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Handmade Tortillas, Fresh Margaritas: Authentic Mexican in Charleston



Is there anything better than fresh, authentic, affordable Mexican food? The jury is still out on that one, but in the meantime, we highly recommend sampling your favorite traditional dishes from some of Charleston, South Carolina's best Mexican restaurants. You'll find them both off and on the downtown peninsula, with sunny outdoor seating, free bottomless chips and salsa, and a whole lot of variety on the menu.

A meal at one of Charleston's local Mexican restaurants is ideal after a busy day outdoors. Hit up Taco Mamacita's street-front patio after a visit to Sullivan's Island, or sample the Tex-Mex tacos at Taco Boy on Folly Beach, just a few blocks from the ocean. Urban hiking through Charleston's busy downtown streets is enough to make anyone hungry for quesadillas and enchiladas; head to Santi's on the North end of the peninsula or La Hacienda on King Street to fill those Mexican food cravings.

Of course, Mexican eats go well with tequila and rum, particularly in margaritas and mojitos. You'll find these perfect food and drink pairings at the Zia Taqueria happy hour on James Island and among the Mex 1 Coastal Cantina tequila flights and housemade tequila infusions.

The best part about Charleston's local Mexican restaurants? They're ideal for every resident and visitor, with family-friendly menus and seating, dog-friendly patios, and party-starting drink specials.


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This popular Upper King Street establishment is of the "Mexican-ish" variety, serving up big portions of nachos, quesadillas, tacos, burritos, salads, and rice bowls. You choose the protein from a selection of bean, tofu, veggie, beef, chicken, sausage, steak, fish or shrimp to make each entree your own! Everything on the Juanita's menu is topped off with fresh pico de gallo, and it all comes out fast and fresh. Juanita's is for everyone, with a dog-friendly patio, and a Kids Eat Free special every Wednesday. There's seating in the sun or shade out back, as well as indoor bar and table seating. Juanita's always boats a hoppin' bar scene for those looking for good food, fast, before heading out for the night. That's not to say that no one lingers here; the huge outdoor patio and weekly live music brings in a crowd the whole week long!

Recommended for Mexican because: Juanita's makes our 10Best Mexican Restaurants list for its hoppin' live music and bar scene, awesome outdoor patio, and affordable "Mexican-ish" nachos and quesadillas.

Clare's expert tip: Looking for a cheap weekend meal downtown? Check out Juanita's daily deal of 2 tacos & a beer (usually Bud Light or PBR) for just $7!

Read more about Juanita Greenberg's Nacho Royale →




Established in 1990, La Hacienda, or "LaHa" as it is known locally, is a Ayala family-owned establishment that has grown to include more than 10 locations across the Southeast. LaHa has become legendary among the Charleston restaurant and nightlife scene, due to the simple fact that the drinks are always stiff, and the food is fast, cheap, and served in large portions. That's not to say they skimp on taste here; the family's Jalisco heritage lends itself to authentic dishes across its massive menu of soup, nachos, burritos, enchiladas, and fajitas entree and combo offerings. La Hacienda is a very popular spot for Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and an ideal starter to a fun night out downtown.

Recommended for Mexican because: Lunch or dinner at La Hacienda makes for a comfortable, affordable pit stop after a long day of shopping and sightseeing on King Street.

Clare's expert tip: It's a young and rowdy crowd at "LaHa" for happy hour on Friday and Saturday nights. Bring on the margaritas!

Read more about La Hacienda →


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James Island


Located just a few steps from the eclectic Terrace Theatre, and across the street from The Pour House music venue on James Island, Zia Taqueria is an ideal spot to start or end your night out. That is, if you're night out involves delicious nachos, tacos, quesadillas, and enchiladas. This restaurant is family-friendly, with a pay-at-the-counter service style, and several vegetarian options. There are also food and drink specials galore, including $3 Zia 'Ritas, $3 well liquors, and $3 Mexican beers during happy hour and $6 frozen screwdrivers every Sunday. Weekly food specials such as the $3 baja or grilled fish tacos on Mondays, $3 carnitas or pastor tacos on Tuesdays, and $3 chicken yucatán tacos on Wednesday are reason alone to visit Zia Taqueria during the week. They're also open until midnight Thursday through Saturday, with the bar staying open until 2 a.m.!

Recommended for Mexican because: Zia Taqueria's casual environment, proximity to local-favorite the Terrace Theatre, and full menu of Tex-Mex style eats make this James Island restaurant an easy choice.

Clare's expert tip: Hit up Zia Taqueria before or after a movie showing at the Terrace Theatre next door!

Read more about Zia Taqueria →


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West Ashley's Mex 1 Coastal Cantina is named for the Mexican Federal Highway 1, which runs from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas and is known for a heavily seafood-influenced style of Mexican food. Mex 1 delivers on this tradition with seafood (and other) tacos, nachos, ensaladas, quesadillas and baja bowls, brown rice bowls topped with your choice of protein. There are 8 varieties of tacos here at Mex 1, including the Shroomer, Mahi (beer-battered or grilled), Santos or Bangin' Shrimp, Carnitas and more. There's also happy hour from 4-7 p.m., with $5 margs, $4 house liquors, and $3 Mexican beers. Tequila lovers will adore Mex 1's housemade influsions, made each week with fresh produce and agave tequila, like the Strawberry Cucumber and Pineapple Habañero. Try a tequila flight if you're feeling especially adventurous! The restaurant itself is decorated in this same baja surf-style, regularly showing surf competitions on their TVs.

Recommended for Mexican because: This West Ashley eatery focuses on "Baja-style" Mexican cuisine, and of course, their locally-famous selection of tequilas!

Clare's expert tip: Tequila and tacos are the recommended combination at Mex 1. Head here for $5 happy hour margs and more!

Read more about Mex 1 Coastal Cantina →


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Sullivan's Island


This Taco Mamacita is located on Sullivan's Island, just a few blocks from the beach access stations. It's a no-brainer that you're going to want their chips and salsa, nachos, tacos, and enchiladas after a fun-filled day in the sun! The Taco Mamacita patio out front offers both shaded and sunny seating, and is great for groups with its casual, family-friendly, come-as-you-are atmosphere. There are 13 kinds of tacos on the menu at Taco Mamacita, from the Memphis port to the shrimp po'boy BLT and vegetarian jerk plantain, as well as stellar enchiladas. Order the Whole Enchilada plate for a sampling of all 3 varieties: the brisket, suizas, and vegilladas. There's also the popular roasted Peruvian chicken, and must-have Mexican Street Corn, char-grilled and topped with cheese. Did we mention they have an awesome happy hour, tequila flights, and margaritas? Say no more!

Recommended for Mexican because: Who doesn't crave spicy, savory Mexican eats after a day at the beach? Taco Mamacita delivers, with a tasty menu and a killer streetside patio.

Clare's expert tip: The Taco Mamacita patio is dog-friendly! Bring your pooch and your friends for brunch, lunch or dinner - this restaurant is a regular crowd-pleaser.

Read more about Taco Mamacita →




Like its sister restaurant downtown, the Folly Beach Taco Boy brings in a regular crowd of both visitors and locals with its wide variety of tacos and killer drink menu. It's no accident that Taco Boy is an easy walk from the beach; the menu (and prices) are just right for refueling after a long day in the sun. There's free chips and salsa for the table, alongside shareable taquitos, guac and nachos for starters. You'll want to order some tacos (2-3 per person), on flour or corn tortillas, or in bibb lettuce wraps ($0.25 extra). There are more than 15 varieties on the menu, priced at just $3.50 - $3.95 each. There are also platos of shrimp, chicken, carne asada or carnitas, served with 2 sides, as well as 7 kinds of quesadillas. The drink menu encourages patio relaxation, with a long list of margaritas, cocktails, and Mexican cervezas.

Recommended for Mexican because: Taco Boy's perfect blend of thirst-quenching margaritas and spicy salsas to help you recover after a sunny day at Folly Beach.

Clare's expert tip: Sit outside on the front patio deck to people watch on Center Street, Folly's main drag.

Read more about Taco Boy Folly Beach →


Established in 2003, this family-owned North Charleston Mexican restaurant is traditional in both cuisine and atmosphere. The La Norteña interior is colorful and comfortable, with booth seating and friendly service. That's a good thing when you're about to leave completely stuffed with fresh, authentic Mexican food, influenced in particular by the cuisine of central Jalisco on the Pacific coast. The huge La Norteña menu contains something for everyone, with such seafood offerings as shrimp nachos and tacos, ceviche, whole grilled Tilapia, as well as other standard favorites like tostadas, burritos, tortas, tacos, fajitas, and even an entire section of the menu dedicated to vegetarian entrees. One highlight is the 4 varieties of enchiladas, including enchiladas poblanas, green enchiladas, red enchiladas, and enchiladas norteñas; each plate includes four enchilada for just $10 - $11.99. The prices are right for an affordable large group lunch or dinner, plus drinks or dessert.

Read more about La Norteña →


Open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, Básico is known for its thoughtfully prepared and beautifully plated Mexican-inspired fare. Many ingredients are sourced from Básico's own patio garden - reflective of Básico's standard of freshness. Start off your meal at Básico with guac plus a sampling of all 7 of their unique housemade salsas for just $15. Vegetarians will love the several veggie-centric dishes on the menu, including the mushroom tamale with black molé, mushroom enchilada, and grilled shishito peppers. Other meat-focused platos include the green chile burger, Básico rice and bean bowl with chorizo, and paella loaded with chorizo, rabbit, octopus, chicken, and sofrito (tofu). Of course, there are also four types of enchiladas, ($12 - $15), and 7 varieties of tacos, (48 for 2, $11 for 3). Básico also has a kids menu on hand, as well as an affordable happy hour menu for both drinks and food.

Read more about Básico →




This affordable, casual Mexican restaurant is an unmissable fixture for those looking to dine among the many restaurants of East Bay Street downtown. With James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock at the helm, they've done their research into authentic Mexican cuisine. The restaurant name itself is a tribute to the mineros, or miners, of Mexico who are credited by some as having invented the taco, modeling it after the dynamite bundles used in mining. Expect everything on the menu to be as fresh as it can be, as the chips and tortillas handmade in house each morning. The drink list is just as dedicated to authenticity with a full page of tequila, piso, mezcal, and rum cocktails and shots. Crowd favorites include the Shrimp & Masa Grits, Chilaquiles, Valentina Charcoal-Grilled Chicken Wings, and Pork Carnitas Taco. Tacos range between $3.50 - $4, with other entrees falling between $8 and $9.50.

Recommended for Mexican because: Minero's well known, James Beard award-winning chef brings in a crowd, as do the fresh salsas, handmade chips and tortillas, and reasonable prices.

Clare's expert tip: This popular East Bay restaurante doesn't take reservations, so get there early or plan to wait during peak weekend dinner hours!

Read more about Minero →




Though you'll have to catch a ride to Santi's for your fill of fresh Mexican food and margaritas, the drive to this northern part of downtown Charleston is well worth it. For years, Santi's has been known as an iconic hotspot for cheap, authentic Mexican grub. This family-owned restaurant is equally beloved for its food (and prices) as its drinks (think very strong margaritas and mojitos by the pitcher). The restaurant's cozy, festive interior and covered, leafy patio are an ideal setting for a get together with friends before a night out downtown. The large menu holds every possible Mexican app, soup, entree and dessert you can think of, and the staff happily customizes orders by request. Food portions are sizeable, and the food comes out fast. Free bottomless chips and salsa are on the table while you await your entrees.

Recommended for Mexican because: Free bottomless chips and salsa, strong margaritas by the pitcher, and an always-lively patio have created a huge following of Santi's regulars.

Clare's expert tip: Bring your dog along for dinner tonight! The Santi's patio is pooch-friendly.

Read more about Santi's Restaurante Mexicano →


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Meet Clare Sweeney

A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare is always venturing between traveling abroad and her beloved Lowcountry. 

Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days...  More About Clare

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