Best Mex


We Sacramentans love Mexican food. And why not? The region is a treasure trove of excellent Mexican cuisine, served at upscale restaurants and humble taco trucks alike. We decided to go in search of the best Mexican food we could find, tasting countless tacos, enchiladas and more from Woodland to Rocklin. (It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.) Here are 10 of our favorite local Mexican dishes.

Cabeza Taco
El Abajeño Tacos

Simplicity can be beautiful, and that’s certainly the case at this little taqueria, whose straightforward street tacos are some of the most stunning I’ve ever tasted. Don’t miss the succulent cabeza taco: Ridiculously moist cabeza (the muscles of the head of a cow) is sprinkled with white onion and cilantro and piled on the freshest corn tortilla you’ll ever meet. It’s fabulous. 109 Atkinson St., Roseville; (916) 784-3535


Enchiladas Suizas
Ernesto’s Mexican Food

Enchiladas appear on practically every Mexican restaurant menu, and they’re often uninspiring. But these are a knockout, thanks to the electrifying green sauce that smothers the dish. Prepared with tomatillos, cilantro, garlic, onions and peppers, the green salsa is tasty enough to spoon up and gobble on its own. The plump enchiladas—you can choose cheese, chicken, shrimp or a combination of the three—are artfully drizzled with Mexican cream. They taste even better with Ernesto’s signature Top Shelf margarita. 1901 16th St., Sacramento; (916) 441-5850;


Carnitas Plate
Maria’s Cantina

You can find terrific carnitas throughout the region, but Maria’s version is particularly tantalizing. Leave your calorie counter at home: The pork is simmered in lard seasoned with fresh oranges and Coca-Cola. It’s satisfyingly tender with crispy-crackly edges. Drenched in porky flavor, this dish will satisfy even the most ravenous carnivore. Make sure to ask for the signature pinto beans, flecked with (what else?) bacon. 306 Sixth St.,Wood-land; (530) 402-1540;

Chile Relleno de Queso
Tequila Museo Mayahuel
Delicate and light as a cloud, Mayahuel’s chile relleno is one of the restaurant’s finest dishes. A roasted poblano pepper is stuffed with slightly salty panela cheese, then dipped in batter and fried to a captivating fluffiness. Napped with a bright, uncomplicated tomato sauce and zigzagged with sour cream, the dish offers a zesty circus of flavors and textures. While you’re at it, order an artisanal tequila or a handcrafted mango margarita, a house specialty. 1200 K St., Sacramento; (916) 441-7200;



Camarones y Calamares a la Parilla
Centro Cocina Mexicana

For this enticing, light appetizer, chefs marinate Monterey Bay squid and shrimp in olive oil, serrano chilies and oregano, then quickly grill the meat, infusing it with a deliciously smoky flavor. Arranged prettily on a wide banana leaf, the squid and shrimp are strewn with pickled red onions and served with cabbage slaw enlivened with fresh lime juice. For extra crunch, pile the seafood on top of corn chips. 2730 J St., Sacramento; (916) 442-2552;




If you’ve never ordered Lalo’s attention-grabbing molcajete, you’re in for a very tasty surprise. A traditional molcajete—a stone mortar often used to grind spices and prepare guacamole and salsas—is placed upside down directly on top of a fiery burner. When the molcajete is blazing hot, it’s filled with beef, chicken, chorizo and Oaxaca cheese, topped with a long strip of tender cactus and grilled green onion and brought, loudly sizzling and impressively smoking, to the table. The fanfare is great fun, and the molcajete, served with feisty salsa, tortillas and Lalo’s excellent beans, is delicious. 5063 24th St., Sacramento; (916) 736-2389

Carne Asada

Taqueria Davis

A true meaty pleasure, this dish will leave you stuffed and smiling. Ball tip steak is sliced, grilled, then diced, generously piled on the plate and doused with a vivacious tomatillo sauce. Accompanied by cheese-laden refried beans and rice, the meat can be devoured alone or piled into a warm flour tortilla. Chewy, flavorful and scrumptious, it’s a particularly appealing choice on a nippy, gray day. 505 ½ L St., Davis; (530) 758-8453;

Los Huaraches del Salto del Agua
Rudy’s Gourmet Mexican

This whimsical dish is named for the popular Mexican sandal, the huarache. Similar in shape and size to the footwear (the dish easily can feed two), the huarache is a long, oval masa patty that’s grilled to crispy deliciousness, then spread with refried beans, vibrant green salsa and crumbly queso fresco cheese. I like my huarache smothered with Rudy’s outstanding chunky chile verde, but you also can choose carne asada or grilled chicken breast. 6011 Stanford Ranch Road, Rocklin; (916) 435-4050

Shrimp Tacos
El Pueblo Cocina Mexicana

You’ll relish the wonderful texture and refreshing zip of these tacos, full of just-barely charred peachy-pink crustaceans and delightfully crunchy fresh cabbage. Black tiger shrimp are marinated in butter, garlic and achiote before grilling, then stuffed in tortillas and swathed in a zesty salsa of avocado, fresh lime juice, jalapeño, cilantro and olive oil. Grab a pile of napkins: The taco juices are guaranteed to run down your arms as you devour the dish. 6608 Folsom Auburn Road, Folsom; (916) 987-5797;

Cochinita Pibil
Palenque Cocina Mexicana

A staple on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, traditional cochinita pibil calls for the roasting of a whole suckling pig. At Palenque, pork is marinated in orange juice, vinegar and achiote paste, which contributes a rich, earthy flavor. The meat is then slow-cooked in banana leaves to an incredible moistness. It’s served with curtido—pickled red onions—and a side of fiery habanero salsa for those who can take the heat. 2598 Alta Arden Expressway, Sacramento; (916) 483-1751



Mexican Food ON THE MOVE
Check out these SMOKIN’ taco trucks

Tacos El Sinaloense

Hungry? Head out to Fruitridge Road to rustle up a couple of El Sinaloense’s terrific, inexpensive tacos. Tortillas are dipped briefly in hot fat to warm and soften them, then placed on a grill before being stuffed with meat, freshly chopped cilantro and white onion. Try the incredibly tender lengua (beef tongue) or the crispy, flavorful carnitas. Note: The truck parks in a large lot next to an open-air recycling center. Fruitridge Road and 44th Street, Sacramento

Delicias Tacos

This friendly taco truck is located in the parking lot of a Shell gas station at the corner of 65th Avenue and Stockton Boulevard. Don’t miss the excellent, lime-kissed tostada de ceviche, topped with fresh slices of avocado, or the crusty carne asada quesadilla, garnished with freshly grilled onions and jalapeños. The owners kindly set up a row of stools in front of the truck for folks who wish to “dine in.” 6919 65th Ave., Sacramento;


El Paisano Taco Truck

A Woodland favorite, El Paisano is in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it location at the corner of East Main Street and Industrial Way at the back of a pitted parking lot of an abandoned gas station. The food takes a while to come out, but it’s well worth the wait. Try the red salsa-laden chicken tacos (only $1 each), garnished with fat radishes and sweet grilled onions. The pork adobado burrito will amaze you. 1460 E. Main St., Woodland