Birmingham’s finest Mexican eating places: Our high 5

Seize a margarita, munch on some chips and contemplate this query: What’s the most effective Mexican restaurant in Birmingham? Your reply could also be completely different from ours, and that’s an excellent factor. The metro space boasts a wealth of crave-worthy eateries focusing on Mexican delicacies — nice eating, quick informal and every thing in between.

AL.com has been showcasing its picks for the most effective meals in Alabama, and so far as we’re involved, Birmingham is the star of the present. The Magic Metropolis, in spite of everything, has received seven James Beard Awards, and town’s cooks and eating places frequently seem as finalists and semi-finalists for the accolades referred to as “the Oscars of the meals world.”

If AL.com had some particular eating awards to present out — say, specializing in 5 locations that make us wish to eat Mexican meals each single day — right here’s the place we’d bestow them. Now let’s head out the door for a fajita repair; simply excited about this subject is making us hungry.

READ: AL.com’s high 5 picks for barbecue, pizza, burgers, ice cream, scorching canine, doughnuts, breakfast, fried hen and meat-and-three in Birmingham.

Hen Tinga Tostada at El ZunZún, a Mexican restaurant in Vestavia Hills, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. (Mary Colurso | mcolurso@AL.com)

5. THE ZUNZUN

4105 Crosshaven Drive in Vestavia Hills. el-zunzun.com

Right here’s the very first thing it’s best to know: This informal Latin American eatery is known as for a tiny Caribbean hummingbird that flies from Mexico to Alabama. And the second factor? El ZunZún was based by Becky Satterfield, the proprietor of Satterfield’s Restaurant. She teamed with chef Angela Schmidt in 2019, opening El ZunZún within the Cahaba Heights neighborhood of Vestavia Hills. Taste and authenticity are essential to the meals served at El ZunZún, from the hen tortilla soup served as an appetizer to the recent churros (fried donut sticks lined in cinnamon sugar) on the dessert menu. Carnivores have been recognized to drool over the meat quick rib enchiladas with selfmade mole sauce, and the pork carnitas are a slow-cooked dream. The various menu additionally options crispy fish tacos, avenue corn, chile relleno, pan roasted salmon, selfmade pork rinds and a mouth-watering queso. Confession: We grew to become a fan of El ZunZún as quickly because the server set down the massive chips paired with two sorts of yummy salsa.

Order this: The Hen Tinga Tostada is tasty and satisfying — and starter dish for first-timers. You’ll get a crispy tostada heaped with shredded chipotle hen, crema, lettuce, avocado, queso fresco and cilantro, paired with inexperienced rice and black beans. Don’t overlook to order a margarita, for those who’re inclined to imbibe. They’re refreshing, potent and never too candy, which is precisely how we like ‘em.

Shrimp Diabla at Sol Y Luna options smoky tequila-chipotle shrimp. (Cary Norton/Birmingham journal)

4. SUN AND MOON

920 Lane Parke Cour in Mountain Brook. solylunabham.com

Sol Y Luna was a groundbreaking eatery when it opened in Birmingham’s Lakeview neighborhood in 1997, introducing many of us right here to Mexican tapas-style eating. These are mainly small plates of meals, served with beer, wine, cocktails or tequila. Consider tapas as savory bar snacks, finest when ordered in abundance and shared with congenial companions. Sol Y Luna closed in 2013, inflicting tapas followers to groan, however the restaurant has returned in nice model on the Lane Parke procuring heart in Mountain Brook. Then and now, Sol Y Luna elevates the tapas expertise, with elegant dishes resembling Shrimp Diabla, cilantro mint hen skewers, iron skillet mussels, crabmeat enchiladas and puntas de puerco (oven roasted pork tenderloin medallions). The hearty eater in your life could also be hesitant to strive tapas, and — we’re not going to lie — ordering a number of dishes whenever you’re in full dinner mode is usually a expensive expertise. However the meals is top-notch at Sol Y Luna, and we consider this place as an exquisite splurge vacation spot.

Order this: You’ll be able to’t go fallacious with Shrimp Diabla, a signature dish that options tequila and chipotle flambe jumbo shrimp, served on a mattress of garlic mashed candy potatoes with fried flour tortilla strips. One other delicious possibility? Fried duck empanadas, served with chimichurri sauce and queso fresco. Pair these with a tequila sampler — three half-shots from a premium choice — and also you’ll be in your technique to tapas heaven.

Grilled salmon with poblano peppers, corn, garlic mashed potatoes and queso fresco at Cantina Tortilla Grill in Homewood, Alabama. (Mary Colurso | mcolurso@AL.com)

3. CANTINA TORTILLA GRILL

162 Oxmoor Street in Homewood. cantinabirmingham.com

Cantina Tortilla Grill was ultra-popular in Pepper Place throughout its run there, 2003-2019. Like Sol Y Luna, it was based by Guillermo Castro, a chef who grew up in Mexico and had a magical contact with meals. Castro, who died in 2011, stays a dominant drive on Birmingham’s eating scene, because of members of the family who maintain his spirit alive with Castro’s signature delicacies. After a four-year hiatus, Cantina not too long ago returned with a brand new location in West Homewood, on the former website of Little London Kitchen. As earlier than, this informal eatery presents dishes which are recent and flavorful. There are eight several types of tacos on the menu, together with tangy shrimp, shredded hen tinga, vegetarian and Cuban. The Truck Fries, heaped with hen or tenderloin, are perfect for of us with growling tummies. And we will’t get sufficient of the selfmade quacamole, served with a basket of crispy chips. (Diners will discover, by the best way, that chips and salsa aren’t automated on the tables right here; it’s a must to organize them like guacamole or queso.)

Order this: Our go-to at Cantina is the grilled salmon filet, served with poblano peppers, corn, garlic mashed potatoes and queso fresco. It’s one of many Platos Grandes, or “giant plates,” and each chunk is scrumptious. Additionally, the margaritas listed here are extremely really useful, whether or not you’re within the temper for key lime or prickly pear.

1 / 4 fried hen plate with pinto beans, rice, pickled greens and a habanero-vinegar dipping sauce at Little Donkey Mexican Restaurant in Homewood, Ala.

2. LITTLE DONKEY

2701 18th St. South, Suite 200 in Homewood; 5363 U.S. 280, Suite B100 in Hoover. thelittledonkey.com

Have you ever ever heard of a Mexican restaurant that’s well-known for its fried hen? Welcome to Little Donkey, an eatery that brings a Southern kick to genuine Mexican meals. When Little Donkey opened its first location in Homewood in 2012, lengthy strains snaked exterior the constructing, as of us waited to do this twist on a well known delicacies. Now Little Donkey is a beloved staple on our eating scene, because of chef Joshua Gentry. There are two areas within the Birmingham metro space, and a 3rd in Montgomery. The fiery fried hen has earned kudos from web sites resembling The Every day Meal, and this dish definitely brings the warmth, because the chook is brined in three completely different chilies. However the menu has treats aplenty, resembling a smoked pork burrito bowl, smoked beef brisket burrito, Gulf shrimp fajitas and queso con carne. There are 4 completely different sorts of salsa — gotta respect that — and over-the-top nachos that may be loaded with beef, hen or pork.

Order this: Fried hen, after all. Newcomers may wish to begin with the fried hen sandwich, which incorporates a hen breast topped by chipotle crema and Wickles Pickles, plus a selection of aspect dish. (Mexican avenue corn, anybody?) Little Donkey additionally presents some interesting cocktails, such because the Rosemary Sage Paloma and Oaxaca Outdated Common.

Grilled chorizo meatloaf is a signature dish at El Barrio, a restaurant in Birmingham. (AL.com file photograph/Joe Songer)

1. THE NEIGHBORHOOD

2211 2nd Ave. North in Birmingham. elbarriobirmingham.com

El Barrio won’t be essentially the most genuine Mexican restaurant in Birmingham, however this wonderful eatery tops our record for its inventive delicacies, upscale/funky decor and alluring ambiance. Brian Somershield and Geoff Lockert of Trattoria Centrale opened El Barrio in 2011, and the place (whose title interprets to “The Neighborhood”) grew to become a direct hit. It’s simple to see why. The creative dishes are “Mexican impressed,” and embrace plantain nachos, grilled chorizo meatloaf, Masa roasted trout, bacon quesadillas, Barrio cornbread and a luscious orange cake. Every thing tastes so darn good — sure, it sounds primary, however there’s no larger reward — and repeat guests might discover themselves merely happening the menu and ordering one thing new every time. Extra conventional dishes (resembling roasted chile relleno, chunky guacamole, ceviche, hen enchiladas and pork tacos) are made with equal care and aptitude. The homeowners of El Barrio aimed to be daring and imaginative, boosting the eating profile of downtown Birmingham. Mission achieved.

Order this: Go for the gusto with the grilled chorizo meatloaf, served with spinach, cotija-mashed potatoes, ranchera sauce and cumin bitter cream. It’s a longtime specialty at El Barrio, however we simply consider it as fancy consolation meals. And for those who’re feeling adventurous, strive the spicy margarita, made with jalapenos and orange liqueur.

MORE ON ALABAMA FOOD:

Alabama’s finest breakfast: Our Prime 10

Alabama’s finest fried hen: Our high 10

Alabama’s finest meat-and-three: Our Prime 10

Alabama’s finest burgers: Our Prime 10

Alabama’s finest pizza: Our Prime 10

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