Where to Find Authentic Mexican Food in Houston

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The Big Gringa at the Picos by Arnaldo Richards. Image: Picos

IIf you know anything about life in the Lone Star State, you know our Mexican cuisine is top notch. Although Texas is known as the birthplace of Tex-Mex and Houston lays claim to the fajita – let’s pour one for Tex-Mex patron saint “Mama” Ninfa Laurenzo – it’s important not to overlook the originality and flavors of the many varieties of authentic Mexican food found here, food delivered to our plates perfectly spiced and without cutting corners. Succulent skirt steaks, fresh chilies and rustic corn tortillas are all staples of cooking south of the border, but if a trip down south isn’t exactly your lunch break, don’t worry. : Houston has the best.

From the fatty meat toppings of Mexico City’s street tacos to the thick corn batter of Oaxaca’s tlacoyo, Houston’s restaurants cater to your every craving. Whether it’s the finger-licking menu at a family-run taqueria like Tacos Doña Lena or the vast assortment of dishes from all parts of Mexico at Arnaldo Richards’ Picos Restaurant, the city is busier than the heaviest of peppers in nogada with authentic Mexican restaurants that will appease your craving for fresh, flavorful food.

To make your search for an authentic Mexican bite easier, we’ve put together a handy guide to the best authentic Mexican restaurants in town.

Ninfa’s

Originally started as a side business to help Ninfa Laurenzo through financial troubles with his tortilla factory, Ninfa’s has grown far beyond its humble beginnings. Boasting the tagline “The best Mexican food in Texas since Texas was Mexico”, the restaurant’s Uptown and Navigation locations offer a wide selection of Mexican food classics, including handmade tamales and the original Taco a la Ninfa, which was first concocted in 1973. If you’re looking for something more experimental, try the award-winning Fajita Burger, which features authentic Mexican flavors – think queso Oaxaca and Monterey Jack cheese melted on a fajita patty perfectly grilled – combined with a typical American presentation.

Picos restaurant by Arnaldo Richards

The full name of this restaurant is actually Arnaldo Richards’ Picos Restaurant, Seven Regions of Mexican Cuisine, and it lives up to its nickname. Kirby’s Outpost offers a sizable menu including a section focused on chef specialties from across the seven regions, such as Mixiote Hidalgo Style, a spicy lamb shank steamed in agave parchment, from the center of the Mexico. And while you’re there, don’t miss the drinks — the restaurant prides itself on its relationship with master distillers, and legend has it that Picos is the birthplace of the shaker margarita.

Cuchara

With a name that literally translates to “spoon”, Cuchara encourages its guests to (both figuratively and literally) dive into its regional cuisine. The Mexico City-inspired bistro in Montrose offers brunch and dinner menus featuring dishes like esquite, a Mexican street corn salad, and encahuatadas, in which enchiladas are topped with a spicy peanut salsa. Nor does Cuchara limit its influence from Mexico City to its cuisine; Murals by Mexican artist Cecilia Beaven adorn the walls, colorful dinnerware adorns the tables, and roughly-hewn aprons draw inspiration from the restaurant’s origins to create an authentic dining experience.




Don Carlos

This classic Bellaire canteen has everything you need to satisfy a craving for Mexican cuisine: table-top guacamole, tamales, chalupas and menudo con pozole, to name a few. While you’re here, be sure to check out Don Carlos’ nachos. From Supreme Nachos to Fajita Nachos, this restaurant is sure to please all tortilla lovers. And if you don’t like tortilla chips, don’t worry – Don Carlos also gives the potato fries the nacho treatment.

100% Taquitos

A result of the University of Houston’s entrepreneurship program, 100% Taquito’s mission is to recreate the street food experience of Mexico City, right down to the street itself. Tucked into Greenway, the restaurant’s decor mimics a Mexico City plaza, topped with a bright green taxi and sidewalk flooring. As the name suggests, 100% Taquito’s menu features a long list of taquito flavors, all served in threes. And if you can’t choose, opt for the sampler, which offers guests a taste of beef, spicy brisket, and chicken taquitos.

The Tapatia

If you’re looking for an extensive menu filled with Mexican classics in the Museum Quarter, look no further than La Tapatia. Featuring a blend of traditional flavors and contemporary techniques, the cantina’s signature dishes include eight kinds of enchiladas topped with toppings like ranchera sauce, avocado and cheddar cheese. Looking for variety? The menu also features combo dishes, such as the Tampiqueña, which includes beef skirt steak, cheese enchilada, and crispy ground beef taco.




Party in Guadalajara

Founded by the sons of immigrant farm workers from Mexico, Fiesta en Guadalajara prides itself on its family recipes. Heights Restaurant offers an assortment of traditional dishes, including fajitas with charro beans and tilapia stuffed with sautéed shrimp and mushrooms. And for those looking for a full plate, the Mexican Favorites section of the menu promises to excite with its grilled chicken and skirt steak entrees.

Ambriza

Local ingredients and welcoming service combine to create an excellent Mexican dining experience at Ambriza’s two restaurants north of Houston. The menu reflects the restaurant’s commitment to taking traditional Mexican flavors to new levels through modern cooking styles. Standout dishes include the restaurant’s tuna tostada, which combines Asian spices with refried beans, and its signature burger, which includes the basics of a Mexican meal turned burger.

Teotihuacan Mexican Coffee

Home to authentic Mexican cuisine with a twist, Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe in the Heights offers a unique menu featuring dishes like their infamous Caliente shrimp, chiles rellenos, and Mexican-style tortas. Perhaps the most impressive on their menu are the Parrillada plates – assorted meat plates to share. The restaurant’s signature, the Parrillada Teotihuacan, consists of grilled quail, prime rib, grilled jumbo shrimp, beef and chicken fajitas, and a chili relleno.




Hugo’s

For those looking for a meal that respects the traditional techniques of Mexican cooking, Hugo’s is the restaurant for you. With a menu designed for seafood lovers, diners can enjoy oysters, scallops, shrimp and the catch of the day, all with a familiar Mexican taste. The Montrose Pillar also offers the unique opportunity to experiment with new foods. Dishes like Chapulines – sautéed grasshoppers served with chipotle salsa, guacamole and tortillas – are sure to appeal to diners looking for new flavors.

Polanquito

Named after Polanco, a neighborhood in Mexico City known for its high-end cuisine, Polanquito brings a little piece of Mexican cuisine to Houston, all clustered in multiple regions. In addition to a dinner and lunch menu, the restaurant also offers a late afternoon brunch. So, late risers, fear not, because you too will have the chance to try a Mexican breakfast, with huevos rancheros, fried tortilla chips and rice pudding empanadas.

The Chingada Tacos & Tequila

Using the flavors of Mexico City and Oaxaca as its cornerstone, this charming north Houston taqueria prides itself on dishes that taste like home. Fan favorites include the restaurant’s tlacoyo, masa filled with cheese and beans, and its savory taco menu. For those who want a more personalized meal, La Chingada’s huaraches can be customized with an extensive selection of toppings.

Tacos Dona Lena

The recipes for Lena Cabrera’s award-winning dishes come straight from Mexico, where she started selling her tacos before moving to the United States. Now Tacos Doña Lena, located in Spring Branch, is the go-to for street tacos, homemade salsa, and local Mexican dishes like chilaquiles. Most of the menu is customizable to customer preferences, including choice of meat (or meat substitute), so no one leaves Tacos Doña Lena unsatisfied.

Nana’s Mexican Cocina

Nana’s Mexican Cocina’s 100% homemade guarantee is just a testament to the restaurant’s authenticity. At Oak Forest, tacos are a specialty, and they’re served on freshly baked tortillas and accompanied by toppings like egg tortilla chips or longaniza sausage. And if the delicious food isn’t enough, the restaurant also offers a daily special on their breakfast tacos in addition to a rotating weekly dish, allowing you to get an appetizing meal at a reasonable price.

xochi

Indigenous Mexican flavors and techniques are front and center at downtown Xochi. The vibrant dishes and distinctive flavors here play into the restaurant’s mission to celebrate the Mexican region of Oaxaca and its endemic cuisine. At Xochi, customers can expect an abundance of mole, homemade chocolate and masa, as well as delicious vegetarian selections. And if you’re interested in a traditional Oaxacan breakfast, you won’t be disappointed with its Sunday brunch buffet.

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