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America's 50 Best Mexican Restaurants 2014

America's 50 Best Mexican Restaurants 2014

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From a high-end restaurant in Chicago specializing in ribeye carne asada to a modest taqueria in Mountain View, Calif. serving some of the finest carnitas you’ll ever encounter, America has no shortage of great Mexican restaurants. Running the gamut from super-upscale to inexpensive and no-frills, we’ve rounded up the 50 best in America.

America's 50 Best Mexican Restaurants (Slideshow)

It wasn’t so long ago when “Mexican” food was best represented stateside by a heaping platter of rice and refried beans along with gloopy enchiladas covered in melted cheese, with maybe a couple hard-shell tacos on the side. But we’ve come a long way since then: today most people realize that the standard menu of burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas, and the like are in fact more Tex-Mex than authentic Mexican, and that once you head south of the border there’s a whole world of flavorful (and non-cheesy) possibilities to explore.

Thankfully, the cuisine of just about every region of Mexico is now well-represented in the American culinary landscape. Chef José Andrés’s consistently packed Oyamel, for example, is proof that our appreciation of the varied regional cuisines of Mexico has come a long way. Oaxaca-inspired dishes like chicken in rich mole sauce and quesadillas filled with huitlacoche, once hard to find in the U.S., are increasingly considered mainstream. And while authenticity is prized, some of the country’s most highly regarded chefs, like former pastry chef Alex Stupak and Oklahoma-born Rick Bayless, have also turned their attention and creativity to Mexican, which has become somewhat of a cuisine célèbre.

In order to assemble our ranking of America’s 50 best Mexican restaurants, we analyzed results from surveys we sent out to some of America’s leading culinary authorities, writers, and critics, used to assemble our rankings of America’s 50 Best Casual Restaurants and the 101 Best Restaurants in America. We supplemented those with best-of lists both in print and online, and rounded it out with our personal favorites from around the country. We also made sure to include restaurants that specialize in authentic Mexican fare; while some Tex-Mex classics on the menu are acceptable if done really well, the main focus needs to be on true Mexican cuisine.

So come with us on a journey through Mexico’s culinary heritage, by way of Mexican restaurants in locations as unexpected as Tigard, Oregon and Memphis, Tennessee. A warning, however: by the time you get to #1, you’ll be starving.

50) Nuestra Cocina, Portland, Ore.

Husband-and-wife chefs Benjamin Gonzales and Shannon Dooley-Gonzales have collaborated on a restaurant with peasant-style Mexican cooking in a less-expected corner of the U.S., Southeast Portland. Flavors span the cuisine of Zacatecas in north-central Mexico to those of Vera Cruz on the eastern coast and Tampico to the north. Signature dishes include the tamarind-marinated grilled Mexican prawns, tacos de puerco, sopes de chorizo, cochinita pibil, and puntitas de res en chile chipotle, sautéed beef tips with chipotle, chayote squash, and refried beans.

49) Javier’s, Dallas

In the land where Tex-Mex is king, Javier’s in Highland Park serves authentic Mexican, focusing its upscale take on Mexico City fare. There’s mounted game on the walls, lest you forget that you are still in Texas. Javier’s is not necessarily a critic’s darling, yet it’s the go-to choice for locals when they’re tired of the flashy scene at nearby Mi Cocina — and one that’s outlasted many other Mexican upstarts since it opened more than 30 years ago.

Click here for the remaining 48 best Mexican restaurants in America, and head to page two for the full list.

Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyers. Additional reporting by Kristen Oliveri and Arthur Bovino.

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Mexican Recipes You’ll Make Again and Again

From tacos and tamales to enchiladas and agua fresca, it’s easy to fall in love with the flavors of Mexican cuisine. We’ve rounded up our best authentic Mexican recipes (along with some really great Mexican-inspired takes) to pay homage to all the delicious dishes we find ourselves coming back to, time and time again.

Photo By: Tara Donne ©Tara Donne

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Alice Gao ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Renee Comet ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Matt Armendariz ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Stephen Murello ©Stephen Murello

Photo By: Renee Comet ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Alice Gao ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Antonis Achilleos

Photo By: Renee Comet ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Baja-Style Fish Tacos

Beer-battered halibut is fried to a golden crisp, then topped with shredded cabbage and salsa for the ultimate fish taco.

Watermelon and Mint Agua Fresca

This fruity and refreshing drink is so simple to make. Just puree cubed, seeded watermelon with a little water in a blender, until smooth. Then, pour over a mixture of muddled mint leaves, sugar and lime slices. Best of all, agua fresca (which can be made with a variety of different fruits) pairs perfectly with just about any Mexican dish you&rsquore serving up.

Easiest-Ever Chicken Mole Enchiladas

Chiles Rellenos


This marinated, shredded beef is perfect for tostadas, burritos, tacos and even sandwiches. Better yet, this recipe makes a big batch so you can easily store some in the freezer and be one step ahead on nights when you don&rsquot have time to cook from scratch.

Chicken Tamales


Marcela&rsquos take on this delicious, deep-fried treat couldn&rsquot be easier: she uses pre-made tortillas. Leave them whole or cut them into any desired shape before frying, then toss in cinnamon-sugar. It&rsquos that simple!

The Best Pork Enchiladas

Enchiladas from the Mexican state of Oaxaca are made with a red chile sauce. Ours has raisins to pull the fruit flavors from the ancho chiles and add a touch of sweetness. The pork is braised with aromatics and seasonings that turns into a deeply flavored blended sauce. Frying the tortillas a bit before rolling them gives them a durability that is important when assembling the dish.

Classic Margarita

Once you've tasted a homemade margarita, you may never go back to the store-bought stuff. Tequila, lime juice and agave syrup are all you need for this classic, refreshing drink.

Tyler keeps his take on Mexican flan traditional, flavoring it with vanilla bean, cinnamon and lemon.

How to Make Restaurant-Style Fajitas

Chef Name: Ree Drummond Full Recipe Name: Chicken and Beef Fajitas Talent Recipe: Ree Drummond’s Chicken and Beef Fajitas, as seen on Food Network’s The Pioneer Woman FNK Recipe: Project:, CINCO/SUMMER/FATHERSDAY Show Name: The Pioneer Woman

Photo by: Renee Comet ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Renee Comet, 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

It's one of the few meals out there associated with a sound. The gratifying sizzzzle of a piping-hot skillet loaded with tortilla-ready add-ins signifies the arrival of one of our favorite hands-on dishes: fajitas. Lay out grilled veggies, cheese, pico de gallo and more on the table, and let your guests assemble the taco of their dreams. Along with salt-rimmed margaritas, bowls of guac and more, there is no better headliner for your Cinco de Mayo menu.

Ree Drummond makes it easy to make restaurant-style Chicken and Beef Fajitas with all the fix-ins at home on the grill. Simply follow this step-by-step how-to, or watch Ree grill up fajitas herself.


Chef Name: Ree Drummond Full Recipe Name: Chicken and Beef Fajitas Talent Recipe: Ree Drummond’s Chicken and Beef Fajitas, as seen on Food Network’s The Pioneer Woman FNK Recipe: Project:, CINCO/SUMMER/FATHERSDAY Show Name: The Pioneer Woman

Photo by: Renee Comet ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Renee Comet, 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Give yourself a few hours’ lead time for the chicken and beef to soak up this homemade marinade. Using a food processor or blender, mix olive oil, loads of chili powder, Worcestershire, cumin, red pepper flakes and lime juice. After you add just a little sugar, salt and pepper, the marinade is good to go once blended and smooth.

These are Chicago's essential Mexican restaurants

If you've followed along this month as we've covered Mexican food in Chicago, you've hopefully recognized the wealth of wonderful Mexican dishes currently available in our city. While host to our fair share of excellent tacos and tortas, our scene goes deeper than that, as the food of Mexico becomes intertwined with local cuisine.

Best of all, Chicago's best Mexican restaurants are scattered all across the city, at all price points and styles. Sure, some places serve truly traditional offerings, using time-honored techniques and ages-old family recipes, but Chicago is also home to hungry upstarts ready to explore uncharted territory in search of the exciting and new.

Considering how many options are now available, landing a spot on our essential Mexican restaurants required a serious level of obsession on the part of the chefs and restaurant owners. Sometimes, that focus is put to one dish, like the birria at Birrieria Zaragoza or the carnitas at Carnitas Uruapan. Other times, it's a creative desire to try something new, like Dos Urban Cantina. Sometimes you're Rick Bayless, who keeps developing distinct concepts to explore the many facets of Mexican cuisine.

The most exciting prospect is that it's just starting. Fascinating new Mexican restaurants continue to open at a rapid pace. We felt like two newcomers, Quiote and Mi Tocaya, needed a little more time before declarations could be made, but they are definitely ones to follow.

Here are the restaurants that we consider to be the essential Mexican restaurants in the Chicago area right now, listed in alphabetical order.

Antique Taco

I was convinced I'd hate Antique Taco when it first opened. Here was an excessively cute storefront outfitted with antiques in a trendy neighborhood (Wicker Park) serving willfully inauthentic tacos. Then a gorgeous, old-timey plate was set in front of me, and I was stunned by the beauty. Here were tacos unlike any in Chicago, made with incredible care and attention. Sure, there's something primal about steak with just onions and cilantro, but who says you can't also enjoy fresh mushrooms mixed with a red adobo and pert pickled onions or a crackly tempura fried fish topped with a spicy tartar sauce and smoked cabbage? It helps that the tacos are built on fantastic freshly made tortillas. Various locations,

Bien Trucha

Inexpensive neighborhood taquerias can be found up and down the Fox River Valley (a 2013 Tribune story found two dozen from Crystal Lake to Aurora), but the 2007 arrival of Bien Trucha (the name, appropriately, is slang for "on top of one's game") raised the bar for Mexican dining in the far west suburbs. Upscale but not ostentatious, Bien Trucha seats customers in cheerful and sunny surroundings (particularly the outdoor deck), and people line up well ahead of opening time to secure one of the no-reservations tables. Superb tacos are the main draw, but there are fine tortas (lunch only), brochetas (dinner only), any ceviche your waiter recommends, and fresh-fruit margaritas and cocktails. Proof that fine Mexican food can thrive 40 miles outside of Chicago, right in downtown Geneva. 410 W. State St., Geneva, 630-232-2665,

Birrieria Zaragoza

Ordering a plate of birria at this small storefront in Archer Heights sets the whole kitchen in motion. Four small bowls appear containing dried chiles, cilantro, onions and limes, along with a glass bottle of dark red hot sauce. A woman picks up fresh masa, rolls it into balls, flattens the balls on a tortilla press and then griddles the paper-thin discs until they puff up into steamy corn tortillas. Finally, roasted goat is removed from a roasting pan, picked over to remove excess fat and then drenched in an orange-tinted consomme. To take this all in, it helps to grab a seat at the counter, though no matter where you sit, you'll recognize instantly that it's all the small details taken together that make this an astonishing dish. How you dig in is your choice, but I like to dress the plate with onions, cilantro and lime juice before slicing into the tender chile-stained goat. Then I like to wrap up those bites in the warm corn tortillas. 4854 S. Pulaski Road, 773-523-3700,

Carnitas Uruapan

Despite what Chipotle tries to sell you, carnitas are not a synonym for pulled pork. Pulled pork is mushy and wet carnitas at their best are richly seasoned, golden-colored and crispy around the edges. To experience the real thing, visit Carnitas Uruapan in Pilsen, which makes its namesake dish fresh daily in enormous pots. While you can get individual tacos, what you want is a platter of carnitas served by the pound with a wealth of salsas, toppings and tortillas to construct your own. 1725 W. 18th St., 312-226-2654,

La Casa de Samuel

La Casa de Samuel is one of the warmest and most welcoming restaurants in the city. Each time I stop by, it's bustling with families and friends, all mingling in the tastefully decorated brick-lined room. Perhaps that's because there's no way to be shy when you're served a hunk of roasted goat leg. You just grab one of the restaurant's supple, freshly made tortillas, pile on some of the luscious goat and top it with the unique warmed tomato-based salsa. 2834 W. Cermak Road, 773-376-7474,

Cemitas Puebla

When most people think of Mexican sandwiches, the torta is what they have in mind, but Cemitas Puebla got us to care about a distinct regional sandwich from Puebla called a cemita. The crusty bread is dotted with sesame seeds, and it's stuffed with tangy cheese, a smear of smoky chipotle, a fresh Mexican herb called papalo and meat of your choice. Since first opening, the restaurant has expanded to three locations, crafted a shiny new logo and yet somehow gotten even better. While the bread used (also called a cemita) has always been good, the recipe used now is a marvel — delicately crispy, while soft and flavorful inside. Various locations,

La Chaparrita #1

Hidden away on a residential stretch of West 25th Street in Little Village, La Chaparrita doesn't look like much. Inside, you'll find only a handful of tables, along with a tiny grocery store. But peek into the kitchen, and you'll see something rather unusual for Chicago taquerias: a charola, a circular pan of bubbling fat with dome peeking up in the middle, where you'll find all kinds of cuts of meats bobbing about. Don't call it a deep fryer. The meat slowly bathes in oil here, luxuriously tenderizing, while the juices of the different cuts of meats mingle. You can't go wrong with the chile-spiked longaniza, a house-made sausage similar to chorizo, but the tripas steal the show. Pulled straight from the oil, these small intestines of a cow are soft and almost squishy, but ask for them crispy and they'll be griddled until they become gorgeously browned nuggets of beef essence. 2500 S. Whipple St., 773-247-1402.

An Undocumented Mexican Chef Runs One of the Country’s Best New Restaurants

At South Philly Barbacoa, #6 on our Hot 10 list of America’s Best New Restaurants, Cristina Martinez’s slow-cooked lamb tacos sell out before sundown. The tiny restaurant, which began in Martinez and her husband Ben Miller’s one-bedroom apartment and then a taco cart, fills up with Mexican families, restaurant and construction workers at the end of their shifts, and taco superfans. Her food reminds people of home, and home is Mexico.

Martinez emigrated to the U.S. years ago, crossing the desert in unimaginable heat and at a dangerous risk. She fell in love with Miller when they worked in a restaurant in Philadelphia together, a restaurant that would soon fire her when they discovered her undocumented status. The difficulty of finding a job after that led her to start making pigs’ brain quesadillas and selling them to workers at the Italian Market in the mornings. Then she told her customers, I’m making barbacoa at my home this Sunday, and waited to see what would happen. If they didn’t sell, she wouldn’t do it again. They sold out.

“This is something that can be achieved only through struggle, perseverance, and hard work,” said Martinez, whose decision to declare her status puts her business and livelihood at risk, but whose success has been an inspiration to the Mexican community in Philly.

The 12 Best Mexican Cookbooks To Spice Up Your Meals

From tamales to burritos, learn to cook dishes from every region.

Mexican food has been adapted by cultures around the world. With lots of Americanized spins put on it, you may not be aware of the origin of the dishes you frequently enjoy at your favorite local Mexican restaurant. That&rsquos why cookbooks, especially from authors of Mexican descent, can be such helpful resources&mdashthey allow you to experience the stories and food from the culture as you recreate the meals.

&ldquoThere is so much more than one kind of food that qualifies as Mexican food&mdashcookbooks play an important role as chronicles of food through the specific lens of the authors,&rdquo says Annelies Zijderveld, author of Steeped: Recipes Infused with Tea and a member of Equity at the Table. &ldquoI am still learning about regional Mexican cuisines outside of where my family is from, and it's a discovery to taste and paint beyond the lines of what I think of as Mexican food.&rdquo

Zijderveld loves to read about different authors&rsquo takes on the same dishes, which can change from region to region and family to family, she explains. &ldquoHaving their voices speak from the page and guide [you] in the kitchen keeps dishes alive and offers new perspectives,&rdquo Zijderveld says. &ldquoThe other part here is this idea of Mexican diaspora: I'm just as interested, if not more interested, to see how the food changes as its people move.&rdquo

To read up on some of these incredibly flavorful recipes (enchiladas! tamales! flan! churros!) and the stories behind them, check out our list of the best Mexican cookbooks, below.

14 best Mexican restaurants in Southern California, by Jonathan Gold

El Parian’s roast kid may be the best Mexican dish in L.A.

Details: 1528 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 386-7361. ( Mariah Tauger / For the Times)

French fries are topped with a mole sauce at Bizarra Capitale.

Details: 12706 Philadelphia St., Whittier, (562) 945-2426 (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Details: 1445 4th St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1655, and 445 S. Figueroa St., (213) 486-5171 (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

El Huarache Azteca’s huaraches are still the industry standard.

Details: 5225 York Blvd., Highland Park, (323) 478-9572 (Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)

Mexican seafood king Sergio Peñuelas seems to have found a home.

Details: 3544 W. Imperial Highway, Inglewood, (310) 672-2339. (Mariah Tauger / For the Times)

Chichen Itza’s Gilberto Cetin and two types of tamales.

Details: 3655 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 741-1075 (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Fried avocado on a perch of mango and habanero chutney.

Details: 6626 Atlantic Ave., Bell, (323) 560-1776 (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

La Casita Mexicana is expanding but keeping its colorful aesthetic.

Details: 4030 E. Gage Ave., Bell, (323) 773-1898 (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Carnitas cemita is among fare at Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita.

Details: 3010 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, (323) 881-0428. (Abby Abanes / @PleasurePalate/Flickr)

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

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

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

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

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.

Mexican Street Corn

Courtesy of Dianne’s Fish Shack and Smokehouse and Executive Chef, Henry Fisher

Photo: Courtesy of Dianne’s Fish Shack and Smokehouse

Just steps from the waterfront in downtown Kingston, Dianne’s is where a classic East Coast kitchen meets the flavours of Mexico. Think lobster rolls, fish n’ chips & oysters along with tacos, guacamole & Mexican BBQ. Plus, savoury grilled steaks, burgers, fresh fish entrees, pasta, fish chowder, salads and sandwiches. Rumour also has it they mix up some of Kingston’s best fresh-squeezed lime margaritas. (Makes 4 portions)


8 pieces freshly husked corn on the cob
8 oz queso fresco, pulsed in a food processor until loosely crumbled
1 tbsp Mexican style chili powder
2 jalapeno peppers, very thinly sliced crosswise, include some seeds
1/2 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade, mixed thoroughly with the zest and juice of 2 limes
2 tbsp roughly chopped cilantro leaves
1 lime cut in to 8 wedges
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Light barbecue and pre-heat to high with lid closed
2. When barbecue is hot, lay corn side by side on the grill and leave to cook until corn starts to “pop” and begins to char
3. Starting from one end on the line of corn, rotate each cob a quarter turn and allow charring to continue and corn to “pop” until corn is evenly charred all over (charring is good for depth of flavour, don’t be afraid of it)
4. When corn is evenly charred and cooked, place on a tray and spoon over a generous amount of lime mayonnaise using tongs, rotate the corn to smother each cob completely from end to end with the mayonnaise
5. Place two cobs side by each on a serving plate and sprinkle liberally with queso with a generous pinch of chili powder dust corn entirely, season to taste with sea salt and pepper, then garnish with several slices of jalapeno, chopped cilantro and a lime wedge.

44 Surprisingly Healthy Mexican Dinner Ideas and Recipes

Mexican cuisine doesn’t exactly have a great reputation nutrition-wise (especially when it comes in an overstuffed burrito). But it doesn’t have to be super heavy and greasy. And it can still include all the cheese, avocado, and margaritas you love.

These healthy versions of traditional Mexican recipes use whole-food ingredients and cut back on the grease for more flavor and nutrition and less food coma. So the next time you get a craving for a burrito, quesadilla, marg, or churro (or all of the above), head to the kitchen rather than going out. Your body will thank you.

1. Grilled Sweet Potato Nachos

There’s really no wrong way to make nachos, but we can’t get enough of this plant-topped version. Sweet potatoes, black beans, and corn mean these are packed with fiber, and there’s both crumbled cojito and gooey cheese sauce on top.

2. Dos Caminos’ Guacamole

No party is complete without guac, and this recipe is sure to be devoured in a flash. Follow these easy expert tips for making sure your dip turns out so perfect (no watery, flavorless mush here!), you’ll want to dive in with a spoon.

3. Jalapeño Popper Quinoa Bites

Turn greasy poppers into bites that are just as cheesy and spicy but better for you. These mini muffins combine quinoa with the peppers, cream cheese, and Monterey Jack for an app that’s like Mexican mac and cheese you can eat with your hands.

4. Pico de Gallo

No need to buy salsa, especially since many brands add sugar and too much salt. If you can chop and stir, you can make your own. For more heat, include the seeds from the jalapeño. Or skip it all together if you prefer mild pico.

5. Easy Ceviche

Ceviche is intimidating, in part because some people say that the lime juice cooks the fish, but really the acidity of the lime changes the proteins in the seafood, which causes the change in texture. So it’s still raw—and oh-so-tasty. If you don’t like white fish, try shrimp.

6. Healthier Seven-Layer Dip

Yes, this stacked chip companion can be healthy. Simply replace sour cream with Greek yogurt, make your own guacamole, and use refried or even plain pinto or black beans. And of course there’s still cheese—because what would dip be without it?

7. Vegan Butternut Queso

Vegan queso may seem a bit sacrilegious, but trust us here. Butternut squash naturally adds color and keeps things light, while tamari, miso, and dijon bring the umami taste of cheese. This recipe takes more work than melting some Velveeta, but have you looked at the ingredients on that label?

8. Clean Eating Taquitos

Even greasy, fried Mexican food can be made “clean”—and still taste amazing. Just a few simple ingredients flavor the chicken, which is baked and then puréed with salsa and more seasonings. Spread it on a tortilla, roll it up, bake, and you’re good to go.

9. Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde

The other green dip that’s perfect with corn chips, salsa verde is made with tomatillos, those hearty, green, kind of tart cousins of tomatoes. Here your food processor does most of the work, so you don’t have to worry about cutting up all the ingredients into the perfect size, saving you time so you can cook less and party more.

10. Baked Jalapeño Bacon Poppers

While these poppers certainly aren’t health food, they’re at least slightly healthier since they’re baked. And they’re made with real food (peppers, bacon, cheese, and panko), as opposed to most of the kinds you find in the frozen food aisle.

11. Quinoa Enchilada Casserole

No tortillas? No prob. Get all the enchilada flavor (and cheese!) you love without any wheat in this easy bake. Stir together quinoa, enchilada sauce, green chiles, corn, black beans, spices, and two kinds of cheese. Then top it with even more cheese (yum). After 15 minutes in the oven, you’ve got a colorful, healthy dinner.

12. Vegetable and Goat Cheese Quesadilla

Let’s face it, the key thing in a quesadilla is the cheese. The goat cheese in this recipe is a salty option that may be easier to digest. Pair it with sautéed onions and tomatoes and pack it all in a whole-wheat tortilla for a simple and quick dinner.

13. Crispy Black Bean Quinoa Burritos

Burritos aren’t only (over)stuffed with rice, beans, and meat. This recipe fills the wrapper with cilantro-lime quinoa, black beans, corn, and bell peppers for a colorful, hearty meal that won’t leave you with a food baby. Bonus: The avocado-yogurt topping doesn’t cost extra!

14. Paleo Tacos

Paleo eaters don’t need to give up Mexican. Just put all that tasty seasoned beef and your favorite taco toppings in a lettuce leaf rather than a tortilla. It doesn’t take any more time to make—and it’s no less messy either!

15. Baked Chiles Rellenos With Smoky Tomato Sauce

Get the same crispy outside and gooey center as the traditional recipe with less fat by baking these chiles rellenos. This meal takes time, so it’s good for a weekend when you have guests over. They’ll love the cheesy zucchini and corn filling and easy chipotle sauce.

16. Beef Empanadas

Empanadas are tasty handhelds filled with all sorts of deliciousness. This version features a gluten-free dough and seasoned beef inside. It’s a lot easier than it looks, so play with the filling, using different proteins and adding various veggies or beans.

17. Paleo Chicken Tortilla Soup

Tortilla soup does have a lot of ingredients, but a slow cooker makes it super easy to cook (and clean up!). After letting it simmer while you do better things, all you have to do is shred the chicken and top with cilantro and avocado. Those are kitchen skillz we all have!

18. Black Bean and Avocado Enchiladas

Forget value meals at fast food and fast casual Mexican places. For around $1.50 per serving, you can make this vegan dinner that’s also super easy to whip up. Pretty much all you have to do is chop, stir, roll, and pour. The sauce’s secret is a couple teaspoons of antioxidant-rich cocoa to deepen the flavors.

19. Chopped Taco Salad With Homemade Catalina Dressing

We all know that taco salad isn’t quite as healthy as most kale salads. But sometimes you just want the Mexican one. This version features a DIY dressing so you can control the sugar and salt and gives you the ability to choose your favorite toppings. While this recipe cooks up ground beef as the protein, chicken, turkey, or tofu would also work.

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