7 steps to a legit Mexican Restaurant

October 1, 2006 - Get free updates of new posts here

As many of you know one of my favorite things to eat is a burrito. I thought it would be fun and easy to summarize how you can tell if a Mexican restaurant will be good or not.


  1. They serve horchata. Mexican sweet cinammon drink.
  2. They don’t have any advertisements outside the door.
  3. They don’t have white people working there.
  4. They charge extra for chips.
  5. The place is dirty.
  6. It has the word “la” or “el” in its name.
  7. The burrito must cost less than $5.

Anything else?

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35 responses to “7 steps to a legit Mexican Restaurant

  1. Nick Reply

    When I lived in Chicago 10 years ago the rule was that you had to have hot peppers in a bowl on the table. Oh, and open 24/7.

  2. Jason Reply

    I would enjoy Chipolte if they offered refried Beans and Brown rice. I do not care for their seasoning as well. I like Moe’s, but they seem to be closing some stores around me (Dallas).

  3. Nadiyah Reply

    Yea, you have to ask for cheese:

    El Ricos Tio Tacos (LA, near LAX)
    El Cotixan – San Diego

    …damn, there’s a good one near Sky Harbor Airport, in Phoenix, off 24th. Can’t think of the name.

    Good Mexican is sooooo hard to find.

    And for folks looking for a “restaurant” type place: Taco Rosa – Newport Beach (yea, yea I know).

  4. Ray Dotson Reply

    We have a growing central american population here in Kentucky and small mom and pop type restaurants are starting to open up. I’ll have to check some out and report back.

  5. Mike W Reply

    Rather than list the elements that make a Mexican restaurant legit, I’ve compiled a list of “Kisses of death” that are sure signs of an imminent and below-par dining experience. If you see more than two, run….don’t walk. By the way, these also work in selecting Chinese restaurants.

    1.) Doughnuts or Ice Cream at the counter
    2.) Pictures of food in the window
    3.) Cheeseburgers on the menu
    4.) Plaster birthday cakes on display
    5.) A Blonde waitress with a forced Pepsodent-smile that greets you with: “What kin I git’cha sugar?”

    Whenever two or more of these elements rear their ugly head, I brace myself for what I know will be a mediocre-at-best dining experience. Oh yeah…the blonde waitress usually counts as three of the other items.

  6. Elise Reply

    When I was growing up in LA the best Mexican was Titos Tacos in Culver City. It has been there sinced the mid 1960’s and is still going strong. Anytime of day there is a line. The food is basic Mexican; burritos, tacos etc. I now live in San Diego. The closest thing I can find to Titos is El Cotixan.

  7. Javier Reply

    Horchata mexican??????
    MAde of rice????

    Horchata is an ancient Egyptian refresh (from the time when Egypt was Civilization summun). It’s made of a plant whose name is (in spanish) “Chufa” /Choo- phah/. If you go to Valencia (west mare nostrum, Spain) and simply say “Horchata is mexican” you might trigger an diplomatic incident.

    For mexican audiences: guey, es como decir que las fajitas las inventaron los gachupines, andaleeee!

  8. karen Reply

    This post makes me sad thinking about my favorite mexican place back home (Oklahoma City) called Chelino’s, owned by the Chelino brothers. Ten locations in the OKC area….they have pickled carrots/onions on the table and no white people working there. My standard is the shredded beef nachos with enough toppings to make it to the bottom of the plate and not just have naked chips left.

    Add this to your list:
    8. Serve something other than Corona (the white-man’s Mexican beer). Real mexican places will have Tecate-in a frosted mug, with a salted rim and lime. **My mouth is watering just thinking about this. I’ve got to get home soon…**

  9. Mike Cirami Reply

    You know, as a San Diegan I think I get some of the best authentic Mexican burritos in the country…. Yes Texas gets them too, but they are more “Tex-Mex” than anything (which is good but just not my bag).

    I agree with MOST of Noah’s criteria… I’d say that specials in the windows are perfectly acceptable for a legit burrito shop….

    Also….. EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to a great burrito is the availablilty of a great hot sauce to add onto it. This must be homemade by the restaurant itself of course.

    With all that said, my favortite burrito is at Estradas here in San Diego. Great meat, great rice, AMAZING hot sauce!

  10. Joey Chang Reply

    must have a serve yourself salsa bar
    the more kinds of salsa they have, the better the taqueria.
    pancho villa in the mission on 16th in San Francisco is a good example.

  11. Alfred Reply

    You know its authentic when they serve pickled carrots, jalapeno, green chile salsa, Sangria on a bottle and Sidral (apple soda drink).

    If your down here in “The Valley”, you gotta try the carne asada fries.

  12. Oscar Ochoa Reply

    The flavor, quality, and freshness of the salsa (sometimes variety) can reflect the care and attention given to the food: in other words, the philosophy behind the food. Salsa (not hot sauce), must be included in the criteria…provecho!

  13. 1JeffT Reply

    My dentist actually introduced me to the best tacos perhaps in all of north America after a brief visit one day back around 2004, he actually took me out to lunch here. Since then I’ve tried tacos in no less than 20 places around Tijuana and Los Cabos, from street carts to some pretty nice places.

    I’ve NEVER found tacos as good as theses. Last time I was there I met a dude who said he found out about it from guys he use to work with who drove all the way from LA to eat here.

    Tacos El Francis – La Playas de Tijuana

  14. Barry Reply

    If their Carne Asada burrito only has meat, pico de gallo and guacamole it’s the real deal. Rice and beans have no place in a Carne Asada burrito. It’s the canary in the coal mine.

  15. Gerardo A Dada Reply

    Good list – and funny.

    Here is my list to identify an authentic interior Mexican restaurant

    1. They serve limes, not lemons
    2. Cheese is white, not yellow
    3. Hot salsa is actually hot
    4. Tortillas are made of maiz, not flour (that would be Northern Mexican food)
    5. At least two TVs showing a telenovela or soccer
    6. If they serve Tortas, they are made with an authentic Telera, not some French bread
    7. Thy use cilantro and cream liberally

    My list of authentic places in Austin:

  16. Bridget Reply

    Great blog, Noah.

    A great Mexican place better serve micheladas (Clamato, beer, hot sauce, jugo Magi…mmm) and the tacos should come one 2 tiny toritllas with meat, onion and cilantro. No lettuce, no cheese.

  17. Landon Reply

    Definitely need a salsa bar with HOT salsa to make the list for me. It’s a bonus if they don’t know English and you have to order in Español. The best thing about San Diego is there’s an awesome burrito joint on every corner! Mmmm, I could go for one right now!

  18. Margo TechGalCA Reply

    A few to add from fellow tech geek and Mexican food lover.
    Must play Tejano music in the back (Mexican Polka Music
    Serves Menudo on Sundays for hangovers
    They have TVs in restaurant not for new but to watch soccer and boxing
    At least two family members work at restaurant
    There are at least 2-3 American made cars in the front