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10 Top U.S. Cities for Latin American Food

Take a tasty trip through a range of delicious cuisines in Chicago, Houston, Washington, D.C., and more


spinner image couple having dinner in restaurant
Ronnie Kaufman/Getty Images

South-of-the-border foods are booming in the United States, and their popularity goes well beyond Mexican tacos. You can easily find everything from Peruvian ceviche to Cuban pork sandwiches in an increasing number of U.S. cities.

"There are so many culinary and historical layers in Latin American food, but you can generally divide it into four different regions: Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean,” says chef Aáron Sánchez, a Food Network host and author whose books include La Comida del Barrio: Latin-America Cooking in the U.S.A. “Each uses Mesoamerican ingredients like corn or tomatoes to some extent but adds its own mix of other influences ranging from Spanish or Portuguese to African and even Asian."

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These 10 cities are especially rich in mouthwatering options.

spinner image Braised Pulled Pork Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita Pibil
ALLEKO/Getty Images

Los Angeles

It's a U.S. capital for a diverse range of Latin American cuisines, but this city practically begs for a deep dive into regional Mexican food. Try Yucatán specialties like cochinita pibil (slow-roasted, marinated pork) at Chichen Itza or complex Oaxacan mole sauces with grilled chicken at Guelaguetza. The pan-Mexican menu at La Casita Mexicana, just south of the city, includes braised Jalisco-style beef shank with red beans and chiles en nogada, a green pepper stuffed with a meat-fruit mixture, bathed in a nut-infused cream and sprinkled with glistening pomegranate seeds.

Chichen Itza: 3655 S. Grand Avenue C6; 213-741-1075

Guelaguetza: 3014 W. Olympic Boulevard; 213-427-0608

La Casita Mexicana: 4030 E. Gage Avenue (Bell, California); 323-773-1898

spinner image Traditional Peruvian ceviche seafood with vegetables and lime
Ceviche
Jacek Kadaj/Getty Images

San Francisco

Reflecting the strong presence of Central American cultures here, especially in the Mission District, the Salvadoran fare at simple-but-cozy La Santaneca De La Mission showcases hot-off-the-griddle pupusas, cornmeal pancakes stuffed with cheese or meat and served with a pleasantly puckery slaw called curtido. Guatemalan dishes like paches, tamales of mashed potatoes rather than corn-based dough, reign at Cafe Guatemalteco. Among the city's surprising number of Peruvian spots, waterfront favorite La Mar features impeccably fresh seafood, including a big selection of ceviche (Peru's national dish) such as local halibut in a citrusy, spicy marinade called leche de tigre (tiger's milk).

La Santaneca De La Mission: 2815 Mission Street; 415-285-2131

Cafe Guatemalteco: 4794 Mission Street; 415-508-9735

La Mar: Pier 11/2, The Embarcadero; 415-397-8880

spinner image Carne Seca, or dried beef, at a traditional picanteria in Ferranafe near the northern coastal city of Chiclayo.
Nicholas Gill / Alamy Stock Photo

Tucson, Arizona

In this first of two cities in the United States to receive a UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation, Mexican culinary heritage leans toward the nearby state of Sonora. For nearly 100 years, El Charro Café has satisfied locals’ cravings for Sonoran dishes like carne seca, shredded, sun-dried beef grilled with green chiles, tomato and onions. A funky-fun vibe and inventive riffs on tacos and enchiladas have earned a following for Rollies Mexican Patio. And don't leave town without trying a Sonoran hot dog, a bacon-wrapped wiener nestled in a fluffy bun and topped with beans, mustard, mayo, onions, tomatoes and green salsa. In the eyes of many here, Ruiz Hot Dogs is top dog.

El Charro Café: 311 N. Court Avenue (plus two other locations); 520-622-1922

Rollies Mexican Patio: 4573 S. 12th Avenue; 520-300-6289

Ruiz Hot Dogs: 1140 S. 6th Avenue; 520-406-1649

spinner image Mexican food known as  huaraches, with corn, chorizo, cheese and onions
LeonardoGato / Stockimo / Alamy Stock Photo

Denver

Colorado's historic and ongoing connections with Mexico are reflected in this city's dynamic Mexican dining scene. The menu of Los Carboncitos includes a selection of huaraches, oblong cornmeal flatbreads with toppings popular in Mexico City, while the ahi tuna tostadas, grilled oysters and other Baja-style seafood dishes shine at Lola Coastal Mexican. Handmade tortillas and offerings like tinga de pollo (shredded chicken breast simmered in sauce) frequently appear on the rotating menu at Comal Heritage Food Incubator, where immigrant women entrepreneur-cooks gain experience in the restaurant business.

Los Carboncitos: 722 Sheridan Boulevard; 303-573-1617; and 3757 N. Pecos Street; 303-458-0880

Lola Coastal Mexican: 1575 Boulder Street; 720-570-8686

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Comal Heritage Food Incubator: 3455 Ringsby Court, #105; 720-500-3455

spinner image A closeup view of a decorated chamango drink
Mangonada
Photography By Tonelson/Getty Images

Chicago

A Mexican community dating back more than 100 years has contributed mightily to this city's vibrant food scene. Birrieria Zaragoza is a go-to spot for traditional, fall-off-the-bone goat meat in a savory broth, while at Alegrias Seafood, shrimp or tender octopus tostadas and the platters of crustaceans and shellfish favored in Mexico's coastal Nayarit state draw crowds. For a slushy, sweet-spicy-tart treat made from mangos and chili, order a Michoacan-style mangonada at one of the city's many Latin ice cream parlors and juice bars, like La Plaza Paletería and D'Fruta La Vida.

Birrieria Zaragoza: 4852 S. Pulaski Road; 773-523-3700

Alegrias Seafood: 1024 N. Ashland Avenue; 773-252-7200

La Plaza Paletería: 3046 N. Cicero Avenue; 773-481-6678

D'Fruta La Vida: 3739 W. Fullerton Avenue; 773-905-7155

spinner image Colombian Vegetarian Arepas with Paprika, Corn, Tomato, Onion and Avocado
Arepas
GMVozd/Getty Images

Houston

This city, with the nation's third-largest Hispanic population, offers a delicious introduction to food from all around Latin America, from Peruvian desserts (Sweets by Belen) to rotisserie chicken with a side of arepas, cornmeal cakes from Colombia and Venezuela (Dodo's Chicken). Countless taco trucks, stands and restaurants offer terrific bites on the cheap — Laredo Taquería is among the most popular — but for refined takes on Mexican classics, such as duck in a dark, complex Puebla-style mole, you can't beat the fine dining at Hugo's, located in a 1925 building that evokes Old Mexico.

Sweets by Belen: 6001 Hillcroft Street, Suite 400; 832-203-7565

Dodo's Chicken: 9431 Richmond Avenue; 713-789-3636

Laredo Taquería: 915 Snover Street (and other locations); 713-861-7279

Hugo's: 1600 Westheimer Road; 713-524-7744

spinner image Verde Enchiladas
Enchiladas
CapturedNuance/Getty Images

San Antonio, Texas

In the second UNESCO-designated City of Gastronomy in the U.S., Mexican fare and Tex-Mex foods share the stage, often at the same restaurant. You'll find a mix at Rosario's Mexican Cafe Y Cantina, a half mile south of River Walk, where Tex-Mex enchiladas come super-cheesy and topped with chili con carne but fish is bathed in classic Veracruz sauce. At La Fonda, the Tex-Mex faves include fajitas and chile con queso (hot cheese dip). For something sweet downtown, swing by Mi Tierra Café Y Panadería for Mexican hot chocolate, pastries and live mariachi music.

Rosario's Mexican Cafe Y Cantina: 910 S. Alamo Street; 210-223-1806

La Fonda on Main: 2415 N. Main Avenue; 210-733-0621

Mi Tierra Café Y Panadería: 218 Produce Row; 210-225-1262

spinner image "Vaca Frita is a classic Cuban dish of stewed, shredded beef fried until crispy
sbossert/Getty Images

Miami

South Florida's Cuban connection runs deep. At Versailles, a legendary community hub, you'll find loads of island dishes like plantain soup and vaca frita (shredded beef grilled with onions and a garlic-citrus mojo sauce). There's also Sanguich De Miami, a famous Little Havana cafe specializing in sandwiches, including a terrific media noche, and batidas (fruit milkshakes). The region's sizable South American population has contributed popular spots like Sagrado Cafe (Brazilian cuisine) and La Latina Miami, specializing in arepas stuffed sandwich-like with various fillings.

Versailles: 3555 SW 8th Street; 305-444-0240

Sanguich De Miami: 2057 SW 8th Street; 305-539-0969

Sagrado Café: 900 Biscayne Boulevard; 786-671-7434

La Latina Miami: 3509 NE 2nd Avenue; 305-571-9655

spinner image Home made salteñas empanadas
Salteñas
Lorenasam/Getty Images

Washington, D.C.

With nearly a million Latin residents (most of Central or South American heritage) now calling this metro area home, its Latin dining scene is increasingly lively and varied. Try the salteñas, savory-sweet beef or chicken stew hand-pies, and other Bolivian specialties at Luzmary, in Falls Church, Virginia, and Honduran fare at D.C.'s Catrachitos Restaurant such as a baleada, a thick, grilled flour tortilla folded over a choice of fillings. A recent addition to the scene is La Cosecha, a contemporary Latin food hall where you can sample Salvadoran pupusas, Venezuelan chocolate, Panamanian coffee and more.

Luzmary: 7151 Lee Highway (Falls Church, Virginia); 703-533-1105

Catrachitos: 4608 14th Street NW; 202-246-4059

La Cosecha: 1280 4th Street NE

spinner image Spicy mofongo with plantains, garlic and chicharron served with shrimp
Mofongo
Sergii Koval / Alamy Stock Photo

New York City

Latin American eats run the gamut here, but the city's outer boroughs are especially rich in Caribbean flavors. Dishes like asopão de camarones (shrimp-and-rice soup) star at Puerto Viejo, a chic Dominican bistro in Brooklyn, while the Puerto Rican home-style cooking at La Cocina Boricua in the Bronx includes bacalaítos (salt-cod fritters) and mofongo, garlicky fried mashed plantains. For Manhattan views and fine-dining takes on Cuban classics like ropa vieja — shredded beef braised in a tomato sauce — head to Son Cubano, just across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

Puerto Viejo: 564 Grand Avenue (Brooklyn); 718-398-3758

La Cocina Boricua: 2245 Westchester Avenue (Bronx); 347-281-5375

Son Cubano: 40-4 Riverwalk Place (West New York, New Jersey); 201-399-2020

 

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