There’s a time and a place for Taco Bell — that time is 2 a.m. and that place is the drive-thru from the backseat of an Uber — but authentic Mexican food is an entirely different experience. An authentic Mexican restaurant serves tortillas that don’t come from a bag and offers tacos with toppings that aren’t just ground beef and shredded cheese.
In Las Vegas, the best authentic Mexican food comes from restaurants that aren’t on the Strip. For tourists, these are the kind of places that are worth seeking out. For locals, these are the kind of places that become regular haunts. From the eastside to the westside, these five authentic Mexican restaurants will provide some respite from the sugary margaritas and fake cheese smothered nachos of Americanized spots.
A downtown favorite
Casa Don Juan is a family-owned restaurant with Frida Kahlo-themed decor and an array of authentic Mexican dishes including lengua tacos, chicken flautas, and tortas al pastor. The restaurant serves Mexican breakfast favorites including huevos con nopales and huevos con chorizo as well as freshly prepared aqua fresca. For diners on the west side of Las Vegas, a location right next to Summerlin is available.
Casa Don Juan, 1204 S. Main St.; 702-384-8070
A Las Vegas classic
The original Lindo Michoacan opened in 1990. In Las Vegas, more than two decades in business is proof enough that a restaurant knows what it’s doing. The original Desert Inn location and three other locations demonstrate just that every day with dishes including camarones borrachos (Mexican gulf shrimp prepared with lemon juice, dried chilis, and tequila), carnitas marinated in fresh orange juice and served with avocado salsa, and an award-winning spicy sauce that’s fittingly referred to as Mucho Mucho Caliente.
Lindo Michoacan, 2655 E. Desert Inn Road; 702-735-6828
Live music and birria de chivo
Tucked away in North Las Vegas, Viva Zapatas is a bustling authentic Mexican spot that’s known for birria de chivo (goat meat simmered in beer with dried chilis), fresh margaritas, and live music. From oysters on the half shell to Michoacan style menudo on the weekend, Viva Zapatas impresses with its wide variety of festive Mexican menu items.
Viva Zapatas, 3826 E. Craig Road, North Las Vegas; 702-643-8888
An eastside secret
Authentic Mexican devotees have long been traveling to Los Antojos. Located in a nondescript strip mall, this no-frills restaurant lets the inexpensively priced menu items speak for themselves. Diners can savor Mexico City-style cuisine in the form of cochinita pibil tacos (spicy pork and pickled onions in banana leaves) and tlacoyos (stuffed masa). On the weekend, pozole blanco (pork and hominy stew) is a must-try.
Los Antojos, 2520 S. Eastern Ave.; 702-457-3505
Las Cazuelas is named after the clay pots used to prepare traditional fare in Puebla, Mexico. With that authentic culinary spirit in mind, the counter-service restaurant offers one of the best representations of Mexican cuisine with chanclas (shredded chicken in between bread with spicy chorizo sauce on top), pelonas (fried rolls with shredded beef and refried beans inside) plus elote, and enchiladas de mole.
Las Cazuelas, 9711 S. Eastern Ave.; 702-837-0204