Guadalajara is a big city that’s steeped in tradition but has an overwhelmingly young population (90 percent of the population is under 65). The food scene reflects this with modern techniques combining with long-established customs. The result is an amazingly diverse collection of restaurants from street stands to fine dining.
In Mexico, comida is the main meal of the day and is taken in the late afternoon, so restaurant schedules may be different than what you would expect. Taco stands and other street food spots are often open from mid-afternoon well into the early hours of the morning. Street food is cash only, while the majority of sit-down restaurants accept cards.
Best Fine Dining: Bruna
Chef Oscar Garza brings innovative techniques and flavor combinations to a menu inspired by traditional Mexican food. Whether you order arrachera steak taquitos, pulpo (octopus) pibil, or duck in mole sauce, all dishes are flavorful and artfully plated. There are vegetarian and vegan options as well, such as eggplant tacos or ratatouille. Be sure to save room for dessert as the six textures of chocolate is exquisite. Set in an old French-style mansion with a lovely garden and twinkling fairy lights, the ambiance here is elegant yet unpretentious
Best Breakfast: Boulangerie Central
This restaurant started as a neighborhood French bakery, but soon became a full-fledged restaurant. Breakfast options include sweet dishes incorporating fresh-baked bread and pastries such as the chocolate French toast topped with berries and house-made ice cream. If you’re looking for something savory, they also make excellent French breakfast dishes like croque madames and croque monsieurs, as well as a twist on the classic: a croque avocado with guacamole, goat cheese, and bacon. There’s a choice of indoor or outdoor seating, either way, you’ll be able to enjoy the aroma of freshly baked bread and croissants wafting through the air.
Best Farm to Table: Allium
Making use of the freshest local ingredients such as cheese from Atotonilco, seafood from Nayarit, greens from Ajijic, and produce from the restaurant’s own rooftop urban garden, chef partners Adolfo Galnares and Maria Ortega create dishes that are delicious and aesthetically pleasing. Freshly caught seafood prepared in a variety of ways is the star of the menu, but there are also hearty dishes such as grilled pork chop and braised lamb. The decor is light and airy, and the semi-enclosed patio makes the most of Guadalajara’s temperate climate.
Best Concept: Hueso
This small restaurant’s startling all-white decor incorporates a variety of textures, so it's never boring. The walls are lined with bones (fitting considering the restaurant's name means "bone" in English) which chef Alfonso “Poncho” Cadena collected during his travels around Mexico. Diners sit at a long wooden communal table, and portions are large, so sharing is encouraged. The menu changes daily according to freshness and availability of ingredients (and the chef’s whimsy) but meats feature prominently. The staff are happy to accommodate dietary restrictions, so just ask.
Best for Families: La Chata
Don’t be put off by the line out front: service here is fast and friendly, and the wait goes by quickly. This family-run diner has been operating since 1942 and offers simple traditional Mexican food that’s unpretentious and good quality, in ample portions. Try the Platillo Jaliscence which is fried chicken that comes with a variety of side dishes, or the pozole (corn hominy soup). The atmosphere is relaxed, and the bright yellow walls and tablecloths lend a cheery touch. Kids may enjoy watching their meal being prepared in the open kitchen.
Best Carne en Su Jugo: Karne Garibaldi
Carne en su jugo is a traditional dish from Jalisco that consists of finely sliced beef in a flavorful broth with bacon and beans. It’s served with lime wedges, minced coriander, and onion so you can season it as you like. Karne Garibaldi is the best place to try this traditional dish, and it’s famous for having won the Guinness World Record for the fastest service. The menu is limited, but what they do, they do well. There are three sizes of carne en su jugo to choose from, as well as guacamole, quesadillas, and queso fundido (melted cheese with chorizo or mushrooms), For dessert, there’s flan, jericalla, or arroz con leche.
Best Birria: Birrieria las 9 Esquinas
Birria is a hearty, slow-cooked meat stew, made with either goat or mutton. The charming Guadalajara neighborhood known as Las Nueve Esquinas (“the 9 Corners”) is home to a few restaurants serving this traditional local dish, but the one that bears the name of the neighborhood is widely considered to be the best. Your dish comes with a stack of freshly-made tortillas, and a selection of condiments: pickled onions, cilantro, and a couple of salsas, so you can prepare tacos with the fillings of your choice. The menu also features a few dishes from other parts of Mexico, such as cochinita pibil—a slow-roasted pork dish from the Yucatán—nor chicken with mole poblano from Puebla. The airy space has an open kitchen covered in blue-and-white tiles, and the dining area is cheerful with colorful tablecloths. Occasionally an itinerant mariachi group will come in to serenade the diners.
Best Tortas Ahogadas: Tortas Ahogadas Don Jose
The torta ahogada is Guadalajara's signature dish, a “drowned” sandwich, made with a crusty salted bun that’s filled with a variety of meats, and covered in a spicy tomato-based salsa, then topped with onions, more salsa, and a squeeze of lime juice. This dish is served at many restaurants throughout the city, but for an authentic local food experience, head to Don José’s place, where he’s been selling the traditional dish for over 50 years. Here the torta is served in a plastic bag, rather than on a plate so that the bread can soak up the sauce completely.
Best Tacos: Tomate Taqueria
With an open-air dining area on the corner of lively Chapultepec Avenue, Tomate serves what are commonly considered the best tacos al pastor in town. This style of taco with pork meat flavored with achiote and cooked on a vertical spit is based on the lamb shawarma which was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants in the early 1900s. These tacos are served with chunks of pineapple and topped with minced onion and cilantro, and you’ll have a selection of several salsas on the table to add. On weekend evenings, there’s often a line outside, but it’s worth the wait.
Best Burgers: Pig's Pearls
Pig's Pearls specializes in creative burgers and locally-made craft beer. They have ten different burgers to choose from (including a portobello burger for vegetarians). The maple burger is inspired by tacos al pastor, combining spicy pork with the contrasting flavors of pineapple, onion, and cilantro. The decor is industrial-chic with the restaurant’s logo—a hog with a pearl necklace wrapped around its neck—on prominent display. The owners say that the image is meant to impart the idea that “elegance in food can appear where you least expect it.”