No places matches the breadth and depth of Mexican restaurants we have in Southern California, except Mexico City itself – and maybe not even there. You can find the cooking of almost every region in the country here, crafted at street-corner taco trucks as well as cutting-edge places like the new Corazon y Miel and Bizarra Capital.
Here are Los Angles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold’s choices for 14 of the most essential places to try.
1. Babita: One of the most serious Mexican restaurants on the Eastside, a casual corner joint whose service is burnished to a white-tablecloth sheen. Chef-owner Roberto Berrelleza is especially gifted at the cuisine of his hometown of Los Mochis on the Sinaloa coast. 1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 288-7265; Babita-MexiCuisine.com
2. Border Grill: More than 25 years later, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger are still producing polished versions of great Mexican dishes. 1445 4th St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1655; and 445 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, (213) 486-5171; BorderGrill.com.
3. Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita: Where to go for unbeatable cemitas, Puebla-style hoagies of thinly pounded fried beef, avocado, chipotle chiles, and hand-shredded string cheese on sesame-seed rolls. 3010 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, (323) 881-0428.
4. Chichen Itza: The most serious Yucatecan restaurant in town is in a bustling cooperative marketplace near USC. 3655 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 741-1075; ChichenItzaRestaurant.com.
5. Coni’Seafood: The elusive Mexican seafood king Sergio Peñuelas, the master of Sinaloa-style pescado zarandeado, seems to have found a home. The aguachile is also the best in town. 3544 W. Imperial Highway, Inglewood, (310) 672-2339.
6. El Borrego As de Oro: Time moves at an ovine pace at this Texcoco-style barbacoa joint. It may take the cooks half an hour to throw together a couple of tacos, but after you taste the crusty, crunchy bits of lamb, you won’t mind a bit. 222 W. Slauson Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 235-1880.
7. El Huarache Azteca: Highland Park is becoming the local center of chilango cooking, with half a dozen restaurants specializing in the meats and snacks from the area around Mexico City, but El Huarache Azteca’s huaraches are still the industry standard. 5225 York Blvd., Highland Park, (323) 478-9572;ElHuaracheAztecaLA.com.
8. El Parian: Is the birria, roast kid in consomme, the best Mexican dish in Los Angeles? It just may be. 1528 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 386-7361.
9. Guelaguetza: This is where the whole Los Angeles Oaxacan fixation started, and it is still the best place to get your mole on. 3014 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 427-0608; ILoveMole.com
10. Guisados: It’s only been open a couple of years, but the original location is already one of the essential restaurants in Boyle Heights. 2100 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 264-7201, and 1261 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 250-7600; Guisados.co
11. La Casita Mexicana: Univision chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu are rock stars east of the Los Angeles River, and their personal, vegetable-centered Jalisco dishes are worth the drive to Bell. The chiles en nogada is legendary. 4030 E. Gage Ave., Bell, (323) 773-1898; CasitaMex.com
12. Loteria Grill: Jimmy Shaw’s spare modern dining room has a huge tequila selection and a first-rate nopales salad, great chilaquiles at breakfast, and soups, enchiladas and stewed meats inspired by the recipes of his mentor, Diana Kennedy. 12050 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 508-5300; also in Santa Monica, Hollywood, and Westlake Village;LoteriaGrill.com
13. Corazon y Miel: Former Animal sous chef Eduardo Ruiz applies classical technique to Mexican- and Central American-inspired dishes. 6626 Atlantic Ave., Bell, (323) 560-1776; CorazonyMiel.com
14. Bizarra Capital: The newest project of Ricardo Diaz, this Mexican-flavored gastropub continues his winning streak. 12706 Philadelphia St., Whittier, (562) 945-2426; facebook.com/BizarraCapital