You’ve probably heard there’s no good Mexican in NYC. But that’s just a myth perpetuated by Californians who envy our public transportation system and our wealth of good pizza. If you look for it, you can find good Mexican here. Some of it’s fancy, and some of it costs less than $2. Here are the best sit-down spots. (Taco joints not included.) Copy, paste, and forward to your California friends.
Casa Enrique draws steady crowds. And that’s saying a lot - seeing as how it’s in Long Island City. The food here is simple, traditional, and the best Mexican of its kind. They play the hits, and they play them well. Order the compressed chile relleno packed with Oaxacan cheese, and try the steak tacos (if they’re available). Enrique has a Michelin star now, but that hasn’t changed anything. You can still walk in most nights, and you can still finish your meal with a piece of cake soaked in condensed milk.
Even before Obama ate here, Cosme was the new crown prince of fancy Mexican in the city. It’s tough to get a table, the dining room is minimalist and impersonal, and somehow you still don’t feel like a jerk for paying seventy dollars for a duck. And that’s because the food is actually good. It’s upscale, but doesn’t seem pretentious or uptight. Granted, there’s an uni tostada. But that’s just a good tostada. And we’re pretty sure there are sea urchins in Mexico, so it’s technically authentic as well.
Food is only half of the experience at La Esquina. To get here, you walk through a door at the back of a ground-floor taqueria and descend a set of stairs that leads to a dungeon-like dining room. It’s essentially a speakeasy filled with good food and attractive people (who are sometimes famous). Have a crab tostada and some grilled corn you won’t want to share. The small plates tend to be better, so stick to those while you drink too much tequila and people watch.
This tiny restaurant on the Lower East Side should be your go-to spot for a night out with a friend who also thinks Dos Caminos is lame. La Contenta is a neighborhood restaurant, and there are always regulars spreading feel-good vibes. For dinner, they serve not-quite-traditional stuff like a queso with goat cheese and a hanger steak with a twice-baked potato. If you’re going out on the LES, eat here first. Get a few orders of the fish tacos and crab enchiladas to prepare yourself for a long night of drinking.
At Gran Electrica you can get good, authentic Mexican in an atmosphere nice enough for a date or a fun night out with your friends. And that means you might have to wait for your table. It’s near Brooklyn Bridge Park, however, so you can always just put your name in then go for a walk. Once inside, get the fish tacos, some ceviche, and something off the cocktail list. If the weather’s nice, find a spot on one of the best patios around, and enjoy some good, no-nonsense (and slightly upscale) Mexican.
Chavela’s is in the northwest corner of Crown Heights, and it’s the place you go for satisfying, straightforward Mexican. Sit here here and have a bowl of hot melted cheese. It’s called queso, and you shouldn’t feel bad about eating it. This is a comfort food experience, and you should prepare yourself for a wait, because a lot of people want to be comforted at Chavela’s. At dinner, there are tacos, tortas, and larger plates like crab enchiladas and pork with grilled cactus - but consider stopping by for brunch. Bring some friends, drink too much, and have some huevos.
If you like baseball, you go to Cooperstown - and if you’re a New Yorker who’s into Mexican food, you make the trip to Sunset Park. This is where you find the highest concentration of restaurants and bodegas serving good, inexpensive, down-home Mexican. For most, it’s a trek to Tacos El Bronco - so we suggest you set aside an upcoming Saturday and head over for a plate of grilled meat with rice and beans. You’ll want to start with a spread of small tacos ($1.50 each), and if the “veal head” variety doesn’t appeal to you, just get the salty beef, coward.
You know a place has street cred when they serve a burrito with crispy cow intestines. Matamoros has one - but you can always just get the carnitas or the carne asada. This is another Sunset Park institution, and the sort of place where you eat cheap, good food with friends. Get a group together and make the pilgrimage for a weekend al-pastor binge. There’s nothing fancy about this operation, but you don’t go here for romantic lighting or top-notch service. Just get some tacos and chalupas with green sauce, and you’re set.
A few years back - right around when the Lower East Side started becoming The Coolest Place To Be - the only way you were getting into Barrio Chino was if you got there at 5pm. And even then, it wasn’t a guarantee. These days, it’s easier to get in, but the Mexican food is without a doubt still some of the best around. The Enchiladas Verdes is one of our favorite plates of food in the city, and the margaritas are good and strong. Our only real issue with it? They charge you for extra chips.
In Texas or Arizona, restaurants like Mexico Lindo are probably all over the place. Fortunately, this isn’t Texas or Arizona - but we still get a Mexico Lindo in Kips Bay. Is this place destination-worthy? That depends. If you want some excellent steak tacos and fajitas and don’t mind eating in a space that’s more homey than it is trendy, give this place a shot. These guys aren’t winning any awards for decor, but they should probably get something for making black beans and bananas taste good together in a soup.
The only thing standing in the way of you becoming a regular at Acapulco Deli is the fact that it’s at the very top of Greenpoint. But make the pilgrimage there and you’ll be rewarded with excellent nachos, giant tacos, and our go-to order (before 11am) - the huevos rancheros. The place is no frills, but the vibes are good, the food is insanely affordable, and when you find authentic Mexican food like this, you go after it.
At the Black Ant, you can get balls of fried yucca with grasshoppers on top. Of course, most things here come without bugs, but everything seems to get some sort of twist. The duck dumplings, for example, come with a carafe of mole - and if you prevent your server from pouring it, you can eat them like chocolate fondue. The dining room gets busy, and the vibes tend to appeal to a younger crowd (although it isn’t cheap) - so go when you want to start a fun night out in the East Village. Enjoy some variations on Mexican classics you won’t find anywhere else.
Amaranto isn’t satisfied with just making good tacos. And their tamale isn’t just any tamale - it comes in a mildly spicy broth with chorizo and scallops. The food at this newish family-run spot out in Bushwick is bright and fresh, and there’s stuff here you won’t find at the average Mexican place. Try the crab tostadas or the spicy guacamole. For something heavier, do the short ribs with green beans and mole verde. This is a casual, feel-good spot that’s good for a dinner date or a brunch with friends.
You expect the food in prime Williamsburg to cost more than it should, but that isn’t the case here. Tacos are a reasonable $2.50, but you should spend a little extra and spring for the flautas. Have a gordita or two if you’re feeling extra hungry, and if you’d like a serving of melted cheese get the queso. La Superior is a Williamsburg institution, and it’s an appropriate choice for cheap late-night eats.
There are white tablecloths at Mexico 2000, but it’s far from fancy here. Do your best to not eat the free chips and salsa. That’s not the show you bought tickets for. Get some $3 tostadas piled so high you’ll get crema on your face, and have a chimichanga that’s better than your average burrito because it’s deep-fried. This little spot beneath the BQE might not be the prettiest, but, for the money, it’s some the best Mexican you can find.