The Great Debate: Is L.A. Mexican Food Really Better than NYC Mexican Food?

Not really—they're just different. Here are five historically grounded reasons why you can't compare them side-by-side.


Photos, left to right: Jake Lindeman, Erin Mosbaugh

It’s a refrain heard over and over again, one that rang in my ears particularly loudly when I moved to NYC from L.A. almost six years ago. It was a proclamation that reverberated through my soul and cast doubt on my new city: “There’s just no good Mexican food in New York City!” The Yelpers yelp it, the media perpetuates it, and the general consensus seems to support it time and again. “I’m from Huntington Beach and I know what real Mexican food is, I’ve even been to Mexico and these tacos aren’t blah blah blah blah.” Well, get the fuck over it.

There is great Mexican food in New York City—anyone who denies it just isn’t looking hard enough. Surely some of the food cooked in one of the 350,000 Mexican immigrants homes in the city is authentic enough for even shrewdest San Diego-born, Corona Familiar-swilling, fish taco-loving armchair critic. The fact is, Mexican food in New York City is different than in Los Angeles. Not better, not worse—just different. Here are five reasons why.

Click to start the list
  • anonymous mexican food fanatic

    This article makes an extremely compelling argument as to why L.A. Mexican IS BETTER than NYC Mexican. Good work and I agree wholeheartedly! Also, you forgot to mention that it’s harder to find nixtamalized corn in NYC to make masa for tortillas, which is why the tortillas in New York generally suck.

    • Jimbrowski

      Agreed. This has only reinforced why NY Mex sucks.

  • s k

    One thing NY also has going for it is “Nuevo” Mexican (whatever that means), with Empellon/Enrique Olvera/Ballesteros/Medina. That said, I still miss the Mexican food in LA and haven’t really sought it out in NY/or have been disappointed…any suggestions?

  • richie

    the only real problem i had with this is that the writer put king taco and taco bell in the same category. while they are both fast food, king taco has authentic mexican food that you can find at any sit down restaurant like the sopes, gorditas, and obviously the authentic tacos while taco bell makes cool ranch flavored garbage.

    • D.A.

      I understand your sentiment, but you were missing the context of what he was saying about Taco Bell and how it’s “watered down” concept of The cuisine was a gateway for those unfamiliar (typically Americans).

  • Lesley Tellez

    Thanks for this piece. As a Mexican-American woman who grew up in Southern California, spent four years in Mexico City and *just* moved to New York, I completely agree that good Mexican food CAN be found in NYC, if you know where to look. I had a gordita in Spanish Harlem a few weeks ago that transported me right back to Central Mexico — y las salsas, ni se diga. To your point about Cali having a more robust agricultural industry, that’s definitely true, but you can absolutely find nopal, dried chiles, two types of cilantro, xoconostle, chile manzano, and more in NYC, particularly in Corona. (It helps to speak Spanish, which is not necessarily the case in CA.) I also think that Californianos are more used to driving to find their groceries — in New York, no one wants to make a trek across town just for fresh tortillas or a bag of chile morita.

  • tracismixedbag

    What a great informative article. I love California’s history. Even though LA has so many different Mexican options. I’m quite partial to the hidden gems we have here in San Diego. You have to work a little to find them but they are amazing when you do.

  • Aravis

    As a transplanted San Diegan, my complaint is not that I can’t find the most *authentic* Mexican food, but that I can’t find the most authentic *San Diegan* Mexican food. Why (why??) can’t someone here in NYC re-create a California burrito? I miss the days of fresh tortillas at every neighborhood bodega, nopales in the farmer’s market, and a 24-hour taqueria on every corner.

  • SteveSando

    This is a bizarre article.
    Asking a Poblano to make a burrito is no more difficult than asking him to work in a French kitchen. He will and he’ll do it great. A burrito is not rocket science. Asking his boss to buy quality ingredients? Maybe that’s more difficult. It’s an insult to the Poblano kitchen to call what is served in NY regional food from Puebla. There might be dishes here and there but it’s hardly representative of the cuisine.
    My feeling is NY is on the road to having good Mexican but its more obsessed with cocktails than a perfect corn tortilla and until that happens, the rest is pretty irrelevant.

  • Tommy

    Great article, I can say from being born and raise in chicago, and spending 10 years in LA that Nyc mexican food is just different from the rest. Its just not my thing. My issue is the tortillas. They are awful and dry. Even my mexican friends prefer to fry them and make tostadas because they are so bland. In my 5 years in Nyc I still dont have a go to Mexican spot.

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