Almost from the moment Americans have tried Mexican food, they have simultaneously devoured what's in front of them but also desired the next-great thing--the mythical "authenticity" quest, that idea that somehow what we're eating isn't the best possible Mexican dish to consume. It's an idea in Mexico, where the elite look on at our hard-shell tacos and foil-wrapped burritos in askance, as if we're soiling the Mexican tricolor with gusto, and also here in the United States, where celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy deride anything with melted cheese on top and a slush frozen margarita
But the fact of the matter is that Mexican food in this country is as varied and delicious as what we find south of the border and--dare I say it?--as authentic as anything that Montezuma's descendants may make. Here in the United States, we combine the best of both worlds, the Mexican and the American, into creating baroque dishes with a timeless quality. But the United States is also an area where Mexicans forgotten in Mexico have been able to assert themselves with their own unique cuisine, frequently finding fans among Americans unlike in Mexico, where their culinary treasures wouldn't have been able to get them arrested. It's in the United States where Mexican food truly shines.
While there are tens of thousands of Mexican restaurants is the United States, I chose the following seven because they are all wildly different from each other and speak to different traditions. Enjoy!
Gustavo Arellano is the editor of OC Weekly, author of the syndicated column ¡Ask a Mexican! (available on HuffPost Latino Voices), and author of the new book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America [Scribner, $11.99].