Refinery 29’s “60 Best Mexican Restaurants” List is All Wrong


Refinery 29 is an e-commerce website that claims to be the “cornerstone of fashion, beauty, and shopping for a new generation.” Well, their “Best Of L.A.: 60 Mexican Restaurants Your Mouth Can’t Miss!” list—crammed full of places that push overpriced tableside “guac,” quesadillas made with store-bought flour tortillas, sizzling fajitas, giant burritos, crummy margarita mix, and combo plates covered in yellow cheese—is about as current as parachute pants, Members Only jackets, and shoulder pads.

While I love slurring pick-up lines at cougars over giant margaritas at Casa Vega, devouring crunchy tacos at Henry’s Tacos (yay, they’re still around!), and stuffing my face with a heap of nachos at Cabo Cantina just as much as any other Angeleno, L.A.’s Mexican food has grown up a bit since the 80s.

Refinery 29: let’s get some facts straight. First, we’ll tackle geography. If you’re highlighting Mexican restaurants, the food should be, y’know… Mexican. As in, of Mexico. You list Marix, but that’s Tex-Mex. (Yes, there’s a BIG difference.) And La Cevicheria? Guatemalan. And the ceviche chapin dish you recommend there literally means “Guatemalan ceviche.” (Chapin is a slang name for Guatemalans.) Although you did identify Malibu’s Café Habana as Cuban-Mexican, its “classics”—such as tofu enchiladas, blackened chicken, and Habana burrito—are neither Cuban nor Mexican.

The remainder of the list seems to mostly focus on hawkers of pocho (Mexican-American) cuisine, like veggie-quesadillas, baked enchiladas, chimichangas, and bottomless chips and salsa: El Chavo, Mexicali, El Coyote, Casablanca (definitely the winner for strangest menu in this round-up), Mexico City, and El Cholo, among others. You know there’s something wrong when Rosa Mexicano makes the list and the Oaxacan mainstay Guelaguetza is listed in “other notables.”

To Refinery 29’s credit, a small group of traditional Mexican restaurants were included in this poorly researched list, like Ricky’s Fish Tacos, Mariscos Jalisco, Loteria Grill, and Tacos Leo, which seem out of place amongst their gathering of what should be identified as pocho hotspots rather than actual Mexican restaurants.

All in all, I’d say you can use Refinery 29’s line-up mostly as a list of where NOT to go for authentic Mexican cuisine in L.A. Maybe they shouldn’t make editorial decisions over muchas Cadillac margaritas?

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  • JenniferH_9303

    Wow. This is a little harsh, don’t you think?

    What I love about mexican food (and cuban, tex-mex, guatemalan… Who really makes that distinction anyway?) is that there’s a place for everyone. I have friends who SWEAR by one place. And then I go there and hate it! And I know there are places that are my fave that I know others can’t stand. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay. I prefer the beans at one place and carne asada at another. Each place has their specialties and recipes that cater to some customers and other places cater to others. That’s what’s great about Mexican food in LA- there is something for everyone, just like Refinery 29’s list.

    Just because you don’t agree with all 60 picks doesn’t mean you should tear their list down & say it’s all wrong (because obviously you did agree with some of them). For someone to agree with 60 places (especially something as subjective as food) would be unheard of. Overall, this just looks like an easy-way out to get a story done and try to get clicks by trying to stir controversy. It’s a sad practice of journalism and I’m sad to see LA Mag stoop to this level.

    • SklarT

      Well, Mexicans, Salvadoreans, Guatemalans, etc. do want to make that distinction. Sure there are similarities between the cuisines, but you don’t go around and say, Top 60 Chinese Restaurants and include Thai, Vietnamese, and Singaporean because they all share similarities with Chinese cuisine, do you? According to you, you might as well add Taco Bell, Baja Express, and El Pollo Loco to the list.

      We’re talking about the BEST Mexican restaurants, not Mexican American, not Tex Mex, not Southwestern, not Guatemalan, but Mexican. Ay, dios mio!

    • Gay Foodie Panda

      By the way, Bill Esparza is Mexican American, who is very proud of his heritage and the different types of cuisines that come from Mexico (Oaxacan, Michoalan, Baja, Mexical, etc.). He researches and blogs extensively about the cuisines of Mexico, Latin and South America in their own respective regions and in Southern California. He is well regarded in the culinary world and is great friends with John Sedlar Rivera, Javier Plascencia, Benito Molina, Ramiro Arvizu, to name a few.

    • KimR_4796

      I have serious reservations as to whether the people or person who wrote this 60 list of Mexican restaurants even went to ANY of the places they recommended to the reader. I HIGHLY doubt they did. And I’m really surprised that Veracruz and the Mexican Uptown Cafe, both in Whittier are not included on this list. Both of these places have very good food, better then most around, that’s for sure. If you want to know more about them you can look them up on Yelp!. We have been eating there for many years, and a good sign that their food is really good is when you see both Mexicans and Anglo’s patronizing it. They really do have very, very good food, and I especially LOVE the salsa at the Mexican Uptown Cafe. They make themselves and it’s really good. Sadly, there chips are not though, but they aren’t bad for not being from scratch.

    • Susan

      “….who really makes that distinction”? Seriously? Wow.

      Personally I think poor research on a basic thing as to which country a cuisine is from is sad journalism. Jonathan Gold would have been harsher.

  • KaydenW

    Dear Perez Hilton Of LA Mag,
    Obviously, someone doesn’t understand that especially in today’s world, journalism is all about supporting one another. The way you bash these people (who write a fashion site, for crying out loud… of course they’re going to include Rosa M!) is somewhat appalling. We get it — you’re an expert when it comes to Mexican food, but rather than offer suggestions, you totally tear this story apart. Refinery29 would never go out of its way to make fun of other people, which is probably why their site is one of the fastest growing in the nation — readers don’t like meanness. Maybe you should take a page from their playbook and have a bit more dignity and play like a team player.

    PS. the timestamp on this story is from September. way to be late to the party!
    PSS. If you do decide to write your own guide and offer recommendations, I’d love to check ’em out.


    • Gay Foodie Panda

      I don’t know you sound bitchier than Perez Hilton. I think you need the “chill pill” not Bill.

  • estarLA

    Commenter asking “Who really makes that distinction [Mexican vs. Cuban, Tex-Mex, Guatamalen], anyway?”

    If you aren’t already “bothering” to make the distinction, out of respect to where the food came from and the people who originated it, you really should start. And we should all encourage each other to do so, as proud citizens and consumers of our multi-cultural city.

    Bill Esparza is an opinionated writer – take it or leave it. I’m thinking it’s not even that controversial…do we give fashion blogs a pass on accuracy when it comes to food just because they’re fashion blogs? Talk about lowering expectations.

  • brennae


    I am one of the writers of this piece. First of all, Refinery29 is not solely an “e-commerce” site — a proper fact-check or click on any other portion of the destination other than this referenced story would have easily revealed that it’s an online magazine, a *global* lifestyle hub (with over 7 million subscribers, I might add).

    I’m well aware of your M.O., and it’s not a mantra that I personally or professionally adhere to, nor does my positive-vibes-only employer. In fact, we link out to LA Mag quite frequently, sharing only love and light (and massive traffic). I refuse to engage in what is surely an attempt at boosting clicks by starting some sort of e-war. It’s pathetic, really.

    What’s most astounding is that you’ve made it personal. Have we met? I’m forced to defend an article that took countless days to research (how can you call a piece with **60 restaurants** “poorly researched”?), photograph each spot, Photoshop, write, and then code in the back end. Yeah, a back-breaking labor of love. Not all of us have the luxury of gorging on and making nuclear policy out of the Mexican joints all over town, whilst hitting on women and calling them derogatory names (classy). So, no, I’m not downing Cadillac margaritas at all sir, I’m working 18 hour days.

    Bottom line, my story was meant to be a **lighthearted** guide for fun places for every walk of life to try. And, there is seriously something on this list for everyone. So, I did my job. And I did it well. Let’s not make a mega-burrito out of a grain of rice, shall we?

    However, you are entitled to your opinion, I respect it, and may your belly be full of what you deem appropriate enough for your so-utterly-fine palate.

    Perhaps next time instead of wasting time tearing apart the work of a fellow journalist, you could be constructive and create a list of your own? Please do share the link to the 60 restaurants worthy of your affection; I will be sure to visit each very hungry. However, I will not be visiting this page again, so no need to take additional stabs at my work or persona in my absence.

    All My Best,

    P.S.: Members Only jackets are rad! And, when worn correctly, shoulder pads reign supreme…
    P.P.S.: LA Mag, no need to tweet my response and stir the pot further. Thanks for the offer, though.

    • Gay Foodie Panda

      I disagree to an extent. When you title you piece, “Best Of L.A.: 60 Mexican Restaurants Your Mouth Can’t Miss!” You do need to do more extensive research because of the first 3 words of the title, “Best Of L.A.” Now, if you eliminated that and just had “60 Latin American Restaurants Your Mouth Can’t Miss,” then there won’t be an issue. You’ve already made it appear that you did research all of the Mexican restaurants in LA and have narrowed your list down to 60. As a foodie, such as Bill, we would be disappointed, upset at such a published list. El Coyote Cafe is a joke to many foodies. And in the LA gay community, it’s a restaurant that’s known for the margaritas and cocktails but NOT for it’s food.

      Now, being of Chinese descent, I would too be bothered if I read a list of Chinese Restaurants Your Mouth Can’t Miss and see thing Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Asian Fusion restaurants named because this is no longer the 1960s or 1970s when it was OK to lump a region of cuisines together. These days, the more sophisticated palate would want to know when you ask about Chinese food if you are asking about Cantonese, Sichuan, Hunan, or Shanghaiese, because these days, many people do know and do want to know about the distinctions between regional cuisines.

      Bottom line, if it was meant to be a “lighthearted” guide for fun places, then say so, don’t declare it the “Best of LA” when it’s not.

  • nix

    Dear Bill,
    Once when I was at school, someone borrowed my friend’s essay and copied it, and made a few simple changes so the teacher wouldn’t notice. This rascal then pointed out to the teacher what he thought were mistakes in the essay so he would get a better mark. He didn’t do very well in school and doesn’t have any friends now. Does this sound familiar? regards beer panda!

  • CarlosP_5811


    Keep yelling at the TV on Sunday I am sure they’re going to call you to coach the Patriots soon


  • Susan

    So, I went back and read the orig article, and I have to agree with all the crit. It was a sloppy article. Basic research as to what cuisine is actually being eaten is sort of the point of the entire piece, no? At least get the right nationality.

    I like Refinery as a fashion blog/source, but maybe they need to steer clear of reviewing food. This was a list of places to drink mostly, not anyplace anyone would go for actual mexican food. Or do some basic research. Just because its the internet doesn’t give a pass on the basics.