We talk a lot about how good the sushi and the Thai food and the Korean food are in LA. But at the end of the day, LA’s bread and butter will always be Mexican food. We fully realize it’s half the reason our friends and family even come and visit us. And you what? We understand, because the Mexican food in LA is simply that good.
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 Downtown rooftops 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 25 places where you’ll find the best Mexican food in Los Angeles.
Inside Mercado La Paloma, a former factory turned Downtown community gathering space and food hall, sits Holbox, a family-run food stall that serves fresh, inventive seafood that’ll have you questioning all the other seafood you’ve ever eaten. 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 before being topped with fennel, caramelized onions, and spicy chile sauce. Enjoy it all on the market’s large outdoor patio.
Tamales Elena Y Antojitos is permanently closed
photo credit: Jakob Layman
Tamales Elena Y Antojitos
Located in Bell Gardens, this Afro-Mexican restaurant serves specialties from the owner’s home state of Guerrero. Think rich, salty red pozole, pork tamales, and beef tongue guisado. The highlight of the menu, however, is the pescadillas. These thin, crispy tacos come filled with perfectly stewed fish, and we recommend getting at least three orders - one for you now, one for you in five minutes, and one for five minutes after that. There’s also a tiny, wrap-around patio perfect for a quick lunch.
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.
This classic spot in Inglewood, with a second location in Del Rey, serves some of our favorite seafood in all of LA. You can’t go wrong with any of the citrusy ceviches or aguachiles, but make sure the savory marlin tacos and whole grilled snook in a rich, salty house sauce hit the table as well. Both locations have expansive back patios and live music - perfect for a casual big group meal outside.
Between their rich, decadent mole and one of the largest mezcal collections in LA, there are a variety of ways a meal could go at this South Bay-based Oaxacan restaurant, but make sure yours involves tacos and memelas. The cecina and tripa are both stand-outs, but the coliflor with tomato, quesillo, avocado, and chiles is spicy, savory, and one of our favorite vegetarian tacos in the city. If you aren’t near Torrance, the Oaxacan restaurant also has locations in Palms and West Hollywood.
Run by celebrity chefs Jaime Martin Del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu, La Casita Mexicana’s Jalisco-style menu has turned this neighborhood Bell restaurant into a true LA dining destination. There’s rich, chocolate-y mole, Azteca cheese fondue, and steak served over grilled cactus, but the dish that you must order is the chile en nogada. This giant green chile comes stuffed with beef, spices, dried fruits, walnuts, candied cactus, pecan cream sauce, and topped with pomegranate seeds. It’s sweet, savory, profoundly herbaceous, and a dish we would happily eat as an appetizer, entree, or dessert.
A meal at Guelaguetza, a Oaxacan institution, involves multiple types of mole, tlayudas, and big plates of meat. All of it is phenomenal and best when shared. With its massive space and live music, it’s a great spot for a big group dinner or for entertaining out-of-towners dead set on drinking as much mezcal as their bodies will allow. Also, don’t forget to order some queso fundido - it’ll ruin every other queso you’ve ever had.
Owned by the same family as Holbox, this tiny vendor inside Mercado La Paloma serves traditional Yucatan cuisine. You’re going to want to start with the sikil-pac, a tomato and pumpkin seed-based dip, and end with their signature cochinita pibil, slow-roasted pork that’s been marinated in achiote and sour orange and wrapped in a banana leaf. It’s the perfect balance of sweet, sour, savory, and earthy.
Often referred to as “old Guelaguetza,” Sabores Oazaquenos was started in 2011 by Valentín and Germán Granja, two brothers and longtime employees of the original Guelaguetza. With the help of Guelaguetza’s original chef de cuisine and Valentín’s mother-in-law in the kitchen, this tiny spot in Koreatown has quickly gained a reputation of its own. Besides serving various dishes from Oaxaca’s southern Costa Chica region, Sabores Oaxaqueños has excellent tlayuda tortillas that are imported from Oaxaca every week. Their tlayuda mixta is a personal favorite of ours and comes topped with the three traditional meats: Oaxacan chorizo, cecina adobada, and tasajo, a dried, grilled beef. Combine all that with the asiento and bean paste, and you have a version that’s creamy, savory, and one you’ll be thinking about for several days afterwards.
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’s an Echo Park location, but the atmosphere isn’t nearly as fun) has been serving classic California-Mexican food [i.e. a lot 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.
LA Cha Cha Cha
This gorgeous rooftop restaurant in the Arts District has a massive patio with lush vegetation and panoramic views that make LA look like a million bucks every single night of the week. The whole place kind of feels like a garden party for the rich and famous, but a cool one that Michaela Coel might show up at. The tuna tostada and steak pa’taquear are both standouts, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything on the menu - including cocktails - that won’t appease the varying tastes of whoever you’re with that night.
The name of the game at this long-running family spot in Pico-Union is the birria de chivo. It’s a remarkably straightforward dish - roasted goat in a broth - but the intricate flavors, all playing a tight balancing act together, is what makes it one of the most essential plates of food int eh city. It’s spicy and savory, earthy and fatty, with a tiny hint of cinnamon emanating from the clove-flavored broth. On the side, you’ll be served thick, house-made tortillas, onions, cilantro, and lime to help create your own personal taco building experience.
Run by the chef behind Cosme in NYC and Mexico City’s Pujol, Damian is an upscale experience, but if you’re looking to splurge a little, this Arts District spot more than backs up its high price point. The menu, which is filled with dishes like smoked clams with cucumbers, fish tempura tacos, and an extra-smoky pescado a la brasa served with tortillas, have few weak points, but perhaps the most impressive element here is the back patio. The design is a mix of concrete walls and jungle-like plant arrangements that’ll make you feel like you’re in a less stressful, non-dystopian version of Maze Runner. Which, compared to the mess in our apartments, actually sounds pretty nice right now.
The secret behind chef Ofelia Martinez’s success is her homemade asiento and bean paste recipes, which for years, she used to pack in her husband’s lunches before ultimately opening Monte Alban’s brick and mortar on Santa Monica Blvd in West LA. The tacos enchilados with black mole are the restaurant’s real claim to fame - the chicken is super tender and the black mole sauce is multilayered in flavor without being overly sweet or smoky. And if you want to experience the asiento and bean paste, the rich and slightly spicy tlayuda mixta is a must-order.
This upscale spot in Beverly Hills is fancy, fun, and a tremendous option when you need to get out of the house and celebrate something. Some of our favorite things on the menu are the crispy salmon skin chicharrónes, the lamb rib barbacoa mulita with sweet, translucent flour tortillas, and some of the best-made cocktails in BH. Plus, unlike other upscale places in the neighborhood, you’ll only need about two dishes per person since the portions are enormous.
This upscale spot in Old Town Pasadena is great for any occasion, from drinks and a couple appetizers at the bar to an all-out celebratory meal. The small plates are good - we like the citrusy oysters aguachile and calamari with super-spicy chile de arbol peppers - but the mains are fantastic. The arrachera (grilled skirt steak) comes with a unique and very good chorizo chimichurri, and the lamb shank barbacoa is so tender that it falls off the bone the second you touch it. If you’re in the mood for a drink, they have over 200 agave spirits in stock.
There’s nothing flashy about Enrique’s, an old-school spot in the Marina Pacifica neighborhood of Long Beach, 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 an acidic, bright green tomatillo sauce with rice and beans. It’s a perfect cut of meat and one that should be near the top of your must-try list.
Rocio’s isn’t big and you’re going to drive past it the first time you go, but once you reach its Bell Gardens location, you’ll be treated to some of the best mole in Southern California. Chef and owner Rocio Camacho is nicknamed “Goddess of Mole,” and whether you order her rich, chocolatey Oaxaqueño or creamy, botanical-forward rosa santa prisca, it’s not difficult to understand why. You get to choose a protein for each mole and we recommend either the chile relleno or the sweet and mild mahi mahi.
Located on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, Casa Vega is 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 particularly strong and the lobster quesadilla is a gooey, savory masterpiece.
Gish Bac is open seven days a week, but you should come here on the weekends because that’s when they fire up their tremendous lamb and goat barbacoa. The meat is cooked over avocado leaves, which gives it an earthy sweetness that you’ll be thinking about when you’re bored at work the next day. The mid-city spot is also very easy to find, with plentiful parking and a tented back patio with abundant shade, potted plants, and colorful fiesta banners.
Casablanca has been around for almost 40 years, and the menu hasn’t changed much since then. The signature dish is the calamari steak, but we tend to go for either a grande burrito with perfectly-marinated birria or the build-your-own fish taco situation. And aside from serving solid food, Casablanca is always a dependable good time, with tortillas being made in the main interior dining room. Plus, if you stick around long enough, someone will probably wheel the tequila cart up to your table.
This 50-year-old Boyle Heights, order-at-the-window spot serves the best bean and cheese burrito on the planet. The pinto beans, stewed for 16 hours, are gloriously flavored with lard, and they’re topped with a bit of melted cheese and a splash of mild green chile sauce, before being wrapped in a flour tortilla. Head to Al & Bea’s 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.
La Cabaña Restaurant
Open since 1963, La Cabaña is an LA institution. It’s not the most inventive Mexican food in town, but you’re not at this Venice landmark for a thoughtful take on the sope. You’re here for tableside guacamole and pitchers of margaritas on their back patio while trying to figure out how you’re going to finish the culinary monstrosity that is the “El Verde Burrito” (a coop’s-worth of chicken, beans, lettuce, avocado, and tomato, all topped with salsa verde and cheese).
The 25-year-old Mexican spot on York Blvd. in Highland Park has a fantastic menu filled with everything from tortas to tostadas, but our favorite dish here is the namesake huarache. It’s a long piece of fried masa dough with smashed pinto beans in the middle and topped with grated cheese, a slightly bitter cream, and your choice of meat. We particularly love the buttery carne asada, but you frankly can’t go wrong with any choice here.
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, a table will be waiting for you.