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A burrito from El Burrito House
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

Where to Eat Mexican Food in California’s Central Valley, Mapped

It’s one of the best Mexican food scenes in America

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A burrito from El Burrito House
| Photo by Gustavo Arellano

The Mexican food of California’s Central Valley rivals anything that LA or San Francisco have to offer. Gustavo Arellano — the author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America crawled up State Route 99 to seek out the region’s finest taco stands, mulita specialists, enchilada masters, pan dulce shops, and more. Read his magnificent (and filling) journey, or for just the highlights, here’s a map to his favorite stops.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
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Taqueria Santos Laguna

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This taquería attracts the area’s college crowd, so expect piles of nachos and taquitos alongside the tacos.

Taqueria Santos Laguna
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

El Novillero Restaurant

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The restaurant is huge, but there’ll always be a line. It’s worth it. While you wait, read all the newspaper clippings and fan testimonials on the walls.

El Novillero Restaurant
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

Lalo's Restaurant

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This awesome barbacoa spot has killer chilaquiles and three salsas that the waitresses present to you fresh. Sit down, or order from a to-go counter.

Barbacoa at Lalo’s Restaurant
Photo: Carlos Soto | Facebook

Taqueria Los Compadres

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An update to the classic Cal-Mex diner of yore, you can get regional Mexican classics like tortas ahogadas (a sandwich on a French roll drenched in a fiery red salsa) and aguachile (shrimp marinated in cold lime juice).

Al Pastur Burrito at Taqueria Los Compadres
Photo: Sunny L. | Yelp

Streetzlan "The Street Food Project"

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Located in a small picturesque downtown, Streetzlan offers a constantly changing menu of everything from Sonora dogs to hamburgers. But go early — they’re usually out of food by 2 p.m.

C Street Fish Taco at Streetzlan
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

Tacos El Guapo

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This food truck sets up in a strip mall. Go with the tacos de canasta, a Mexico City classic that steams the tacos so that the ingredients turn into something approaching a confit.

Tacos El Guapo Truck
Photo: Tacos El Guapo/Facebook

El Grullense Taco Truck

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This lonchera (lunch truck) branch of a Stockton standby parks in a lot that also usually (and conveniently) includes an ice cream vendor and a fruit lady.

Tacos at El Grullense Taco Truck
Photo: Erica C. | Yelp

Arroyo's Cafe

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Make sure to order some handmade tortillas to-go along with your order at Arroyo’s — a Stockton Cal-Mex classic — so they’ll be ready for you when you leave.

Guacamole Tostada at Arroyo’s Cafe
Photo: Karen M. | Yelp

Mi Ranchito Cafe

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An old-school Cal-Mex diner with encyclopedic menu. No matter what you else you order, don’t forget to get chicanas (steak ranchero) as an appetizer.

Mi Ranchito Cafe
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

Taqueria La Mexicana Y Paleteria

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It’s a convenience store-cum-ice cream shop that just happens to have a restaurant. The food is fine, but the guajolota is exceptional.

Sundae at Taqueria La Mexicana Y Paleteria
Photo: Taqueria La Mexicana Y Paleteria/Facebook

La Mexicana de Ripon

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This grocery store has a small buffet and breakfast burritos that are nothing short of killer.

Tacos at La Mexicana de Ripon
Photo: Dan Miller | Facebook

Eighth Street Taco Trucks

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This collection of trucks assembles next to the railroad tracks every day. Combined, they offer everything from seafood to tacos to weekend birria.

Quesedilla at Eighth Street Taco Trucks
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

El Rematito

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You can eat here for a year and not get tired of all the offerings, but a good start are all the gorditas trucks. Get your agua fresca at other stalls, though.

El Rematito
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

La Mo Restaurant

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Get there early for weekend brunch, and watch the drinks: They’re potent. The mole is on-point.

La Mo Restaurant
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

La Taqueria

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If you’re not getting to San Francisco anytime soon, order the carnitas burritos at this Turlock branch of the famous La Taqueria, named the best burrito in the United States by FiveThirtyEight in 2014 and worth every bite.

Burrito at La Taqueria
Photo: La Taqueria/Facebook

La Michoacana Bakery & Mexican Food

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Only come here on weekends, when La Michoacana sets up tents on the driveway and offers awesome birria and menudo complete with thick, handmade corn tortillas.

Pan dulce at La Michoacana Bakery & Mexican Food
Photo: La Michoacana Bakery & Mexican Food/Official Website

TAQUERIA Mi Casa Es Tu Casa

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It’s so homey here that there are couches toward the back for people to hang out. Get the enchiladas michoacanas, folded over like corn-tortilla quesadillas and light on the stomach.

Mi Casa Es Tu Casa
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

La Casita

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The tacos, burritos, and lunch specials here are good, but serve as a sideshow to the real draw: Tex-Mex-style flour tortillas — unimaginably buttery and flaky.

La Casita
Photo: Mary Lou E. | Yelp

Oaxaca Mexican Restaurant

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Ask if they have pulque (they usually do), and order a tlayuda to share; it’s as big as a large pizza and loaded with toppings.

Oaxaca Mexican Restaurant
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

El Premio Mayor

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It’s pure taco insanity, period. The asada and adobadas are must-orders.

Taste Kitchen

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Along with the seasonal menu, try chef Martin Franco’s refreshing aguas frescas — perfect for the brutal Central Valley summers.

Cauliflower Tacos at Taste Kitchen
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

La Elegante

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These awesome tacos are worth the search for parking. (Hint: Try across the street at the Sisavang Vatthana Center — they don’t mind much.)

Tacos at La Elegante
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

El Mexicano Restaurant

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Located right off the freeway, this sit-down restaurant is the perfect spot to relax and refuel after a long drive.

Los Toritos

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This place is also right off Highway 99, so there’s no excuse to skip it. Load up on the free frijoles for the drive home.

Tacos at Los Toritos
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

El Burrito House

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Carved out of a gas station convenience store, El Burrito House makes its own flour tortillas here. Get the steak ranchero burrito, a gargantuan thing that you need to eat fresh to truly appreciate the Central Valley’s favorite Mexican dish.

Steak Ranchero Burrito at El Burrito House
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

Birrieria Apatzingan | Mexican Restaurant

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They specialize in the cuisine from Michoacán, so load up on carnitas, aporreadillo (eggs with cecina, or dried beef) and the namesake birria.

Birrieria Apatzigan
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

La Pasadita

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The lines are long at this lonchera, but especially so on Sunday afternoons when people load up on the way back to Los Angeles. Order a vampiro, essentially a cheesy tostada made with a freshly fried corn tortilla.

Fish and Shrimp Tacos at La Pasadita
Photo: Jessica C. | Yelp

Taqueria Tampico

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Standard Mexican fare here — tacos; menudo on weekends. But go for the fettuccine alfredo with carne asada, and douse it with the off-the-menu salsa picante.

Fettuccine Alfredo with Carne Asada at Taqueria Tampico
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

Tacos El Cazador

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This restaurant makes a cameo in 2015’s McFarland USA starring Kevin Costner. Order the potato tacos, which come five to an order with a good salsa roja.

Tacos El Cazador
Photo: Tacos El Cazador/Facebook

Arizona Cafe

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This Cal-Mex classic in downtown Bakersfield comes complete with a full bar that starts serving margaritas at 8:30 in the morning.

Chile Verde at Arizona Cafe
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

Tacos La Villa

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This Bakersfield chain sells tacos, burritos, and Bro-Mex dishes like a burrito stuffed with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that’s not half bad.

Burrito Stuffed with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos at Tacos La Villa
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

Los Tacos De Huicho

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Go ahead and order in or for takeout; the service is fast and the Mexico City-style tacos reliably great.

Tacos at Los Tacos De Huicho
Photo: Los Tacos De Huicho/Facebook

El Pollo Tapatio

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A food trailer on the edge of a busy industrial highway, they only sell brisket and charbroiled chicken, because what else do you need in life?

Brisket and Charboiled Chicken at El Pollo Tapatio
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

La Perla Bakery

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La Perla is a classic panaderia with all the conchas, gorditas, and other pan dulces you may desire. Use the tongs, or expect a reprimanding.

Pan dulce at La Perla Bakery
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

Taqueria Santos Laguna

Taqueria Santos Laguna
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

This taquería attracts the area’s college crowd, so expect piles of nachos and taquitos alongside the tacos.

Taqueria Santos Laguna
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

El Novillero Restaurant

El Novillero Restaurant
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

The restaurant is huge, but there’ll always be a line. It’s worth it. While you wait, read all the newspaper clippings and fan testimonials on the walls.

El Novillero Restaurant
Photo by Gustavo Arellano

Lalo's Restaurant

Barbacoa at Lalo’s Restaurant
Photo: Carlos Soto | Facebook

This awesome barbacoa spot has killer chilaquiles and three salsas that the waitresses present to you fresh. Sit down, or order from a to-go counter.

Barbacoa at Lalo’s Restaurant
Photo: Carlos Soto | Facebook

Taqueria Los Compadres

Al Pastur Burrito at Taqueria Los Compadres
Photo: Sunny L. | Yelp

An update to the classic Cal-Mex diner of yore, you can get regional Mexican classics like tortas ahogadas (a sandwich on a French roll drenched in a fiery red salsa) and aguachile (shrimp marinated in cold lime juice).

Al Pastur Burrito at Taqueria Los Compadres
Photo: Sunny L. | Yelp