you and/or you can no longer move.
Sol De Mexico is located on a commercial stretch of Cicero in Belmont-Cragin, which means that you might not already know about it unless you happen to live in the area. The space is charming, and there’s a menu of very good food that changes seasonally (you’ll find things like sweet tamales with chilaca cream, lamb in a Oaxacan mole, and an adobo marinated duck breast). The atmosphere is quiet, which makes it perfect for a date - or any other kind of occasion when you actually want to hear the other people at your table.
Frontera is Chicago’s best-known Mexican restaurant, and for two good reasons: it’s been around since 1987, and it’s ground zero in the Rick Bayless empire. We’re not crazy about the location, since it’s in River North and can get crowded with tourists, but the delicious Mexican food is worth sitting in a busy restaurant full of people carrying shopping bags from Michigan Ave. You’ll find guacamole, tacos, carne asada, enchiladas, and much more - all of which is done exceptionally well. It’s a great spot for when you have plans downtown after dinner and/or you find yourself at Bed Bath & Beyond on State.
This Logan Square spot focuses mainly on street food, and the dark space feels more like a bar than a restaurant. Menu-wise, Masa Azul knows its best flavor combinations (like smoked chicken and chipotle sauce or chorizo and potatoes) and puts them all over the place - which you won’t mind, since they taste so good. There’s a long selection of tacos, all of which come on perfectly chewy housemade tortillas, so make sure you have some of those on the table, along with things like tostones, chilaquiles, and tortas. It’s a great spot for a casual weeknight meal, or even just a low-key date night.
This very casual spot in Wicker Park feels like it’s one folding chair away from being a takeout joint. But Alegrias is a sit-down restaurant with incredible seafood, and the atmosphere feels like a constant party. What you’re going to want to order here is the shellfish - specifically the prawns (which come in a delicious, spicy broth that you should soak up with fries) and lobster (which has a seafood stuffing). It’s BYOB, great for groups, and perfect for having a good time.