Best Mexican Eats in Philadelphia

From tacos to barbacoa, here are the best spots for Mexican cuisine in Philly.

Cities like LA and Chicago might get more recognition for their Mexican food, but thanks to steady immigration in the early ‘90s—mostly from the central state of Puebla—Philly also has one of the most vibrant Mexican communities in the country—and the amazing restaurants that go with it. Philly has a serious appetite for Mexican cooking in all forms, from legit taquerias to cantinas run by business-savvy gringos. Here are the best in town.

Los Gallos
Los Gallos (©C.Smyth/Visit Philly)

Los Gallos

Like so many other Mexicans, Luz Jimenez migrated to South Philly from the central Mexican state of Puebla, and worked his way up in the restaurant industry. Several years ago, he opened his own place, Los Gallos, at an untouristed intersection best known for the mob B-movie, "10th and Wolf." Over time, Los Gallos has grown from a grocery store selling puffy conchas, Chihuahua cheese and dried chiles, with a little tacos counter in the back, to a full-service restaurant with vibrant local art on the walls and a fleet of servers who wait on tables while also fulfilling orders for the brisk takeout business. Don’t miss Jimenez’s deconstructed enchiladas and, on weekends, fluffy tamales. 951 Wolf St., Philadelphia; 215.551.1245

Los Gallos
Los Gallos (©C.Smyth/Visit Philly)

Cantina Los Caballitos

Many think of this lively Mexican joint as the restaurant that put East Passyunk on the map. It’s true: When Cantina opened, nearly a decade ago, the hipness of its surrounding neighborhood was just a glimmer in arrivstés’ eyes. Now, Passyunk has exploded, and Cantina, for many, functions as the enclave’s clubhouse. Its thick burritos, tangy tamarind-glazed ribs, slow-cooked goat and pitchers of margs in every fruit flavor draw a crowd as mixed as the area itself, from South Philly lifers to the couple that just moved here from Copenhagen. Waits can be long, especially on weekends, but the retail strip along East Passunk Avenue offers plenty of diversion while you wait. 1651 East Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia; 215.755.3550

Los Taquitos de Puebla

This no-frills taqueria is best known for its stand at the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market on Sundays, where its crew sets up a spinning trompo, or vertical spit, furnished with a glistening haunch of pork and golden peeled pineapple. As the flames heat the fruit, the piña's juices glaze the meat below—the foundation of tacos al pastor, or tacos in the style of the shepherd, a reference to the Middle Eastern immigrants to Mexico who brought with them this style of vertical cooking. Al pastor may be Los Taquitos' claim to fame, but their Italian Market restaurant offers a wider range; big-mouthed cemitas, quesadillas, alambres y mas. 1149 S. 9th St., Philadelphia; 215.334.0664

South Philly Barbacoa

In the same week that Bon Appetit magazine named Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller’s bright, tiny taco shop to its 2016 top 10 restaurants list, the couple cut back their hours, returning to the original weekends-only schedule they started with last year. Which means it takes a little planning and perseverance to visit this South Philly treasure. The reward is worth it; succulent barbacoa lamb tacos on housemade tortillas, with a sidecar of consommé, the brothy byproduct of the cooking process. There are always two big glass jugs of aguas frescas (horchata, tamarind, guava, waterlemon…) on the back table, as well as orange juice freshly pressed on a Zumex contraption and cinnamon-y café de olla brewed traditionally in a clay pot. 1703 S. 11th St., Philadelphia

South Philly Barbacoa restaurant
South Philly Barbacoa (Courtesy South Philly Barbacoa)

Las Bugambilias

Tiled tabletops, Talavera pottery, Mexican art and a colorful Dia del los Muertos statue greeting you out front set a vivid, transporting backdrop for dinner at Las Bugambilias, located on the border of leafy Queen Village and Society Hill. Earthy, smoky tomato-guajillo soup, chicken robed in dynamic mole and speckled with sesame seeds, conchinita pibil and churros are a few of the dishes not to miss. Throw in a full bar and reasonable prices, and you won’t wonder why so many date-night couples have been filling this cozy dining room since 2007. Open for breakfast and lunch as well. 148 South St., Philadelphia; 215.922.3190

Sancho Pistola’s

The younger Fishtown-based brother of Center City favorite, Jose, Sancho Pistola's runs a playful menu that mixes legit Mexican cooking—you'll swoon over the black bean soup steeped with avocado leaf—with playful conceits like oyster po'boy tacos and mole-cloaked meatballs on Chinese-style bao buns. The equally diverse crowd fills this corner spot nightly. You can go casual with nachos and tacos or settle in for something more elaborate, which should most definitely involve chef Adan Trinidad's Veracruz-style whole fish. 19 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia; 215.324.3530