Last March, while celebrating Mexico’s upcoming bicentennial, Mayor Daley proclaimed 2010 the Year of Mexico in Chicago. Truer words have not emanated from city hall in years. Less than a century after the first surge of immigrants fled Jalisco, Michoacán, and Guanajato to avoid the revolution rocking their homeland, the Mexican influence in Chicago reaches almost everywhere—but particularly the world of food. In large part thanks to the million-plus Mexican Americans living in the Chicago area, the city and suburbs offer what may be the best place in America to unravel the complex regional nuances of Mexican cuisine. The streets teem with taquerías, birrerias, torterias, and mole houses. And where the upscale Mexican scene once consisted simply of ¡Salpicón! and Rick Bayless’s empire, innovative restaurants like Chilam Balam and Mexique now keep materializing left and right.

Here, the 12 top Mexican restaurants in Chicago: Launch the gallery.