We fully recognize the folly involved in trying to choose the Bay Area’s 10 best anythings, let alone something as swooned and obsessed over as Mexican restaurants and taquerias. But we’re doing it anyway, with a list that takes you from San Francisco’s beloved Tacolicious to Morgan Hill’s La Nina Perdida and Berkeley’s Comal, and from swanky sit-down restaurants to taquerias and food trucks, too.
Go ahead. Read it. Salivate. (Then tell us which favorites we missed in the comments, so we can check them out for Part II.)
Chef Gabriela Cámara’s Mexico City-inspired Cala is a spectacular addition to the city’s Hayes Valley. Housed in a bright space swimming in natural light, the place wows. The menu and its execution wow even more — so much so, the restaurant was a semifinalist for best new restaurant in last year’s James Beard Awards. The menu of small plates and larger, shareable platters changes frequently, but keep an eye out for the perfect, miniature trout tostadas and the charred sweet potato (yes, really!) served with corn tortillas and bone-marrow salsa negra and a pinch of sea salt. It’s divine. Check out our restaurant review, then make reservations here.
Part of Chris Pastena’s Oakland restaurant empire, Calavera is a stylish swoon, a high-ceilinged, warehouse-chic space, with a dining room and deck, a bar that thrums with activity and sleek wooden cases that hold Mexican folk art and calavera — artful Day of the Dead skulls. The eclectic, Mexican-inspired menu is tailor-made for sharing, with small plates and larger dishes — and creative cocktails to get the party started. Psst, don’t miss the street tacos and Queso Flameado. Read more about the restaurant here.
Folk art meets culinary chic at chef Miriam Vega’s colorful little cottage: brightly colored chairs, red glass hearts dangling from the branches of a Tree of Life and food that just dazzles. This is a hidden gem with dishes that range from Enchiladas Michoacanas to Lobina Chilena — pan-seared wild Chilean sea bass in an epazote beurre blanc with mini heirloom tomatoes dotted with fragrant chimichurri. (Fair warning: The place is tiny and you’ll need to make reservations.) Read the full review here, and peek at the menu here.
Executive chef Matt Gandin — the longtime chef de cuisine at San Francisco’s Delfina — helms the kitchen in this sleek, industrial-chic spot in the heart of Berkeley’s Arts District, crafting small plates and large, shareable dishes inspired by the cuisine of Oaxaca and other coastal regions of Mexico, including the Yucatan. (We are absolutely smitten by Comal’s albondigas in adobo sauce, so much so, we begged for the recipe.) Don’t miss the high-end margaritas, tequila and mezcal flights. Read more here.
With five sunny locations spread across the Bay Area — but not yet, sadly, in the East Bay — Tacolicious has a cult following. Joe Hargrave and Sarah Deseran’s eatery traffics in nine different kinds of killer tacos, tasty guacamole and creative craft cocktails, a winning combination that draws happy crowds to the city’s Mission, Marina and North Beach neighborhoods, as well as Palo Alto and San Jose. We have considerable trouble with taco decisions here — the housemade chorizo-potato version is incredible; so are the Baja-style fish tacos (and yes, of course we asked for that recipe, too). Check out the menu here. and a taco-centric interview with Tacolicious’ owners here.
This stylish Oaxacan-inspired mezcal and mole mecca stands a block from the Paramount Theater, buzzing with energy and pizzazz. Teak floors ground the dining space, which hugs a large curved wall lined with banquettes and wedge-shaped tables. The menu is all about farm-fresh, seasonal fare. The tortillas are handmade, the mole crafted from 20 “secret ingredients” brought from Diaz’s home town, and small-batch mezcal dominates the drinks menu. Read our review here and check out the menu here.
This small farm-to-table eatery interprets Mexican fare with fresh, seasonal ingredients, including local produce, sustainable seafood and humanely raised meat, as well as handmade tortillas, served in charming, hacienda-style surroundings with white stucco walls and lots of reclaimed wood. Prepare to agonize over the taco choices. (Hint: Get them all.) Read the review here; peek at the menu here.
Award-winning chef and restaurateur Traci des Jardins’ Presidio restaurants, both the fine-dining Commissary and the more casual Arguello, always delight. But while Commissary leans more in the Spanish-inspired, old California culinary direction, Arguello is straight-up Mexican fare and it’s wonderful. The 118-seat restaurant features homestyle Mexican cuisine with modern touches, such as a contemporary bar with craft cocktails and a serious tequila portfolio, and a heated patio from which to view the outdoor comal used to make tortillas. Check out the menu here.
We rejoiced when Olla Cocina joined the lineup at San Jose’s San Pedro Square, bringing a delightful sense of Puerto Vallarta holidays with its high ceilings, giant loteria cards and destive decor — and a bar that goes beyond margaritas and Mexican beer. Be sure to try the La Paloma Vieja, a new wave take on the classic Paloma with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and a lavender salt rim. Don’t miss the bites menu, which ranges from tacos and tortas to empanadas, ceviche and more. Read about the bar scene here; check out the menu here.
Any “best Mexican food” list would be remiss without a shoutout to Tacos Sinaloa, the Oakland food truck with an obsessive cult following. Such a following, in fact, that they opened a brick-and-mortar outpost in Berkeley. It’s a no-frills affair. Order at the counter, grab your plastic cutlery and prepare to swoon. The Michelin guide inspectors did — and then awarded the place Bib Gourmand honors. We suspect they had the divine carnitas. Read more about the taco trucks here, including where to find them.