Whether you're fond of a sit-down meal with a pitcher of margaritas or prefer a grab-and-go approach, Sacramento has a diverse selection of Mexican restaurants. Some are a little hard to find but worth the adventure. Other locales have long family traditions, feature live music, specialty tequilas, unique décor or all of the above.
Among the “new breed” of midtown restaurants where the food is innovative and the atmosphere lively, Azul features live music and a popular free chips and salsa bar. Among house favorites are the reasonably priced luncheon appetizers like the quesadilla. Fish dishes are all the rage, particularly the mahi-mahi burrito and shrimp taco. Taco Tuesdays is a great deal with $1.25 tacos and $2.50 draft beer.
Often described as the “quintessential taco stand,” Chando’s packs in a crowd a lunchtime — and at other times, too. But that’s not to say there’s a long wait. The service is fast and the food is fresh and portions plentiful. The flavor in meat gets praised often, and one of the best deals is a sizable bag of fresh tortilla chips and ideal pico de gallo.
Located in arguably the most lively midtown restaurant district, Centro is likely the most energetic eatery in the area. Tequila enthusiasts are in nirvana because more than 300 selections of tequilas are offered and margaritas feature fresh lime juice. The menu is vast and includes tacos, burritos, enchiladas, fresh fish, grilled meats and poultry dishes. The decor is eclectic and the bar is adorned with Mexican folk art from the state of Oaxaca.
Tucked behind a strip mall on Folsom Blvd., El Amigo is a family style restaurant. It does well despite its locale because diners of Hispanic heritage frequent it. Try two of their signature offerings: camarones rancheros and the super burrito. Note: when a server says the plates are hot, he or she means it.
Founded in 1970, the family-owned restaurant is often crowded and renowned for its vast menu and large portions. House favorites include chile verde with regulars praising the spicy and salty consistency. Carnitas, chimichangas and carne asada are among other favorites. El Novillero may be the only Mexican restaurant in Sacramento that serves pickle chips. Despite its popularity, don’t fret — the parking lot is huge.
Best described as the quick place to get a street taco, this is a fresh, no frills, hole-in-the-wall (read parking lot) kiosk with just the basics, tacos to burritos. The meat-onion-cilantro mix works and the fresh salsa is a treat. It’s so small there’s no indoor seating and only a few plastic tables outside. As such, take-away is the best. Burritos and quesadillas are huge.
Opened in 1992 by the husband/wife team of Dave and Rose Hanke, Nopalitos is little corner joint that’s become a neighborhood icon. It’s breakfast and lunch only, Monday through Friday. It’s fresh stuff and some of the best in town. Breakfast staples include chile verde and machaca. A steady, daily lunch crowd has its favorites, too, with a variety of specials and “quick-hits” like rice bowls with various choices of meat and vegetables.
With two Sacramento locations – the first next to McClatchy High School – Oscar's is an “institution” for burrito connoisseurs, particularly two varieties, the breakfast burrito and California burrito made with french fries, not refried beans. The burritos are huge (easily two meals) and prices are right for tight budgets. Parking is limited as is seating. Lunch phone orders are popular because they’re ready when you arrive.
Housed in the renovated Arnold Brothers Building, which was built for a Hudson car dealership in the 1920s, the restaurant is tastefully decorated with classic foliage and stylish furniture and high ceilings. Signature dishes are highlighted the enchilada en mole, but there’s plenty more even the simple house staple, cilantro rice, prompts return customers. There’s a generous daily Happy Hour featuring $5 Naco Tacos and margaritas with real lime juice and agave nectar. Regulars particularly rave about the blackberry margarita.