You can say I have a thing for Mexican food. Where I grew up in Southern California, it’s practically got its own spot on the food pyramid, avocados are considered a superfood, and you can get any kind of pepper you want in all the grocery stores. When I first moved to the city, I searched high and low for the best Mexican restaurants in NYC. It’s taken me over five years to compile a list that I’m proud of, and I’m finally ready to share it.
My criteria isn’t limited when deciding what I consider good Mexican food. As much as I am always craving something authentic, I am no snob. I am completely open minded to fusions and modern twists to traditional dishes that I love. Most importantly, I try out almost all of my favorite spots on my friends from California who visit me in the city. Sometimes I think I crave their validation more than I crave the actual Mexican food.
Whatever dish you’re craving, you’ll find it on my list of best Mexican restaurants in NYC.
Locations: Lower East Side, West Village, Brooklyn
Oh yea, I’m starting with plant based Mexican food. If you haven’t heard of JaJaJa‘s yet, allow me to introduce you to the best nachos you will ever have in your life. No, I’m not exaggerating when I say they’re the best. Also, you didn’t misread that they are plant-based.
I can hear the horror and apprehension now, so I’ll make you a little deal. We’ll both just pretend I didn’t tell you to go eat some vegan Mexican food. Just forget I mentioned it and go to this place called JaJaJa’s and order some nachos. Don’t even think about what’s in (or not in) them, because I promise you won’t know the difference. I straight up looked at the bartender after a few bites and said I call BS. Yes, they are THAT good.
Take it even further and get yourself a “chorizo” burrito or any of their tacos. Hell, even the cheesecake is delicious. You have no idea how hard I’m actually selling you on this place. They don’t take reservations but head to any of their three locations and try one of their amazing cocktails while you wait for a table.
2. Athen’s Grill
Location: 3011 30th Avenue – Astoria, NY
When you hear of a place called Athen’s Grill you probably wouldn’t think you’d find it on a list of the best Mexican restaurants in NYC. Trust me, I was also skeptical at first. But I believe that the best and most authentic Mexican food usually comes from the no frills, mom and popish type restaurants that you almost never think to visit. The more it looks like a hole in the wall, the more I’m betting that I’m going to get the best street tacos of my life.
Athen’s Grill was my first Mexican food love in New York City. If I had to pick the absolute best Mexican restaurant in NYC, this would probably be it. It’s right near my first New York apartment and stays open super late. Back in my very early New York bartending days, this place practically became a nightly ritual. They have the best chicken tacos in the world and I dare you to fight me on it.
I miss Athen’s Grill more than I miss any other spot in Astoria. It’s also probably a good thing that I don’t walk by it multiple times a day anymore because I don’t know if I would have transitioned to vegetarian as easily if I did.
While you’re there check out my Astoria neighborhood guide here.
Location: 736 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, NY
One of my oldest and closest friends is Mexican. She taught me how to cook good Mexican food when we lived together in California. She is still my biggest critic for Mexican restaurants. So when she comes to visit me in New York, I normally don’t even bother taking her to my favorite spots for Mexican food. But I took a shot with Chavela‘s the last time she visited and she loved it.
When I lived around the corner from this place it was my go to brunch spot. Their taco plates are incredible and the best part about the menu is there are plenty of vegetarian options. If you go for brunch they give out Pan Dulce (Mexican sweet bread) which is pretty much the best sweet morning pastry you’ll ever have.
I feel like I should add in here quickly for those that don’t know that I did become a vegetarian last year. So for now, my blog is a mixture of old restaurants I used to love as a meat eater and new restaurants I’m finding as a vegetarian. It just so happens that Mexican restaurants are a great place for both.
But moving on from that. I have to say the real star at Chavela’s is their cocktail list. There is this amazing sangria/margarita mixture called a Campechana on the menu that is sinfully good (I like the red better than the white personally). I would also like to insist that you don’t leave without trying the Don Pepino (Mr. Cucumber). It’s a savory, salty and unbelievably refreshing cocktail. But to be honest, you could put Tajin salt on anything and I’d probably eat or drink it.
Find more things to do near Chavela’s here.
4. Los Mariscos
Location: 409 W 15th St, New York, NY
That same friend who taught me how to cook good Mexican food gets full credit for introducing me to this place. The last time she came to visit she had Los Mariscos on her to do list and now I have to take her back every time she comes to visit me. It’s located in Chelsea Market, which is one of my favorite places in New York.
The menu at Los Mariscos is small and you have to like seafood to even consider visiting. Their fish tacos are hands down the best in the city. Also, if you like ceviche then you’ll want to try it here – it’s truly the most authentic you can find in New York. The atmosphere is extremely casual and energetic and whatever you do, get their Clamatos drink that has a tamarind covered straw – you won’t be disappointed.
Chelsea Market gets insanely crowded around lunch time and can be a bit much for a quick bite, so keep that in mind. I should also point out that Los Mariscos is tucked away (a little hidden in fact) and difficult to find if you’re looking for it from inside the market. It does have a street entrance though which makes it a little easier to get to.
Locations: Hell’s Kitchen and Tribeca
This is the most recent addition to my list of best Mexican restaurants in NYC. Añejo is conveniently located just a few blocks away from where I work, so they’ll probably be seeing a lot more of me than they want to. I’ve been hearing for years from my bar regulars that this place was exceptionally good but it always seemed a little too pricey for me. To be fair, their dinner menu is no cheap night out.
I recently found myself in the neighborhood though, starving and face to face with their $14 lunch special. So I finally gave them a try. Of course I had to upgrade my lunch to add the guacamole and what’s a taco without a margarita (right??). I couldn’t have been happier with my lunch. The best part about this place is they had a lot of vegetarian options. I got the cauliflower tacos that came covered in some house made sauce that I’d take a bath in if they batched it large enough. Seriously one of the best lunches I’ve had in Hell’s Kitchen.
Now I know I said I wasn’t a Mexican food snob, and I’m not, but I am however a margarita snob. If you get sour mix anywhere near my margarita I might cry and if the color looks neon I probably won’t go near it. Don’t worry, I put my money where my mouth is when I’m the one behind the bar so I feel comfortable telling you that for a classic margarita on the rocks, you won’t find any better in the city (unless I’m making it for you).
You might also want to check out the best bars in midtown here.
6. La Contenta
Locations: Lower East Side and Greenwich Village
Every time I go to the Lower East Side I wonder why I don’t go more often. It’s hard to force myself to go below 42nd Street when most of my daily life happens north of that. Occasionally though I read about a place that I have to go to and I’m almost never disappointed.
La Contenta on the Lower East Side is a tiny little place that’s putting out some amazing food. There couldn’t have been more than six or seven tables in the restaurant and probably just as many bar stools. I will insist that you order their queso fundido – it’s by far the best I’ve had in the city. If you can snag a seat at the bar, order your food there and watch the bartenders work on some impressive cocktails.
As you keep reading, you’ll figure out I’m a sucker for a good Michelada and this place doesn’t disappoint with theirs. If you aren’t familiar with a Michelada, it is often referred to as a beer Bloody Mary – with a mixture of hot sauce, lime juice, tomato or clamato juice, and various other ingredients and spices. Every single one I’ve tried has been drastically different from each other. So if I see it on a menu I have to order it.
Additional note about this place: It’s located right in front of an old New York speakeasy called Back Room that’s worth a visit as well.
7. Vida Verde
Locations: 248 W 55th St, New York, NY
This bar and restaurant has all the fixings for a tourist trap and some of it’s pretentiousness was off putting at first. Vida Verde is located right in the center of midtown, just blocks away from Times Square and near all the major Broadway theaters. So you can imagine my apprehension as a New Yorker to recommend this place. It’s good though, I promise.
All the restaurants in midtown have huge lunch competition. They are all trying to grab the many people who commute into this part of the city for work. I finally decided to give it a try for their lunch special and can honestly say it’s much more approachable than the dress code sign makes it seem. They did let me in in flip flops so don’t be deterred if you stumble in on a whim and aren’t dressed the part.
I love the atmosphere of the place and the vibrant and bold colors used all over the restaurant, especially the impressive mural of Frida Kahlo. The $20 lunch box special is a pretty good deal considering the quality of food. I love blistered shishito peppers and these were the best I’ve had in awhile.
Not to mention their frozen margarita was delicious. I just ordered a classic cause I like my margaritas simple. However they have a variety of fun flavors to try including: Tamarind, Apricot Thyme, Blueberry Coconut, Honeydew Cayenne, and Mango Habanero.
Their rooftop bar isn’t open during the week for lunch, so keep that in mind. The place also turns into a nighttime destination with DJ’s and a dress code if that’s your thing.
Various New York locations.
Tacombi is the best kept secret for a good brunch spot on the Upper West Side. There are various locations all over the city for this restaurant, so feel free to take your pick. I just happen to like the one right near my apartment. Whenever my boyfriend and I head out for brunch on Saturdays and I want a solid choice with plenty of empty tables, this is where we go.
Tacombi doesn’t have a brunch menu, which is probably why they are pretty quiet at 11am on a Saturday. They do however have a breakfast taco available all day long and an avocado tostada that will make you wonder why you ever wanted the toast equivalent. Not to mention their fresh juice bar and delicious cold brew coffee, it really does make it a no brainer for brunch.
Their Mexican street corn in a cup is the greatest thing in the entire world so please don’t leave without ordering that. Oh and yes, that’s another Michelada down there.
9. Nacho Macho Taco
Locations: 417 Prospect Pl, Brooklyn, NY
Last on the list of best Mexican restaurants in NYC is Nacho Macho Taco. This place is tucked away in a very residential part of Prospect Heights in Brooklyn. It’s a little trek to get there but I felt like I had to include it because they do three things better than anyone else: frozen margaritas, micheladas and breakfast burritos.
The food in general is really good, but you could easily argue that it’s just as good at a handful of other restaurants in the neighborhood. This is my go to spot though. Their frozen margaritas are absolutely incredible and the first time I had their michelada I all but begged the server for the recipe.
What truly stole my heart though was the breakfast burritos. One of the things I miss most about California are the breakfast burritos – they just aren’t as common in New York. So of course finding a place to have a good breakfast burrito was essential for me.