10 of L.A.'s Most Essential Mexican Restaurants

Salmon with squash blossom sauce at Rocio's Mexican Kitchen
Salmon with squash blossom sauce at Rocio's Mexican Kitchen
Anne Fishbein

It might seem like an obvious statement: There's no city in the United States with better Mexican food than Los Angeles. One look at our recent 99 Essential L.A. restaurants list certainly seems to validate that theory. It's absolutely brimming with great places to find everything from street tacos al pastor to stunning shrimp aguachile to enchiladas sauced with mood-altering moles. We've highlighted some of our favorites below, but if you want to see the complete package — from a char-grilled carne asada stand in South L.A. to a Sinaloan seafood truck in Watts — head over to the full list and see what other Mexican gems are awaiting your visit.

The dainty burritos at Burritos La Palma
The dainty burritos at Burritos La Palma
Anne Fishbein

Burritos La Palma

If your mental projection of a burrito involves a foil-wrapped behemoth the size of a newborn, then the svelte, almost dainty creations at El Monte’s Burritos La Palma might at first seem shocking. Flour tortillas are patted out by hand daily, filled with a spoonful or two of soft braised meats like beef birria or gooey curls of braised chicharron, then given a toast on the grill that lends the tortilla a subtle, golden-brown color. Each taco-sized burrito is a precisely calibrated package, a miniature essay on the joys of restraint, stewed chilies and high-quality lard. It’s not uncommon to order them four at time. Although La Palma is the first American outlet of a chain of tortillerias and burrito stands based in Zacatecas, Mexico, there are little splashes of Mexican-American influences here and there, including on the especial plate, which smothers twin burritos in melted cheese and chili sauce until they resemble enchiladas. Could the burrito be the new taco? Depending on whom you ask, a burrito is just a taco by another name. —Garrett Snyder 
5120 Peck Road, El Monte; (626) 350-8286.

Moronga (blood sausage) at Broken Spanish
Moronga (blood sausage) at Broken Spanish
Anne Fishbein

Broken Spanish

Chef Ray Garcia always seemed destined for more than the casual, upscale hotel cooking he’d been practicing for the last few years at Fig in Santa Monica. And who better to notice and recruit such a talent than Bill Chait, former head of Sprout Restaurants, the group that seems to own about three-fourths of L.A.’s hottest restaurants? My guess is that Chait met with Garcia and asked him what he really wanted to be cooking. And Garcia said, “Modern Mexican food.” At Broken Spanish, which takes over the former Rivera space, that’s just what Garcia is doing: upscale, modern Mexican that goes great with cocktails and showcases this chef’s considerable talent. It was a whole fish that won me over completely on an early visit: a red snapper served over “green clamato” (a jaunty green sauce with citrus tang and a whisper of the ocean) and accompanied by clams, avocado and soft leeks left in chunks large enough to showcase their sweet, vegetal flavor. Garcia is playing with the kind of inventiveness that feels natural, and he puts deliciousness first. This menu has a lot of comfort food that’s exciting as well as soothing. You can have tamales stuffed with lamb neck or with a delightful mix of favas, peas and Swiss chard. There are touches of true modernism, too, such as a beautiful jumble of snap peas, sea beans, black sesame and creamy requesón cheese. It’s heartening to see Mexican food take the forefront in the upscale-dining conversation, and also heartening to see Garcia take his rightful position as the guy to lead that conversation. —Besha Rodell 
1050 S. Flower St., downtown; (213) 749-1460, brokenspanish.com.

Enchiladas tres moles at La Casita Mexicana
Enchiladas tres moles at La Casita Mexicana
Anne Fishbein

La Casita Mexicana

For fans of Jaime Martín del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu who feared that the soulful Mexican cooking at their flagship Bell restaurant might languish after they opened their new concept, Mexicano, at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza last year, we have this to say: Don’t worry. The stellar cooking and rustic charm of one of the city’s most iconic and revered Mexican restaurants is as pronounced as ever, even as its chef duo rises to new levels of stardom. The heart of the menu is the lush moles, each as vivid and distinct as a Frida Kahlo portrait. But there’s a great deal of pleasure in less publicized dishes, too: meltingly tender beef shank in tangy guajillo chili sauce, unabashedly gooey queso fundido and smoky sheets of carne asada with grilled cactus. The hardest decision, though, comes at dessert, when you’ll be forced to choose between caramel-filled churros and ultra-rich flan. A trip to Bell without at least one seems unthinkable. G.S.
4030 E. Gage Ave., Bell: (323) 773-1898, casitamex.com.

Shrimp aguachiles at Coni'Seafood
Shrimp aguachiles at Coni'Seafood
Anne Fishbein

Coni’Seafood

In recent months, Coni’Seafood has garnered national attention as the treat with which in-the-know Angelenos are rewarded in exchange for a ride to nearby LAX. Of course, we’ve been saying this for years — as well as telling any out-of-towner with an afternoon flight that this is by far the best gustatory sendoff L.A. can give you. Coni’Seafood is perhaps best known for its snook, or pescado zarandeado, a dish adored by devotees of chef Sergio Peñuelas. There’s no doubt the whole, split, grilled, tender whitefish is one of the city’s great seafood offerings. But really, it’s only the beginning of what this small, slate-gray restaurant has to offer. There are smoked marlin tacos, which are like the best tuna melt ever, only in taco form. There are all manner of cocteles, such as the ceviche marinero, a jumble of shrimp marinated in lemon, cucumber, cilantro and tomato, topped with hunks of sweet mango and bathed in a wicked, dusky “black sauce.” Then there are the camarones, giant, head-on shrimp that come in many different variations of sauce: diablo for the spice lovers; borrachos (in a broth made from tequila, lime, cilantro and crushed peppers) for the hungover. There’s brightness and complexity and pop to this food that makes all of it worth a trip to Inglewood — even when LAX isn’t on your agenda. —B.R. 
3544 W. Imperial Highway, Inglewood; (424) 261-0896.

Ceviche de Corazon at Corazon y MielEXPAND
Ceviche de Corazon at Corazon y Miel
Anne Fishbein

Corazon y Miel

Since opening in early 2013, Corazon y Miel has morphed from a strange little bar and restaurant in an unlikely location to a true neighborhood hangout. Chef Eduardo Ruiz has grown a lot as a cook since those early days, too, and now is presenting thoroughly modern takes on Mexican street food. You might find chilaquiles here scattered with tender shreds of wild boar, or a vibrant green aguachile made with bigeye tuna. Don’t be surprised, though, if you also encounter a chicken liver and foie gras pâté as rich and smooth as any Frenchman’s — this is a restaurant and menu without rules (except perhaps one: no tacos). The cocktails are almost certainly the best you’ll find within a five-mile radius, and the room is full of groups of friends passing around food and making merry. B.R.
 6626 Atlantic Ave., Bell, (323) 560-1776, corazonymiel.com



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