Our 30 Favorite Mexican Dishes in Chicago

¡MEXTRAVAGANZA!: The best tacos, tortillas, seviches, queso fundido, ane more

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Tinga Huaraches at HUARACHES DONA CHIO, $6.50
This big, bold Mexico City street-food dish is named after a sandal—for its size and shape, if not for its bluntness. Sofia Calventes, Dona Chio’s owner, presses her own thick masa, stuffs the beast with refried beans, and then paves it with salsa verde, juicy marinated chicken, Chihuahua cheese, cilantro, and onions. That’s one massive meal for the price. 1547 W. Elmdale Ave.; 773-878-8470

One of our Best Mexican RestaurantsPollo al Guajillo on Hongos at FRONTERA GRILL, $23
In simplest terms, it’s chicken, mashed potatoes, and mushrooms. Coming from Frontera’s kitchen, courtesy of the chef de cuisine, Richard James, it’s a fork-tender, adobo-marinated Gunthorp breast in red guajillo chili sauce with creamy, thick queso añejo mashed potatoes and the wildest grilled chanterelles possible. 445 N. Clark St.; 312-661-1434

One of our Best Mexican RestaurantsTortillas at LA CASA DE SAMUEL, $2.21
It all starts with good tortillas, and these chewy handmade miracles make anything exponentially better. For one thing, they’re thick and steamy—more substantial than what we’re all used to. In every delicious char mark, you taste the thousands of tortillas that preceded yours on the griddle. 2834 W. Cermak Rd.; 773-376-7474

One of our Best Mexican RestaurantsCochinita Pibil at LA FONDA DEL GUSTO, $16
“Buried baby pig” sounds like a particularly cruel translation, but this suckling porker, which has been slow-roasted, marinated into tender submission with achiote paste, and steamed in banana leaves, is one of the great dishes of Yucatecan cuisine. Dudley Nieto’s crispy-tender version, atop a tostada with pickled onions, is a masterpiece. 1408 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-278-6100

Camarones Tacos at LA LAGARTIJA TAQUERÍA, $2.50
Luis Perea and Laura Cid-Perea (Bombon Café) graduated from the School of Bayless in 2000, and their new taquería has the same bright colors and flavors as their mentor’s. Lagartija’s tacos are all fresh and cheap, but the best involves shrimp dabbed with crema and chipotle salsa—shielded by a breading as delicate as you always want tempura to be. 132 S. Ashland Ave.; 312-733-7772

Pollo en Mole Oaxaqueño at LA OAXAQUEÑA, $10
The many dried chilies in a mole negro recipe (and their seeds, too) get toasted until they’re dark as midnight. That’s what makes it so negro. It also explains why this mom-and-pop’s mole is so smoky, earthy, and rich—though we don’t know what magic Mom and Pop perform on the chicken to get it to retain its character under such a thick blanket of yum. 3382 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-545-8585

Carne a la Panela at LOS NOPALES, $16
It takes a certain hubris for a restaurant to serve three strips of skirt steak in a way that looks blatantly like a crucifix. The wonderful thin charred beef, bolstered by al dente cactus strips, tomatillo sauce, pan-seared panela cheese, and addictively soupy black beans, proves that Los Nopales has confidence in spades. 4544 N. Western Ave.; 773-334-3149

Patas de Jaiba at MARISCOS EL VENENO, $30
When you grow up landlocked like some of us did, a big plate of uncracked crab legs is as frustrating as it is enticing. But with this decadent Nayarit-style dish, wherein the meaty legs are marinated, steamed, and swimming in a wicked-hot red chili sauce, all the hard work pays big dividends—even if we end up covered in buttery garlic. Especially if we end up covered in buttery garlic. 1024 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-252-7200

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