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.Read More
Where to Eat Mexican Food in California’s Central Valley, Mapped
It’s one of the best Mexican food scenes in America
1. Taqueria Santos Laguna
Sacramento, CA 95819
This taquería attracts the area’s college crowd, so expect piles of nachos and taquitos alongside the tacos.
2. El Novillero Restaurant
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.
3. Lalo's Restaurant
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.
4. Taqueria Los Compadres
Elk Grove, CA 95624
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).
5. Streetzlan "The Street Food Project"
Galt, CA 95632
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.
6. Tacos El Guapo
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.
7. El Grullense Taco Truck
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.
8. Arroyo's Cafe
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.
9. Mi Ranchito Cafe
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.
10. Taqueria La Mexicana Y Paleteria
Manteca, CA 95336
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.
11. La Mexicana de Ripon
Ripon, CA 95366
This grocery store has a small buffet and breakfast burritos that are nothing short of killer.
12. Eighth Street Taco Trucks
Modesto, CA 95354
This collection of trucks assembles next to the railroad tracks every day. Combined, they offer everything from seafood to tacos to weekend birria.
13. El Rematito
Modesto, CA 95358
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.
14. La Mo Restaurant
Get there early for weekend brunch, and watch the drinks: They’re potent. The mole is on-point.
15. La Taqueria
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.
16. La Michoacana Bakery & Mexican Food
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.
17. TAQUERIA Mi Casa Es Tu Casa
Livingston, CA 95334
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.
18. La Casita
Merced, CA 95340
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.
19. Oaxaca Mexican Restaurant
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.
20. El Premio Mayor
Fresno, CA 93703
It’s pure taco insanity, period. The asada and adobadas are must-orders.
21. Taste Kitchen
Fresno, CA 93727
Along with the seasonal menu, try chef Martin Franco’s refreshing aguas frescas — perfect for the brutal Central Valley summers.
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22. La Elegante
These awesome tacos are worth the search for parking. (Hint: Try across the street at the Sisavang Vatthana Center — they don’t mind much.)
23. El Mexicano Restaurant
Located right off the freeway, this sit-down restaurant is the perfect spot to relax and refuel after a long drive.
24. Los Toritos
Selma, CA 93662
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.
25. El Burrito House
Kingsburg, CA 93631
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.
26. Birrieria Apatzingan | Mexican Restaurant
Tulare, CA 93274
They specialize in the cuisine from Michoacán, so load up on carnitas, aporreadillo (eggs with cecina, or dried beef) and the namesake birria.
27. La Pasadita
Earlimart, CA 93219
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.
28. Taqueria Tampico
Delano, CA 93215
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.
29. Tacos El Cazador
McFarland, CA 93250
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.
30. Arizona Cafe
Bakersfield, CA 93305
This Cal-Mex classic in downtown Bakersfield comes complete with a full bar that starts serving margaritas at 8:30 in the morning.
31. Tacos La Villa
Bakersfield, CA 93305
This Bakersfield chain sells tacos, burritos, and Bro-Mex dishes like a burrito stuffed with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that’s not half bad.
32. Los Tacos De Huicho
Bakersfield, CA 93305
Go ahead and order in or for takeout; the service is fast and the Mexico City-style tacos reliably great.
33. El Pollo Tapatio
Bakersfield, CA 93307
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?
34. La Perla Bakery
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.