After living in Arizona and Southern California (and visiting Mexico frequently), I can’t help but love Mexican food. Although spicy food around Berkeley seems to be treated with a “the-more-the-merrier” policy, Berkeley’s go-to spicy cuisines are usually Thai, sushi and Korean-fusion. Don’t get me wrong–I love those foods–but there are plenty of homesick days in the year when the only thing that can comfort me is a well-seasoned plate of fajitas.
After a few flavorless tacos and some sad salsa, I was tempted to end my mission to find good Mexican food in Berkeley–but that was before I visited some of these hidden gems and found the foods I’ve craved for so long right here.
Tacubaya: Talk about Tacos
Location: 1788 4th St, Berkeley, CA 94710
Hours: Mon-Fri: 10 am-9 pm, Sat-Sun: 9 am-9 pm
This was by far the best Mexican food I have had since coming to Berkeley. Tacubaya has a lot of options, including seasonal dishes, a variety of hot sauces and flavored drinks. I ordered both the fish taco and the cow tongue taco, along with a refreshing cucumber lemon drink, which was absolutely amazing. It was the perfect balance between the two flavors–sweet, but not overpowering like lemonade can be.
The tortillas were a bit soft, but they were fresh and held together throughout the whole meal, which is rare for corn tortillas. The sauces used for each taco were extremely flavorful and unique to each. I was simply in love with these tacos after I took the first bite.
La Mission: Nach-yo Average Enchilada
Location: 1255 University Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702
Hours: Mon-Fri: 8 am-12 am, Sat: 9 am-12 am, Sun: 9 am-11 pm
This place has been recommended to me by multiple people, including other out-of-state Mexican food lovers. It had a lot of typical Mexican food options on the menu, most of which featured organic, hormone-free meat–very “Berkeley,” so to speak.
The dishes I tasted were decent, but nothing was extremely special. The veggie tac0 had pretty good guacamole on it with freshly-shredded cotija cheese. The nachos had decent sour cream and melted cheese, and the chip itself had the right balance of crunch and oil. La Mission gives two sauces with meals: a flavorful mild green and a very mild, somewhat flavorless red one. If you’re getting food from La Mission, the enchiladas will give you the best bang for your buck.
Cancun: Come for the Mole; Stay for the Salsa
Location: 2134 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA, 94704-1302
Hours: Mon-Thurs: 10:30 am-10 pm, Fri-Sat: 10:30 am-10:30 pm, Sun: 12 pm-9 pm
Cancun is perfect for sit-down dinners with a few friends. It also has a few different moles on the menu, and the best part for me was the large variety at the salsa bar, including pumpkin seed, chipotle and mango.
I ordered a more popular dish, the Ensalada de Nopales, which had cactus. The sour cream and cotija cheese were both very good quality, and the salsas were delicious, especially the chipotle with its spicy smoked flavor. However, the cactus was bland, so the salad was somewhat flavorless. Overall, however, the meal was well-portioned for the price paid.
Although I’m still exploring the Mexican restaurants in the area, so far I’m happy to say that I’ve found a least a couple of good places to satisfy my homesick hunger.
Spoon University at Berkeley would like to extend a huge thank you to all our readers who suggested we investigate the Mexican restaurants in the area for an article like this.