5 local underrated Mexican spots are some of the bestBy Ellen Johnson | 02/19/2018 3:23am
You don’t need a lot of money to eat at a great Mexican restaurant in Tuscaloosa.
While Taco Mama and Chuy’s are often heralded as being the best places in town to grab Mexican cuisine, they’re just two of many. Both are great, Taco Mama especially if you’ve got a hankering for weekend nachos and fruity margaritas; Chuy’s for that slammer jalapeño dip and Tex-Mex nosh. And both, while not overrated in terms of food, service and style, can also be pricey. Tuscaloosa is home to a number of lesser-known, and less expensive, establishments that serve up authentic Mexican cuisine. Most have margaritas that rival Taco Mama’s, too.
Here are five of the most underrated Mexican restaurants in Tuscaloosa. They’re all close to campus, ideal for tight budgets and known, among smaller circles, for serving up some of the tastiest Mexican food in town.
La Hacienda El Mexicano
La Hacienda is one of the jewels of University Boulevard. Nestled in the shadow of its neighboring restaurants – Irish pub Innisfree and late-night favorite Hooligans, – La Hacienda is often forgotten, but it deserves space in the limelight. In a punny follow-up to that statement, their frozen lime margaritas are tart, flavorful and budget-friendly during Happy Hour on weeknights. Not listed on their menu is a mini pitcher margarita, which is served in a petite vessel ideal for sipping over a long period of time. For à la carte favorites like tacos and quesadillas, La Hacienda is also home run.
Don Toño’s Restaurant & Cantina
Don Toño’s is tucked away among the bars of Temerson Square in downtown Tuscaloosa. Like La Hacienda, it’s cozy and affordable, but it doesn’t skimp flavor and quality. During Saturday Happy Hour (3 p.m. to 9 p.m.), 14 oz. margaritas are only $3. This deal fits squarely into Don Toño’s mantra, which is etched on their front sign: “All day food and drink specials.” They aim to fit a college budget. Don Toño’s is also in close proximity to the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, so it makes a good spot for pre-show or post-show dinner or drinks.
This spot is known for its authenticity and dedication to serving food that’s true to traditional Mexican cuisine. They don’t serve drinks, but they make up for a lack of alcohol with an attentiveness to authenticity in their food. This is a good place to go for Mexican dishes like tamales and pambazos. Located at the intersection of Hargrove Road and McFarland Boulevard, it’s not too far from campus, but Crimson2Go also delivers from their menu.
This is perhaps the most well-known establishment on this list. Located on the Strip across from CVS, it’s been a student favorite for years. It’s often known for drinks more than food, but their dishes are actually quite good, while still maintaining affordability. El Rincon’s menu, spiral-bound and several pages long, is expansive. They have a wide range of appetizers and dips, as well as affordable options for nachos, burritos and fajitas. It’s also walkable from almost every dorm, so it’s easy to get to.
A newcomer to Tuscaloosa’s downtown scene, Central Mesa is still in the early stages of earning respect as a Mexican go-to spot. Located where farm-to-table favorite Epiphany once stood, it’s a more high brow take on Mexican food. But for those on a budget, it’s a great place to get one of the best margaritas in town. The menu has some pricier entree options, but it can’t be beat when it comes to drink and appetizer combinations. On Tuesdays, their Mesa Margarita is a steal at $5. Paired with an appetizer like their pork carnitas-topped queso, there are few downtown pre-meal noshes that compare. Central Mesa is owned by the same people behind Avenue Pub, so flavor is a priority that is never forgotten.