Memphis has a growing love affair with Mexican food, as evidenced by the increase in the number of restaurants that put Mexican flavors high on their menus. When you're craving a great Mexican meal in Memphis, you don't have to go far to find one of the city's top choices.
Some of those that made our list of the 10 best Mexican eateries in Memphis are long-time favorites, including Molly's LaCasita, Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana and Taqueria La Guadalupana. Others are newer entries into the scene, including Babalu in Overton Square. Whether a newcomer or not, what all the restaurants on our list share is simple - an outstanding atmosphere, a dedication to the flavors of Mexico, and a menu worthy of repeated visits.
We particularly love the inexpensive taco shops that offer the double-whammy of a two-tortilla wrap, so if that's your kind of meal, try Las Delicias or Elena's Taco Shop. If you're thinking about a sweet end to the evening, then the churros at Chiwawa in Midtown or the creamy, fruit-infused paletas at La Michoacana are the way to go. Frida's in Midtown serves up huge servings that can feed a whole crew.
From simple taco shops to more upscale options, finding the best flavors of Mexico right in Memphis is a snap.
Molly's La Casita
Molly's LaCasita is located in the heart of Midtown, just beyond Overton Square, and has been in that spot for over 30 years, through the ups and downs along Madison Avenue. Molly's is a bit of an institution in Memphis, both for its neighborhood atmosphere and it's owner - Molly Gonzales, a feisty and fun woman who ruled the restaurant.
Molly's is a so-so on the food front; nothing particularly stands out in terms of the cuisine with the exception of the queso and the bacon wrapped stuffed shrimp. But it's really known as the home of a killer margarita. (901-726-1873)
Taqueria La Guadalupana
There's nothing fancy about Guadalupana, from the d�cor to the location. But like some of the best holes-in-various-walls, the focus is on the food � not the d�cor. This is one of those spots where you can really eat on the cheap; most tacos are priced less than $2, and most entrees less than $11. Tacos are very authentic, featuring two small corn tortillas with meat, cilantro, lime juice and onions. Barbacoa (goat), tongue, spicy pork, beef and chicken are all offered, and those who eat goat say it's a good choice. Quesadillas are over-stuffed (again, choose from the meats above or go all-veggie), with meat, cheese and onions. The tortas are excellent.
Taqueria La Guadalupana is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. ((901) 685-6857)
Frida's Mexican Restaurant
Named for the only woman who ever made a unibrow look � dare we say it? - cool, Frida's celebrates all things Frida Kahlo, and you can't look anywhere without seeing a painting, poster, or reminder of the Mexican artist.
The menu is expansive, with pricing that's entirely reasonable, given the huge � and we mean huge � portions served up at both lunch and dinner. Frida's feels like a real slice of traditional old Mexico with heavy carved wood furnishings, colorful walls, Saltillo tile floors, and shelf upon shelf of tasting tequilas at the bar. There's also an outdoor patio � perfect for relaxing with friends over a pitcher of Frida's excellent top shelf margs.
When it's toasty outside (and frankly, even when it's not), Memphians hit La Michoacana for paletas and Mexican ice cream. Flavors and options are all over the map � choose from cups or cones for your ice cream (corn, Mexican cake, chili mango and pistachio are just a few of the funky flavors of ice cream) and water or cream-based paletas, which are stuffed with hunks of fruit and are the most filling popsicle you might ever try. As the friendly staff for help with deciding on a flavor to suit your taste. La Michoacana also offers some Mexican street food, in case a paleta isn't on your hit list. (901-612-9634)
Babalu Tacos & Tapas
Babalus Tacos & Tapas is a Southern mini-chain, if you will; the original is in Jackson, MS, the Memphis location in Overton Square was restaurant dos, and Birmingham gets numero tres. The food is super-fresh, the ambiance rocking, and the crafty cocktails sure to please.
Located in a cavernous space in the Overton Square district of Midtown, Babalu is basically one giant room with a long, long bar – and the bar opens to the back, right to the outdoor patio where there are lounging couches and cocktail tables. The menu offers a variety of food made to share – from a killer bacon cheeseburger with white cheddar, roasted tomatoes and chipotle aioli on a sweet sourdough bun (our new favorite burger in town, bar none) to gourmet tacos and Spanish-style tapas (potatas bravas!). There's also the occasional dash of Southern cooking – garlic shrimp and grits, or tamales from the Mississippi Delta to name a couple.
The drink list is extensive and fabulous, with a huge list of tequilas and a bunch of fun cocktails – there are seasonal options, as well. ((901) 274-0100)
Chiwawa melds American and Mexican foods together for its own twist - and refers to its cuisine as American and Mexican street food. What that means is that you'll find hot dogs along with tacos, and loads of skewers from which to choose. Appetizers run to guacamole, chips and salsa. Daily specials tend to be very inventive, a recent fave being an Asian-inspired pork taco salad at lunch.
The best spot in which to eat is outside on the patio; there's a special patio menu and with its picnic tables and people watching, it's the place to order a bucket of beer, a few rounds of tacos, and hang out for an evening. (901.207.1456)
Elena's Taco Shop
Don't be put off by the 'it's attached to a gas station' location of Elena's; this is truly one of the city's best taco shops.
There's a real emphasis on freshness at Elena's, from the meats to the fresh herbs and salsas. And the dishes are really, really affordable, starting at $2.75 for a single taco. There are lots of combo options, and we love the fact they will deep fry any burrito for you (for a small upcharge). The menu emphasizes fresh California-inspired flavors, and the Cali theme is replicated throughout the restaurant, with surfing posters and bright, breezy colors used in the small shop. (Be sure to try the pickled carrots and pepper mix on the salsa bar � a great addition to a taco, or side dish too).Elena's carries traditional Mexican bebidas � including our fave, horchata, and while on the subject of sweet things, we have to urge leaving room for dessert. There's homemade flan, or ice cream with cinnamon chips from which to choose. ((901) 417-7915)
Swanky's Taco Shop
During lunch, it's a walk-up and order spot, with the line moving quickly as customers build-their-own burritos, tacos and salads – with the help of the friendly and often teasing food builders.
One can get more complicated at lunch; there are grilled entrees including fish tacos, quesadillas and fajita plates. The star of the menu may just be the white queso; it is super creamy and rich, and practically a meal in itself. The fish tacos are another must-order with crispy yet lightly breaded white fish.
Two locations - both on Poplar Avenue and one nearly in Germantown - offer a mixed lunch crowd of business execs, young professionals, yard guys and moms with tots, and both locations offer patio dining when the weather is fine. (901-730-0763)
Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana
The food at Las Tortugas is un-American - that is to say,it's made as if you were in Mexico City and hasn't been American-ized.
The focus is tortas (sandwiches) and tacos, with an emphasis on all-fresh ingredients - think lots of fresh avocado, cilantro, cotiga cheese, sweet onions, a spiced cucumber salad as a small side, and hand-cut (and thick) chips. Traditional aguas frescas – fruit drinks – are whipped up and are the perfect drink to cool the spice.
The food takes its time getting to you, and the prices are higher than most folks expect ($4.50 for an aquas frescas). The wait and the pricetag, however, are worth it, as there's no other taste of Mexico like it in Memphis. (901-751-1200)
The space is uninspiring, in the corner of a strip mall, with little decor on the walls and basic furnishings. But no one's coming to Las Delicias for the decor, now are they?
No, they come for the freshly-made guacamole, chunky and perfectly blended with garlic, cilantro and lime; they come for the huge, home-made chips, the queso, the tortas and and small, authentic tacos of steak or chicken, served up in warm corn tortillas. (Be warned – those come with loads of cilantro and onions).
The family-run Las Delicias is a beehive of activity at any hour, but the lunch crowd moves quickly – the dinner crowd, not so much. Parking is at a premium- be mindful of the driveways if you're forced to find a spot on the street. ((901) 458-9264)
About Sally Walker Davies
Sally Walker Davies is enchanted by Memphis' music, history, and characters. From the artsy South Main Historic District to the grittiness of her favorite live music clubs to the sophisticated style of the eastern edge of the city, there’s a Memphis for every mood, and she loves every part of it.
Walker Davies is an experienced broadcast, print, and online journalist focusing on travel, and is the Memphis City Editor for StyleBlueprint, the South's fastest-growing digital lifestyle publication. Her work has appeared the Commercial Appeal, AOL Travel, BudgetTravel.com, and The Tennessean. She is the author of Tennessee: An Explorer’s Guide.
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