We talk a lot about how good the sushi and the Thai food and the Japanese food and whatever moon potion Kate Hudson got photographed drinking last week is in LA. But let’s be real - LA’s bread and butter will always be Mexican food. It’s half the reason your frigid friends from the Midwest even come here. And the hype is real.
For this guide, we’ve steered away from taco-only spots. (Tacos are just too important to not have their own guide, and you can find that here.) This list is exclusively about full-on Mexican restaurants. From fancy modern spots downtown to family-run operations in the Valley, LA has more great Mexican restaurants than it knows what to do with. So we’ve narrowed it down for you. Here are the 20 places where you’ll find the best Mexican food in Los Angeles.
On a northern fringe of North Hollywood where semi trucks and loading docks outnumber humans, Mi Ranchito Veracruz is a tiny order-at-the-counter Mexican restaurant that is a Valley institution. While you can come here and get everything from mole enchiladas to huevos rancheros, your main focus needs to be the tamales. They’re served Veracruz-style, which means the tamales come wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks, resulting in a sweetness that’ll ruin most other tamales for you. If you’re looking to kick up the heat a little, be sure to sprinkle the house-made spicy red table sauce on top.
Holbox is owned by the same people behind nearby Chichen Itza. But instead of tamales and marinated pork in banana leaves, this order-at-the-counter spot in Mercado la Paloma is all about seafood. Think ceviche tostadas, chile rellenos stuffed with yellowtail, and raw oysters by the dozen. That said, don’t you dare leave without getting an order of the scallop tacos - each one comes with four perfectly-seared scallops wrapped in a thick house-made corn tortilla topped with fennel, caramelized onions, and spicy chile sauce. It’s more than worth the $14 sticker shock.
Open since 2001, Enrique’s is an old-school Mexican restaurant in a stripmall in the Marina Pacifica neighborhood of Long Beach. There’s nothing flashy about the place, but on those rough midweek patches when all you need is soul-curing burritos, enchilada combo platters, and gigantic plates of meat, remember this place. If you only get one thing at Enrique’s though, the chile verde is your order. It’s a football-sized pork shank sitting in a tomatillo sauce jacuzzi with rice and beans. It’s a perfect cut of meat and one that deserves icon status.
There are a lot of good taco spots Downtown, so we’ll help you narrow down your options. Go to Sonoratown. This tiny, order-at-the-counter Mexican spot in the Fashion District is a short walk from most offices nearby. All the flour tortillas are made in-house and taste so good it doesn’t really matter what kind of meat you put in the middle. Also, grab a chicken chivichanga for the road - it’s basically a mini burrito, and at $4, it’s one of the best grab-and-go lunch options downtown.
Located in an area of south Inglewood most accurately described as somewhat by the highway, Coni’Seafood is easily the best Mexican seafood restaurant in LA. Everything from their marlin tacos to their ceviche to their whole giant snook is outrageously good, and you’re wasting your time simply by continuing to read this. Stop reading. Go.
While a midweek trip to Bell isn’t on most Angeleno’s to-do lists, if the destination is La Casita Mexicana you simply make time for it. This colorful, Dia De Los Muertos-themed spot in an industrial area south of Downtown has a fantastic menu filled with things you’ve never tried and a waitstaff fully accustomed to patrons who have driven long distances to get there. Order the chile en nogada or don’t even bother coming.
El Compadre is that friend who always has your back and is ready to greet you with a stiff drink after a long week. The Hollywood staple (there are a few other locations, but ignore them) has been serving classic California-Mexican food [i.e. lots of cheesy enchiladas] and very strong flaming margaritas since the 1970’s and they show no signs of stopping. Definitely make a reservation as crowds get bad almost any day of the week, but just know, at El Compadre the party never stops.
Despite our city’s dense saturation of Mexican cuisine, it can be harder to track down Oaxacan food. And if you’re wondering what exactly that means, think mole - the dark, chile-based sauce - which can be found in its best form at Guelaguetza. Located in an area south of Ktown most local government people can’t even point to with confidence on a map, this massive spot has a live mariachi band and over 65 different kinds of mezcal, and you’ll only wonder why it took so long to discover it.
Inside the truly excellent Mercado La Paloma, a former factory turned into a community gathering space and food hall, sits Chichen Itza. The tiny vendor specializes in traditional Yucatan cuisine (you know, where Cancun is). You’re going to start with the sikil-pac (a tomato and pumpkin seed based dip) and end with their signature dish, the cochinita pibil - marinated pork cooked and served in a giant banana leaf and topped with pickled onions (AKA, our version of heaven).
If you think you’re in the wrong place, that means you’ve found El Parian. Located on Pico just west of downtown, this long-running family spot doesn’t have much in the way of curb appeal, but inside, you’re going to find an atmosphere as authentic as they come. Tiled floors, bright yellow walls, and maps of Mexico everywhere. As for the food? While the carne asada tacos are fantastic, you’re here for the birria (AKA goat). The full plate is the way go, and as soon as you finish, you’ll be planning your next visit.
We realize you probably didn’t have plans to journey to Bell Gardens today, but sometimes, the voyage is part of the experience. Rocio’s isn’t big and you’re going to drive past it the first time you go, but here you’ll find a true neighborhood spot and some serious Mexican food. The move is definitely to go with the mole (the poblano is our favorite), and to get it on what’s easily the best chile relleno we’ve ever had. If it’s cold out, the spicy chicken soup is also highly recommended.
Located on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, Casa Vega is easily one of LA’s most recognizable Mexican restaurants and perhaps your best chance at spotting your landlord and a Kardashian eating one booth apart from one another. This 60-year-old operation is one of those magical LA places where A-list celebrities and regular locals co-mingle without much fanfare. The margaritas are deadly and that lobster quesadilla is a must-order. They don’t take reservations though, so get there early or prepare to wait.
It’s difficult to find something you don’t like about La Cabana. Sure, it might not be the most inventive Mexican food in town, but you’re not at this 50-year-old Venice landmark for a thoughtful take on a sopa. You’re here for that La Casa quesadilla and the culinary monstrosity that is the El Verde burrito. They have a fantastic back patio, $30 margarita pitchers, and sometimes the mariachi band plays on the roof. Oh, and it’s open till 3am nightly.
Is Al & Bea’s bean and cheese the best burrito in town? We’re going to say yes. The 50-year-old Boyle Heights order-at-the-window spot is a classic. Head there on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll find the whole neighborhood hanging out - families, high school dates, local firemen, and everyone in between. You could certainly get a fried taco or a tostada and walk away thrilled, but there isn’t anything that should deter you from that simple but glorious burrito.
Gish Bac is open seven days a week, but you should come here on the weekends because that’s when their barbacoa (lamb and goat BBQ) fires up, and it’s life-changing. The meat is cooked over avocado leaves, and while we can’t say exactly what the direct effect of that is, it’s still an exciting statement to say to your friends who you’re dragging along. The bright spot in mid-city is also very easy to find, with plentiful parking, and there’s a salsa bar you’re definitely getting involved with.
El Coyote does not have the best Mexican food in Los Angeles. So why is it on our list? Besides a crazy history (google Sharon Tate) that goes back to the 1920’s, the Beverly Blvd. landmark is as raucous a restaurant atmosphere as you’ll find. The place is massive, so whether you roll in on a casual date or with 12 of your drunken friends on a Saturday looking those famous margaritas, they’ll find a table for you.
At this point it feels like Highland Park has a new restaurant opening every week, but plenty of old standbys also remain. Case in point - El Huarache Azteca. The 25-year-old Mexican spot on York Blvd. has a fantastic menu across the board, but the move here is the namesake huarache. Essentially a giant Mexican flatbread, this doughy surfboard from the gods is layered with a meat of your choice (get the carne asada), beans, grated cheese, two sauces, and a fistful of shredded lettuce. Surf’s up.
El Cholo is the mother of Mexican food in Los Angeles. Since 1923, this absolutely giant restaurant in Koreatown (there’s other locations around town, but this is the original) has been serving classics that have become staples of this city’s cuisine. Their sonoran enchiladas (with a fried egg on top) are a must, but you can’t go wrong with the chimichangas, the green corn tamales, the guacamole, or anything else that hits the table. This isn’t cutting-edge Mexican, but it’s comfort food at its finest in a festive atmosphere you’ll never want to leave. Come with a big group and order way too many margarita pitchers.
El Borrego flies very much under-the-radar, and its Boyle Heights strip mall location (they have three other spots throughout East LA) is probably not going to jump out at you. But trust us, this place is great. The family-run spot has been in operation since 2003 and specializes in cuisine from the owners’ native region of Hidalgo. And what that means for you is barbacoa. Start with the consome de Borrego (lamb stew) and end with the steaming hot barbacoa sopes. It’s fantastic and dirt cheap and the employees couldn’t be nicer.