Most Americans will tell you that it's simply impossible to find good Mexican food in the UK. Then again, Americans will also tell you that coriander is "cilantro" and aubergines are "eggplants". Basically, don't listen to Americans.
The UK might not be able to match the States in terms of the depth, breadth, and authenticity of the Mexican food on offer (there's no denying that), but that doesn't mean there isn't still a number of restaurants serving laudable lashes of the stuff. London, in particular, has found itself dotted with Mexican eateries doing some particularly exciting stuff in the food scene. Places where you can drink a few modelos with the fellows, have some margaritas with your señoritas, and dine on home-made tortillas while you're at it, too.
Pueblan, Yucatan and Oaxacan dishes are starting to make their presence felt amongst the Tejano Tex-Mex cuisine that dominates most menus and perceptions of what Mexican food is. Having long been championed by the likes of Thomasina Miers, it seems that the intricacy of Mexican foodstuff is having its moment in the grim British sun. Salsas with guts and verve; carnitas that fall apart at the touch; tacos where you can taste the complexity of every ingredient and not just a slosh of Cholula. You can find all that and more in the city we've come to know and love through our stomachs. So, forget about all that yankee trash-talk. These are the London restaurants where your only thought will be: "Holy mole, this is eating."
One Hamilton Place, W1J 7QY
Chef Martha Ortiz's Ella Canta is the Mexican food you know and love taken up several notches. A blowout dinner here might just require you to adjust your belt a few of those notches, too. Because it's all good. And all worth ordering. Ortiz, renowned in Mexico City for her restaurant Dulce Patria, will knock any memories of disappointing London Tex-Mex to the curb with her experimental fine-dining offering at the InterContinental Park Lane hotel. Don't think that experimental means it's all glass cloches and peach-flavoured smoke, either. Experimental in the Ella Canta sense simply means pitch-perfect guac with fresh cheese, pomegranate and… a grasshopper. Yep. The little critters adds a pleasant textural crunch you probably didn't even know you needed until literally just now. Don't worry if you're too big of a Bug's Life fan to get involved. Less adventurous eaters are equally well catered for. Traditional dishes of Michoacán-style pork carnitas and polo de leche are sublimely set to rights as smoky tequilas and mezcals pair wonderfully with all that's on offer. Go on, mate. Give Ella a ring.
152 Tooley Street, SE1 2TU
Starting life as a series of pop-ups and supper clubs, Natalie and Edson Diaz-Fuentes' Santo Remedio found its groove by dishing out authentic plates of Mexican food first on Rivington Street and now over on Tooley Street. Although its roots remain firmly Mexican, specialising in antojiotos and street-food such as flautas and tacos, Santo Remedio also makes effective use of local producers. Peckham's Gringa Dairy, for example, is responsible for producing all of the restaurant's artisanal Mexican cheeses. It's that extra level of attention that makes the tangible difference. Chef Edson's house-made salsas are a tortilla's best friend. Octopus tikin xik with achiote and pineapple pico de gallo and chuletas al carbon (barbacoa lamb cutlets and salsa cooked in proper Mexican fashion) are a roundhouse kick in the yum department.
29 Poland Street, W1F 8QR
Corazón is the Spanish word for heart and that's exactly what this Soho hotspot has in abundance. Corazón's botanas, tacos, tostadas and larger mayores (aka big plates) are all freshly prepped at the Poland Street premises. Oxtail braised on the bone for 5 hours and served with salsa borracha and warm tortillas for the meat fanatics. Celeriac and apple tacos for the vegetarians among us. If the latter sounds like a compromise, trust us when we tell you that it's really not. Salsas and freshly made mole add a depth to each and every dish whether they're graced with a protein or not. Pair as many of those plates as your stomach can handle with a piquant michelada (a spicy Mexican beer-based cocktail) to forget all about whatever worries mañana might bring.
26 Kingly Street, W1B 5QD
We've read enough Jonathan Gold in our lives to know that eating a taco has the potential to be a tear-inducing, angels-singing, heart-palpitating kind of event. The tacos at Breddos Tacos are possibly the closest you're going to get to that level of transcendence in London. Served on 12cm tortillas that are all freshly made in-house on a daily basis, the tacos here are soft, pliable, and mounded with tender toppings and tangy salsa. The star of the show is probably the Puebla-style lamb shoulder taco. Though, now that we've thought about it, the baja fried fish incarnation does give it a serious run for its money. To save pitting those kings against one another, we'd recommend just ordering (and eating) both. I mean, that's only fair, right?
103 Hampstead Road, NW1 3EL
A restaurant with a tequila bar. A tequila bar with a restaurant. It doesn't matter which way round you put 'em, really, because those two make a pretty faultless combination in our books. Don't expect lukewarm velveeta layered on top of a limp burrito here. Mestizo has been the place to get a hold of real deal ceviche de cameron and arrachera (beef marinated in beer and spices with an accompanying side of sautéed potatoes and nopales cactus leaves) since 2004. In an awfully 2019 move, they've even got separate menus dedicated to those who are vegan and lactose intolerant. Underlining that Mexican cuisine has something to offer to everyone.
5 Langley Street, WC2H 9JA
This old faithful is a reliable Tex-Mex hold up where you can choose from a menu bursting with fajitas, quesadillas, and chilli con carne. The food is… fine. But it's the atmosphere that'll keep you coming back for rounds two, three and however many more you can muster. Cafe Pacifico has been around since 1982, making it one of London's oldest Mexican eateries. Yes, it might seem a little dated in a day and age where Noma Mexico has already come and gone, but there's still something to be said about coming to a restaurant where you can eat lashings of comfort food in largesse. Neck a few margaritas, order a big arse plate of nachos and pretend you're on spring break with your near and dear. In Covent Garden not Cabo, mind. Yeah. You can't win them all.
With outlets now in central, east, and west London, Lupita has made a name for itself as a reliable pitstop for Mexican cuisine. Tacos, tostadas, and burritos make up the bulk of the menu where portion sizes are generous and hit that chipotle sweet-spot without any unnecessary pomp or circumstance. The £9.95 express lunch menu is decent value for money, taking that "express" claim seriously with its promise that your taco or burrito and side dish will be served to you in 30 minutes or less. Despite that efficiency, Lupita doesn't cut any corners in delivering a tasty end product. Nor does it need to. After all, the juicy cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork marinated and braised in achiote paste, orange juice, and lime) burrito and a side order of crisp nachos is unhurried, leisurely rich and nigh-impossible to turn down.
La Bodega Negra
9 Old Compton Street, W1D 5JF
Descend the stairs hidden behind La Bodega Negra's faux 'sex shop' entrance advertising the delights of "ADULT VIDEO" and "PEEP SHOW" and you'll be pleased to find a cosy cave of a taqueria, divvying out plates of delicate soft shell crab tacos and platters of head-wrenchingly strong agave cocktails. La Bodega Negra's take on Mexican cuisine is fun, flavourful (where else can you get your queso with some truffle fries on the side for an added bit of luxe?), yet doesn't sacrifice on quality. You'll need to make a reservation ahead of time to get a seat, but it's worth it alone for the anecdote of eating at a Mexican erotica emporium-themed restaurant. Tequila and mezcal flights are an obvious must. Come with a lust to fulfil your every appetite.
7A Stoney Street, SE1 9AA
Railway arches house some great food and drink in London. Tucked under a nook next to Borough Market, El Pastor is one of our favourites of that under-train genre. Serving top rate tacos, tostadas, mezcal and more, the restaurant gets its name from "tacos al pastor" – a dish popular across central Mexico, not dissimilar from the Middle Eastern shawarma, that involves roasting pork on a rotating spit. Keeping those Mexican roots intact is important to El Pastor. It's why all the tortillas are made in-house using heritage Mexican corn and why they don't wimp out on delivering authentic flavours. El Diablo salsa – made using a mix of the hottest chillies on the planet – is a ridiculously spicy concoction designed for that point of the night when you've had one too many sols and want to impress your mates with how hard you are. A decision you'll inevitably regret as the salsa rips through your face like a habañero hurricane. The El Pastor family has expanded over the years and now includes Bermondsey-based Tortilleria EP (a more casual 26-seat taqueria) and Coal Drops Yard's relaxed Casa Pastor. Each adds a little something different to the El Pastor equation.
9 Market Row, SW9 8LB
This family-run joint – which opened in September 2011 – confidently claims to be Brixton's first Mexican restaurant. Take a short jaunt into Market Row in Brixton Market and you can find out for yourself why it's still the place to visit for fresh Mexican grub when you're in the area. The main reason for Casa Morita's longevity is its expertise in the three T's of: tostadas, tacos, and tortas. All of which are served fresh and contain that addictive textural cavalcade of cooling soft guac and crunchy fresh veg. When it comes to drinks, we'd recommend going for a Paloma. As Mexico's most popular cocktail, the tipple is a sharp and refreshing mix of tequila and grapefruit soda with a dash of lime.
31 Kensington Park Road, W11 2EU
Peyotito isn't a burrito, nachos, and ice-cold beer kind of Mexican restaurant. Instead, it's a restaurant with a light and modern approach to Mexican cuisine that splits its menu into sections of 'Ensaladas', 'Crudos', 'Ceviche', 'Moles' and 'Masa'. That authentic plating may – to the cynics among us – appear to be a ploy to appeal to Notting Hill's yuppy contingent, but the reality is that every dish at Peyotito is given a freshness via its premium ingredients and innovative flavour combinations. Verde vuelve a la vida ceviche (sea bass, kumquats, radish, mint and red onion) and a quesadilla with the rakish addition of truffled cheese are particularly worth your attention. It might not be Mexican food as you know it, but it might just be better. Plus, you'll still be able to get that ice-cold beer.
The Mexican at Annabel's
46 Berkeley Square, W1J 5AT
Private member's club Annabel's might not be the first place you think of when Mexican food springs to mind. In fact, it might be one of the last. The Mayfair establishment is widely believed to be the only night club that her Majesty the Queen ever attended. Not exactly the kind of place you'd expect to find real deal pozole tacos. Which is what makes it all the more surprising that the club is home to one of the city's most impressive Mexican restaurants. The Mexican, situated on the Club's second floor, overlooks Berkeley Square and delivers on more than just an elegant atmosphere. Authentic, high quality dishes are smattered all over the menu as chef Coko Becker's daily menu focuses on utilising the best produce of the day. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.