Chicago has the second largest population of Mexican immigrants in the United States, which is why there’s a plethora of delicious options for Mexican food when you’re in the Windy City. But where should you go for the very best Mexican food in Chicago?
From Pilsen’s mural-bedecked 18th Street on the South Side, over to Archer Heights, around the hipster eateries in Logan Square, over to Rick Bayless’ mini-Restaurant Row of Mexican fine dining restaurants, you’ll never run out of good options.
Here’s our top six pics for the best Mexican food in Chicago.
Located just one block from the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, Chef Alfonso Sotelo and his 5 Rabanitos team serve up a huge menu of authentic dishes (tortas, tacos, moles, oh my!) with quality ingredients in a colorful, friendly atmosphere. And all at an affordable price. You could throw a dart at the menu and you’ll still end up ordering something delicious.
Having learned under Chicago-legend Rick Bayless, Chef Sotelo sought to bring a taste of his hometown of Guerrero, Mexico to Chicago’s south side. He didn’t stop at the amazing recipes. He brought his childhood nickname too, from when he and his brothers used to bring fresh produce to the market, and everyone called them the Cinco Rabanitos–the Five Radishes.
Mi Tocaya Antojeria
Over in Logan Square, Chef Diana Davila has Mi Tocaya Antojeria, a small-plate cafe focused on “antojitos,” little cravings. The menu is littered with inventive dishes ideal for sharing and comparing favorites among a group. Even the guacamole goes a step beyond–adorned with garlic, serrano, sea salt and chile ash.
The Brocollini en Nogada with pickled golden raisins, charred shishitos, apples, and pomegranate honey, is a salad to forget all other salads. Come with an open mind and leave with a full belly!
This Michelin-starred gem is the crown jewel of Rick Bayless’ culinary empire. With its upscale take on regional Mexican cuisine, Topolobampo (along with its sister restaurant Frontera Grill) not only put River North on the restaurant map when it debuted in 1980, it smashed our preconceptions of what Mexican fine dining could be.
Chef Bayless hasn’t looked back since, amassing an absolute haul of honors while opening new restaurants, writing cookbooks and hosting cooking shows on TV. Topolobampo has won every award imaginable for everything from Service to Taste to Sustainability.
The seven-course tasting menu is constantly changing, but the quality is always consistent. Trust in the award-winning wine pairings. Topolobampo is a “treat yourself” pick for a night on the town. Any list of the best Mexican food in Chicago has to include a Rick Bayless restaurant.
Tzuco’s menu is a perfect amalgamation of Chef Carlos Guytan’s Mexican roots and his training in French cuisine, to delicious results. Guytan was the first Mexican chef to receive a Michelin star. His expertise, along with the warm, inviting decor and earthen ambiance make for a standout experience amidst a River North scene crowded with celebrity chefs.
The Cochinita Pibil–a pork shank with a black bean purèe and habañero salsa served with tortillas–is an absolute star. As is the Chile Relleno, a poblano pepper stuffed with tomato fondue and panela cheese.
As good as the dinner menu is, the brunch offerings are even better. Between the duck waffles, the chorizo crepes, and the tzuco shakshuka, you can’t go wrong. Did I mention the french toast on orange-infused sweet sponge bread, the one with pink peppercorn ice cream and fresh berries? Honestly, is it time for breakfast yet?
The original location on 18th Street in Pilsen is tiny (take-out only) but Carnitas Uruapan leaves an unforgettable impression. From the chicharrones hanging in the window, to the overwhelmingly delightful aroma of slow roasted pork once you step in, you can tell immediately you’re in safe culinary hands.
Guided by a family recipe that goes back 40 years to the Michoacan region of Mexico, the staff joyfully dole out carnitas–chunks of pork cooked slowly for hours until crispy on the outside but tender on the inside–by either the taco or the pound. These carnitas are some of the best around.
And the price can’t be beat. One pound of pork carnitas goes for $12.99. Heck, you can get the crispy taco dorado (a chorizo and potato filling) for $0.99. A half-dozen tacos for the road is never a bad idea.
Goat is the only thing on the menu at Birrieria Zaragoza. But it’s not just any goat. Birria is a tender stewed goat meat thrown in with diced onions, cilantro, and salsa. And John Zaragoza, after a pilgrimage back to his hometown of La Barca, Jalisco to learn from the masters, has perfected birria. We promise the goat-head taco is well worth the trip out to Archer Heights.
Get the goat tacos for $3. Or the goat platter, bone-in or out, your choice, for at least five goat tacos’ worth of goodness. Or maybe try the goat soup. They’re all delicious. Actually, you should pick the goat quesadilla, because adding gooey cheese to the affair just takes it up another level.