July 17, 2024


World's finest Food

The best Mexican restaurants on Long Island

Street tacos and made-to-order guacamole are only the beginning of the draws at Long Island’s venerable Mexican taquerias and restaurants. Authentic fare abounds in this fast-growing segment of eateries. Among the standouts:

Besito (402 New York Ave., Huntington): Sometimes you want more than a taqueria, and these sophisticated siblings, boosting Mexico’s cuisine to refined but still festive levels, are only too happy to oblige. At each, a blissfully chunky guacamole is prepared tableside and tuned to your choice of heat. The chicken or carne asada quesadillas are consistently solid starters, along with the chile rellenos and tacos of various meats delivered in an iron skillet. When you want to get serious, though, Besito obliges, cinching together regional Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes with flair: The enchilada suizas and mixtas will make you long for bread and sauce sopping, while the pistachio-crusted salmon, as well as jumbo shrimp with mashed sweet potatoes, are among the larger plates, backed by a supporting cast of fine salsas and excellent cocktails (don’t miss the house pomegranate margarita). (Other locations at 1516 Old Northern Blvd., Roslyn and 399 Montauk Hwy., West Islip). More info: 631-549-0100, besitomexican.com

Dirty Taco & Tequila (3261 Merrick Rd., Wantagh): Something of a cause célèbre among the churro-challenged, this popular new eatery from AnnMarie and Tom Cataldo has done something you might have thought impossible: convince an island already awash in taco joints that it somehow needs one more. But among the succinct list of just 20 beef, chicken, fish, pork and vegetable tacos, true treasures may be found. The Baja fish number, blah elsewhere, here becomes something to exalt, courtesy lightly fried fresh cod, cabbage slaw and drizzles of lime-zested sour cream. A flour tortilla filled with ginger-marinated salmon accented by garlic sauce is wonderful. A jerk-spiced chicken taco dressed with tangy chunks of pineapple dances on the tongue as nimbly as a kung pao chicken variant, dusted with bits of crispy wontons and peanuts, and comes beautifully presented with curls of scallions. Best of all is the Thai meatball taco, a rowdy mix of ground beef, coconut curry and mint. Eating one, you feel as if a brand-new comfort food has been loosed upon the world. (Other location at 201 Sunrise Hwy., Rockville Centre). More info: 516-785-5300, dirtytacoandtequila.com

El Paso Authentic Taco Grill (787 Conklin St., Farmingdale): For over a decade, this Farmingdale spot has supplied its surrounds with next-level Mexican and central American food; from pupusas and empanadas to sopes and tacos, it all explodes with flavor and, well, calories. Tacos — whether carnitas, lengua or shrimp — come traditionally adorned with radishes, cilantro and lime. While they are a must, don’t overlook the baleada especial, a giant wheat tortilla folded over a tide of beans, melted queso, avocado and an egg. Pro tip: This spot is so popular that ordering in advance is wise, for the counter gets relentlessly busy and the waits can be long. Chances are when you show up you’ll see a few other things you’ll want, though — whether tamales, or an al pastor torta, or flan. In 2019, the owners opened a second location in Copiague. More info: 516-752-1872

El Rodeo (130 Montauk Hwy., East Moriches): This authentic Mexican restaurant is the third jewel in a triple crown owned by the Rojas family, who also own Riverhead’s Taqueria Mexico (at 707 E. Main St.) and Taqueria Cielito Lindo (25 E. Main St.). The décor is no-frills (though possibly more-frills than the others) but colorful, and the food is on point. Tacos, served on homemade tortillas, are exemplary, particularly the campechanos, filled with beef, pork and sausage. Tacos’ stouter cousins, sopas, are also well represented, as are enchiladas, tortas (Mexican sandwiches) and light-and-tender tamales. Meaty mains are consistently fine, as is the pozole, a piquant soup thick with exploded hominy kernels and hunks of braised pork. More info: 631-909-2666, elrodeony.com

I Am Nacho Mama (7 W. Village Green, Hicksville): Europe, the Caribbean, Central and South America–it took a village of no fewer than a dozen countries for Carlos Juarez to create a menu representing pan-Latin eclecticism at its finest. A bricks-and-mortar reworking of a food truck that took Nassau County by storm a few years back, favorites include the already legendary Mama Cuba sandwich, based on a recipe that goes back four generations, showcasing generous shavings of pernil–slow-roasted pork that takes two baths, one of sofrito, the other of beer–on its way to sharing sandwich space with ham, Swiss cheese and a superb slaw of pickled cabbage. The pork ribs, rubbed with a racy lime and salt mixture and seared on a wood-fired grill are among the best of their kind, and the same grill produces meats that form the winning basis of a dizzying variety of nachos, tacos, burritos and bowls. Best of all are the moments when cultures collide, as with the Chori burger, in which ground sirloin gets a mighty boost from Argentinean chorizo. More info: 516-226-0228, iamnachomama.com

La Fondita (74 Montauk Hwy., Amagansett) and Coche Comedor ( 74A Montauk Hwy., Amagansett): At 74A Montauk Hwy. and 74 Montauk Hwy. sit two of the Hamptons’ most authentic Mexican experiences. The more casual Fondita is little more than an enclosed stand with counter stools and picnic tables on the lawn, along with Adirondack chairs around the pond out back, but don’t be fooled. Since 2001, the little taqueria has been turning out winning nachos, quesadillas, tacos and a fine tortilla soup, as well as a trio of meat sandwiches on Portuguese rolls. Coche, which opened in 2019 in the old Honest Diner, is the upscale, trendy cousin, not to mention the considered choice of those who like duck fat potatoes with their chicken adobo, punch-packing margaritas and celebrity sightings. The ceviches are all first-rate, whether composed of fluke and avocado, tuna tartare or snapper, and the queso fundido is a velvety winner. Among the entrees, pork barbacoa is the standout, although a persuasive case may also be made for the striped bass (with impossibly sweet corn from nearby Balsam Farms), as well as a casserole of seafood, chorizo and Mexican rice. More info: 631-267-8800, lafondita.net and 631-267-5709, cochecomedor.com

Lucharitos (119 Main St., Greenport): Marc LaMaina’s rollicking Greenport joint (and its condensed siblings, Little Lucharitos in Aquebogue and Lucharitos Burrito Bar in Mattituck) has settled into its status as a North Fork landmark. Whether you’re bringing the kids for lunch or settling in with a round of margaritas, this is crowd-pleasing fare. The fearsome poses of Mexican wrestlers known as luchadores adorn the walls; on the plates you’ll find dozens of iterations of tacos, burritos, nachos, quesadillas and bowls with fillings that range from traditional (carnitas, carne asada) to inventive (coconut shrimp, barbecued local duck). Vegetarian options abound. New for 2020 is Lucharitos Farm in Center Moriches, which sprawls over more than an acre and comprises multiple outdoor dining areas, a working farm and a play area. More info: 631-477-6666, lucharitos.com

Mi Viejito Pueblito (1687 New York Ave., Huntington Station): The riotous cilantro-and-onion-dressed tacos — house-made flour tortillas with the softness and spring of Memory Foam cradling beef, chicken, tongue, tripe and fish embeds – are no small part of the appeal of this Huntington Station hole-in-the-wall. (To wit: seven tables, streamers hung from the ceiling, walls lined with tiny sombreros, roadside art and a TV playing UEFA Cup action nonstop.) But they’re just a part of a menu of unlikely hits by Eulogio and Emelia Valerio that’s as authentically Mexican as it gets. The soup, when available, remains a must, as are the nachos simple, in which rivulets of queso and pico run through a pleasing pile of chips christened by crema in a crosshatch pattern. Dry-cured flank steak blanketed by a fan of nopals make for a fine cecina. Again and again you’ll tear off the lid of that straw sombrero tortilla warmer, bringing floury madness to strips of lovingly marinated beef, pickled cactus and a dripping of jalapeño sauce. More info: 631-470-0396

Taco ‘Bout It (40b E. Main St., Riverhead): Wild, tropical colors mark this hidden gem, down a Riverhead alley, where chef and Oaxaca native Alejandro “Chicki” Ramirez lends a masterly touch to Mexican-food staples such as lengua tacos, lush guacamole, husk-wrapped tamales and al pastor tostadas topped with queso fresco. Burritos, quesadillas, chimichangas, nachos — Tex-Mex is well repped, too — but local seafood makes frequent appearances, as do rarer, regional Mexican dishes. Where else might you find a pambazo birria — a sandwich filled with beer-stewed, shredded beef — anywhere else on Long Island? Not likely. More info: 631-574-8787

Taco el Chingon (2809 Merrick Rd., Bellmore): Off-the-beaten-track, this tiny, female-owned takeout spot serves superb Mexican food from a quasi-hidden strip mall. Owner Laura Lucero draws on a few of her grandmother’s recipes for quiet showstoppers such as the machete classico, an oversized house tortilla layered with refried beans, melted Oaxacan cheese and sliced avocado, plus a meat of your choosing. Tacos are the main event, from rich suadero (slow-cooked beef) to al pastor as soft as velvet and tinged by guajillo chile. This is one of the rare places on the island to get breakfast tacos, too, and other Mexican breakfast dishes such as chilaquiles. Whichever direction you go — molletes for breakfast, sopas for lunch — be sure to nab a cup of tart jamaica (lightly sweetened hibiscus tea) from the cooler. More info: 516-809-9102, tacoelchingon.com

Verde Kitchen & Cocktails (70 E. Main St., Bay Shore): “Verde” describes the greenhouse dining room at this contemporary Mexican, but also the overarching fresh approach to a cuisine that, too often, relies on canned ingredients and clichéed preparations. Start with one of the eight margaritas, made with fresh citrus and house-made syrups, then head for the tacos whose tortillas come from the vaunted Tortilleria Nixtamal in Queens (and, for certain specials, are made in house). The barbacoa, filled with jiggly, chile-rubbed brisket with pickled serranos is sheer heaven. Groups of two or more should consider the Oaxaca market platter, a huge ceramic plate piled high with grilled skirt steak, chicken thighs and roast pork shoulder; garnished with charred scallions, halved avocados, radishes and roasted chiles; served with tortillas, rice and warm tortillas. Even the green salad here — made with local greens, pickled tomatillo, toasted sesame seeds and tomato-chile vinaigrette —it’s a delight. More info: 631-665-6300, verdekitchen.com