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.
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 River North spots to family-run operations in Archer Heights, Chicago has more great Mexican restaurants than it knows what to do with. So we’ve narrowed it down for you. Here are 12 places where you’ll find the best Mexican food in Chicago
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, rich peanut butter lengua, and some great 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).
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 an ahogada torta with carnitas that happens to be one of the best sandwiches in Chicago, period.
If Xocome Antojeria were a movie, then the protagonist would definitely be the unbelievable masa, the base for the restaurant’s incredible tacos, tlacoyos, picaditas, enchiladas, and giant quesadillas (which are really more like machetes). And the fillings aren’t just supporting characters - they’re stars in their own right. Xocome uses tender filet mignon for their asada, and everything from the rich red mole to the flavorful huitlacoche ongos is perfectly seasoned. The menu at this casual spot in Archer Heights is long, so plan on having an existential crisis deciding what to get. And everything’s made-to-order, so expect to wait a while for your food. But just sit back, enjoy whatever concert they have on the TV, and get ready for some of the best Mexican food in Chicago.
If La Luna’s bright orange exterior isn’t enough to catch your attention, the food definitely will. This fun Mexican restaurant in Pilsen serves delicious enchiladas, flautas, carne asada, and quesabirra full of shredded beef, lined with wonderfully caramelized cheese, and weighing about five pounds each. And thanks to the colorful murals, fantastic hip hop soundtrack, and occasional live music, this place feels like a party. It also doesn’t hurt that they have great cocktails and Happy Hour from Tuesday-Thursday with $10 margaritas and $3 tacos.
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.
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.
Tzuco is an upscale restaurant that feels a little like a trendy installation at a desert art museum, and we mean that in the best way possible. The food here is flavorful and well-executed, from their tetela with tinga de pollo, to chorizo and mussels in a saffron beurre blanc, to delicious cochinita pibil. This spot is a great alternative to the usual suspects in River North if you’re planning a business dinner or a group outing.
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 chicharrones, so keep making tacos until someone stops you and/or you can no longer move.
This casual spot in Humboldt Park has birria that we can only describe as transcendent. While we ate it, time stopped and the restaurant dissolved around us like pixels in The Matrix and nothing existed besides the truth of braised meat and flavorful red consomé. Birria is (obviously) the specialty, but the menu also includes incredibly pliable handmade tortillas, delicious quesabirria, fajitas, chilaquiles, and a short beer list. Plus, it’s decorated with a fun mural that will help cheer you up even after your food is gone.
Sol De Mexico is located in Belmont-Cragin. 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 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.
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.
Frontera has been around since 1987, and it’s Rick Bayless’ first Chicago restaurant. We’re not crazy about the location, since it’s in River North and can get crowded with tourists, but the tasty 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.