Similar to the style of the Moe's Southwest Grill chain, you custom order your tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, chimichangas, salads and bowls as you pass by a line of ingredients. Felipe's, however, is a smaller chain of a half-dozen shops. But the main difference is cocktails: good, fresh, craft cocktails and beer at Felipe's. Design your entree with spicy chicken, grilled chicken, shrimp, al pastor, carnitas, steak, chorizo, vegetables or breaded fish. Or order ahead online. Spice up your dinner at the hot sauce bar and add a side of Felipe's famous queso dip and chips.
Recommended for Mexican because: Felipe's uses fresh quality ingredients to create authentic Mexican flavors.
Chelle's expert tip: Bartenders make margaritas out of freshly squeezed lime juice.
A longtime amigo of Mexican loving diners in Naples, Flaco's, which ironically translates to "Skinny's," fattens you with a wide variety of traditional dishes. Additionally, the menu lists a number of vegetarian dishes plus steaks and seafood. To stay skinny, order the house or Caesar salad. But if you are looking for Mexican comfort food, the choices are rife: loaded nachos, quesadillas, corn tortilla soup, black bean soup, hominy and pork soup, chimichangas, enchiladas, burritos, chili relleno, tamales, tacos, fajitas, pollo mole and combinations platters. For dessert, try the flan or banana chimi cheese cake.
Recommended for Mexican because: Flaco's was one of Naples' first Mexican restaurants and remains popular with the locals.
Chelle's expert tip: For an appetizer or light lunch, try the seafood medley ceviche on a tostado.
With a busy location at the corner of Tamiami Road and Pine Ridge Road, Taco Ardiente is practically guaranteed a steady clientele. Its reasonable prices and full fledged list of Mexican favorites cinch the deal. It has a loyal following that comes in to sit inside or out in the courtyard or calls in for take out orders. The most expensive item on the menu, shrimp quesadilla, costs under $8. Two items you will not find on every Mexican restaurant menu are sope, thick corn tortillas topped with beef and refried beans, and Mexican pizza, two crispy flour tortillas stuffed with beans and beef then topped with salsa, guajillo chili sauce and cheese.
Recommended for Mexican because: This is the epitome of an authentic Mexican taqueria but with extensive menu offerings.
Chelle's expert tip: Caramel churros for dessert cost three for $3.46 and are yummy.
Although the window sign shouts TACOS BURRITOS TAMALES, the menu at Salsa Brava goes way deeper and more complex than your typical Mexican take out, especially at dinner. Fried whole red snapper, shrimp sauteed with tomatoes and onions or in a spicy house chipotle sauce, and skirt steak with enchiladas are a few of the offerings at dinner, when diners can also enjoy special cocktails such as watermelon aqua with vodka. For dessert, try the apple and cream cheese chimichanga. The hard to find corner cafe serves breakfast starting at 9:30 and Happy Hour from 2 to 6 p.m.
Recommended for Mexican because: The tiny cafe serves authentic Mexican cuisine, beverages and desserts.
Chelle's expert tip: The sign says it opens at 9:30, but the little cafe is often on "manana" time, so don't be surprised if you have to wait a little.
The basket of chips arrives with two bowls - one filled with a traditional full-textured, not-afraid-to-burn red salsa. The other contains a pico de gallo of chopped fresh yellow, orange and red tomatoes, jalapenos and other fiery flavorings. The style of cuisine here is billed as Jalisco, the Mexican region that is home to Guadalajara, mariachi and tequila. A selection of 20 different types of tequila reinforces the restaurant's name. The all-day and luncheon combination menus embrace the expected in Mexican cuisine. But from there, the many-paged spread runs amok with home-cooked specialties that surprise, delight and transport to old and new Mexico. The variety of seafood dishes attests to Jalisco's seaside roots. From simple fish tacos and shrimp with rice, they range to fusions of other Latin cultures in such dishes as fish ceviche, shrimp in garlic butter with onions and mushrooms and shrimp cocktail.
Recommended for Mexican because: First opened in 2009 in Golden Gate, the upscale Mexican chain now has locations in Bonita Springs and North Naples as well.
Chelle's expert tip: The lunch menu includes a discounted daily special.
It's not just all about tacos, but Tacos & Tequila Cantina's menu does list nearly 20 different flavors from traditional carnita to Buffalo, po' boy shrimp and Korean beef tacos. Sauces and ingredients all taste fresh in this indoor-outdoor garage chic setting that looks as though it could do some partying. (In recent years, the restaurant has expanded to North Naples and Estero locations.) Other traditional and inventive food offerings include huevos rancheros and Mexican burger. It's not all about tequila, either, although the drink menu lists 30-something different kinds of blanco, reposado and anejo tequilas. Choose also from 10 flavors of margaritas and other fruit drinks.
Recommended for Mexican because: This is the kind of Mex place that puts "party" in the equation, but its food is genuine and fresh.
Chelle's expert tip: For a proper sample of T&T, slap down $30 for the Trio Bandito: three tacos and three shots of tequila.
Even as Mexican street food continues to curry favor, it's a rare thing to find authenticity rolled into healthy, fresh fare. But that's exactly what you'll find at the original Turco Taco, occupying a former life Dairy Queen in the up-and-coming Naples Design District area. Order at the counter from a menu that sounds both familiar - asada, pastor, tinga, et al - and unexpected - quinoa, sweet potato, hearts of palm, avocado mousse. It wraps its five gourmet tacos up gluten-free and gives taco-lovers the option to design their own. Plus there's quesadillas, fresh healthy salads, vegetarian dishes, organic ingredients and shaved street corn. Order beer on tap or by the bottle.
Recommended for Mexican because: It combines the casual feel of a fast-food taqueria with quality, organic ingredients.
Chelle's expert tip: Hearts of palm salad at a taqueria? Go for it!
Part of the smart Bayfront Place retail community on downtown's fringes, it benefits from river vistas and an a lively vibe. Views from the patio, bar and communal tables are best. And then there's the view inside: Its transformation from a former Roy's restaurant feels artfully Mexican with mustard-colored walls, red pillars, pendant lighting and one huge skull-inspired mural. Many of the dishes are Blue Zone-inspired, meaning good for you and Mother Earth. They take traditional dishes and fuse and twist them for the utmost flavorful and delightful outcome - from "Twisted Tacos" to yucca fries topped with queso sauce and jalapeno-avocado crema. Craft cocktails taste as fresh as they sound, heavy on the margaritas, natch.
Recommended for Mexican because: It gives a modern, artful twist to Mexican flavors and ambiance.
Chelle's expert tip: Start off with a Mango Wango Margarita and the Ceviche de Sandia with seafood and watermelon.
Taqueria San Julian has had a presence in the Southwest Florida area for quite some time now. Its reputation is built upon affordability and authenticity, a taqueria in the true sense of the word. That means you should not expect fancy digs and foo-foo margaritas in stemmed glassware. Expect instead a cozy huddle of indoor tables around the counter where you order - a clean, tiled space - and picnic tables outside along the road, but buffered by some vegetation. The menu is equally simple: One side of the menu lists eight types of tacos for $1.50 each; on the flip side, eight flavors of quesadillas sell for $2.50 each. Ceviche or shrimp tostados are also $2.50 each. The big splurge is Mexican style shrimp cocktail with avocado for $11.
Recommended for Mexican because: The local Latino and gringo populations alike head here for good, cheap tacos and quesadillas.
Chelle's expert tip: The little eatery sells American and Mexican sodas and beers.
East of Naples, the wealthy facade makes way for more humble communities, Latino neighborhoods and affordable dining. The Bayshore area, however, is growing into a foodie destination and Molcajetes has contributed greatly to that reputation as it evolves from a local secret to a veritable fiesta. Start your day with iconic Mexican breakfasts such as chilaquiles or huevos rancheros. In addition to typical burrito and taco fare, it offers a nice selection of seafood dishes such as garlic mojo shrimp, ceviche, fried red snapper and octopus tostado. House-made soups range from classic menudo to barbacoa - spicy lamb with garbanzo beans. Authentically and freshly Mexican, it also fuses other Latin American food traditions.
Recommended for Mexican because: A well-kept secret, it's a favorite among a lot of local chefs.
Chelle's expert tip: The signature Molcajetes dish bundles pork, Mexican sausage, beef, chicken, shrimp and cactus with grilled onions, jalapenos, a side of guacamole, and your choice of corn or flour tortillas.