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7 of the best Mexican restaurants in Texas

Sope with Spanish rice at Lala’s Gorditas, just one of the Mexican restaurants top culinarians in Texas recommend. Photo by Kimberly Davis

What’s as popular in Texas as pickup trucks and football? Mexican food! It’s everywhere, with half the convenience stores from Dalhart to Harlingen seemingly boasting in-house taquerias these days. But with so many choices, how to find the best spots? Ask gastronomy experts, of course.

These 6 top chefs and 1 culinary director in the state’s largest cities shared where they go for the tastiest Mexican food in their towns. You can be sure their faves—from tiny dives to nicer digs—are worth the trip, no matter where you live.

1. Lala’s Gorditas, San Antonio

Chosen by: Chef Elizabeth Johnson of Pharm Table

Elizabeth Johnson and Steven Pizzini seated at an outdoor dining table.

Chef Elizabeth Johnson of Pharm Table and Lala’s Gorditas chef-owner Steven Pizzini. Photo by Kimberly Davis

The vibe
Brightly painted walls hung with charming Mexican folk art make this pick just beyond Southtown a great place to share deeply comforting food cooked by a family with generations of experience. In mild weather, the shaded patio offers breezy seating.

What makes it so good
Johnson’s diet follows a plant-forward practice dependent on the freshest food, so she appreciates Lala’s scratch preparations. She points to family rituals employed by chef-owner Steven Pizzini, a grandson of the family that founded another of her local favorites, Teka Molina.

“He also makes his own masa, nixtamalizing and grinding his own corn,” she says. Handcrafted masa significantly elevates the gordita and its close cousin, the sope.

Best dishes
Johnson likes the green chicken enchiladas (which she orders without sour cream), the bean and guacamole cups, and the gordita, which she customizes for her food preferences.

You may also like: Fun, fabulous San Antonio

2. TJ Birria y Mas, Houston

Chosen by: Chef Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi of Kata Robata and Katami

Chef Manabu "Hori" Horiuchi standing behind the sushi bar.

Chef Manabu "Hori" Horiuchi at his restaurant Kata Robata in Houston. Photo by Julie Soefer

The vibe
In this stylish little taco shop in the Heights, yellow neon art lights up the walls, broadcasting the mantra "Wake up, work hard, eat tacos." Credited as Houston’s first birria restaurant, it’s a lively fast-casual spot.

Neon sign inside TJ Birria y Mas that says "wake up, work hard, eat tacos."

TJ Birria y Mas in Houston. Photo by Felix Sanchez

What makes it so good
Horiuchi is wowed by the multitude of ways the restaurant presents the shredded beef. “The birria is so good, in so many forms,” he says.

A tray with birria tacos, birria quesadillas, consomme, and lime, cilantro, and onions for garnish.

The birria deluxe platter at TJ Birria y Mas. Photo by Felix Sanchez

Best dishes
Horiuchi is a big fan of the birria tacos dipped in a delicious consommé, but says to also check out the birria quesadillas, the papa birria (birria with mashed potato and sour cream), and the ramen, all served with cilantro, lime, and onion.

You may also like: Where to eat in Houston

3. The Plaza Restaurant & Bar, Lubbock

(Other locations in Altus, Amarillo, Borger, Childress, Dumas, and Pampa)

Chosen by: Chef Finn Walter of The Nicolett

Chef Finn Walter.

Chef Finn Walter of The Nicolett. Photo by Caitlin and Ryan Photography

The vibe
This gathering spot and watering hole hosts everything from Little League wins and birthdays to Taco Tuesday and Sunday brunch.

What makes it so good
“It’s a traditional, large Tex-Mex place,” says Walter, a recent James Beard Award semifinalist whose cooking career has taken him to Paris, Napa Valley, and Santa Fe. “We really enjoy sitting in the casual, bustling bar area.”

Skillet enchiladas.

Skillet enchiladas at the Plaza Restaurant & Bar. Photo by Caitlin and Ryan Photography

Best dishes
Walter leans hard into the skillet enchiladas, which are hand-rolled and stuffed with cheese and then covered with grilled onions and a choice of sauces that include spicy tomatillo, jalapeño cream, and the traditional red or green chile. The crowning touches: beef fajita meat atop the enchiladas and guacamole on the side.

You may also like: Lubbock and other romantic cities in Texas

4. Ensenada, Austin

Chosen by: Chef Nayely Castillo, formerly of Ember Kitchen

Chef Nayely Castillo.

Chef Nayely Castillo. Photo by Brandon Acuña

The vibe
You can’t miss the bright-orange truck anchoring a corner of Arbor Food Park on Austin’s east side. This sunny spot is an easy choice for quick, cheap eats that can be enjoyed under turquoise umbrellas at wooden picnic tables.

Ensenada food truck, open for business.

The Ensenada food truck in Austin. Photo by Nicole Mlakar

What makes it so good
“The amazing mother-daughter team of Liz and Stephanie Everett are the most humble, welcoming owners of this taqueria truck,” Castillo says. “Having a place like this—inspired by their family home in Baja California—right here in Austin is so special.”

Servings of shrimp cocktail and ceviche tostada, both topped with avocado.

Shrimp cocktail and ceviche tostada from Ensenada. Photo by Nicole Mlakar

Best dishes
The fish and shrimp tacos are the stars, but Castillo also loves the ceviche tostada and the shrimp cocktail weekend special.

You may also like: Texas food halls that celebrate the state’s diversity

5. Joe T. Garcia’s, Fort Worth

Chosen by: Culinary Director Kari Crowe-Seher of Melt Ice Creams

Culinary Director Kari Crowe-Seher enjoying food and a margarita at Joe T. Garcia's.

Culinary Director Kari Crowe-Seher of Melt Ice Creams at Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Photo by Nancy Farrar

The vibe
Beyond the original house
where the Garcia-Lancarte family operation began in 1935, stone pathways connect patios beset with blooming pots and tiled fountains. Locals, tourists, and visiting celebrities flock to tables spread under arbors and umbrellas for dishes that have been prepared by 5 generations of the same family.

What makes it so good
Crowe-Seher, a James Beard Foundation fellow, feels a natural affinity for Joe T.’s, a winner of the James Beard America’s Classics Award. “It’s tried-and-true, providing an atmosphere that transports you to a Mexican vacation in those gardens,” she says.

Small enchilada dinner.

The small enchilada dinner at Joe T. Garcia’s. Photo by Nancy Farrar

Best dishes
Crowe-Seher likes the Tino’s Special Margarita and the small enchilada dinner, which is made by special order for anyone who requests it. “Sometimes I ask for the off-menu fajita nachos,” she says. “The chips are piled high with lots of cheese and all the toppings, with fresh sour cream and a healthy side of guacamole.”

You may also like: The Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District’s renovation puts a swanky new shine on ‘cowtown’

6. Habanero Café, Austin

Chosen by: Chef Mike Diaz of Oseyo

Chef Mike Diaz enjoying a gordita and Fanta at Habanero Cafe.

Chef Mike Diaz at Habanero Café in Austin. Photo by Nicole Mlakar

The vibe
“I’m a pretty nostalgic person—I’ll take any opportunity to feel like I’m back home,” Diaz says. “The ambience is reminiscent of all the divey restaurants I visit when I return to El Paso, and the servers remind me of all my tías.”

What makes it so good
The authenticity, Diaz says, noting that Habenero’s offerings taste like the food he grew up eating at his abuela’s home in Juarez, Mexico.

Habanero Cafe beef fajita gordita with a side of chips and salsa.

A beef fajita gordita at Habanero Café. Photo by Nicole Mlakar

Best dishes
Diaz favors the crispy corn gorditas stuffed with beans, lettuce, tomato, and grated cheese. Guacamole, beef fajita meat, and barbacoa are good add-ons, too. (Vegetarians can opt for grilled poblano, tomato, zucchini, mushroom, and onion gorditas.)

You may also like: Don't-miss things to do in Austin, Texas

7. Resident Taqueria, Dallas

Chosen by: Chef Caroline Perini of Easy Slider and Easy Bar

Caroline Perini seated in front of the menu at Resident Taqueria.

Chef Caroline Perini at Resident Taqueria in Dallas. Photo by Jennifer Boomer

The vibe
Chic in the most casual, cheery sense, this Lake Highlands hot spot attracts solo diners, couples, and families in equal measure with its inventive dishes loaded with vibrant ingredients. Perini likes to sit at the bar at lunchtime but notes the front patio area is a good perch, too.

What makes it so good
“I got to know this incredible creative team when we did an event in Marfa together. Their flavors are really all over the board, so I want to go all the time,” says Perini, who credits chef-owner Andrew Marc Savoie’s experiences in New York, New Orleans, and Napa with turning out unexpected tacos like duck carnitas, beef shank, or a Wagyu-seafood-mushroom assemblage.

Resident Taqueria carne asada taco.

A carne asada taco at Resident Taqueria. Photo by Jennifer Boomer

Best dishes
Perini recommends the fried oyster po’boy taco, the carne asada taco with a grilled shishito pepper, and the caramelized cauliflower taco, which she says makes her love vegetables.

You may also like: Cool attractions in downtown Dallas

Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.

Sixth-generation Texan June Naylor is a writer who lives within walking distance of her favorite Fort Worth taco shop, Taco Heads.

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