The region does have plenty of good Mexican-American restaurants, serving Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex cuisine, along with margaritas and other popular Mexican-American staples. But it takes a bit of searching to find those traditional Mexican flavors, the kind you might find in immigrant neighborhoods, or south of the border.
Pittsburgh City Paper has compiled a list of restaurants and shops that offer authentic flavors and broken them down by specific dishes: tacos, gorditas, mole, tamales, and tortas. Don’t expect to find many frozen margaritas or deep-fried burritos here. Knowing some Spanish helps when ordering, but many workers also speak English.
Tacos - La Poblanita801 Fourth Ave., Coraopolis
Authentic Mexican tacos are different than the hard shell, yellow cheese tacos many Pittsburghers might be used to. The real deal are soft corn tortillas, loaded with stewed meats, and then topped with raw onions and chopped cilantro. For some of the best in the region, head to La Poblanita in Coraopolis. The converted gas station and taco stand serves tacos absolutely stuffed with grilled and slow-cooked meats. Make sure to add plenty of salsa.
Gorditas - Alquisiras Paleteria2056 Broadway Ave., Beechview
This isn’t Taco Bell. While pita bread stuffed with Mexican ingredients is tasty, authentic gorditas are a bit different, and Alquisiras does them the best in Pittsburgh. This restaurant/ice cream shop in Beechview serves them the authentic way: a masa-made pastry stuffed with meats, beans and cheese, and other fillings. Go for the chorizo or pollo (chicken) if it’s your first time, and the chicharron (fried and salsa-soaked pork belly) if feeling adventurous.
Mole - La Palapa2224 E. Carson St., South Side
This dish is loaded with flavors and is the product of slow cooking a sauce made of chocolate, chili peppers, and spices. It’s spicy, bold, and rich. It’s also one of La Palapa’s specialties, and this popular sit-down destination in the South Side is very proud of it. Order the Mole Poblano con Pollo, for a rich and satisfying (and spicy) dish.
Tamales - Los Campos Mexican Grocery11566 Perry Hwy #F, Wexford
Tamales are incredibly labor intensive to make at home, so skip that and head to the North Hills when you are craving the corn dumplings. Every Sunday, Los Campos sells fresh steamed tamales out of their small strip-mall grocery. Usually stuffed with chicken or pork. Try to get there early as they usually run out fast. Then grab a Mexican soda to wash it down.
Tortas - El Paisano1542 Beechview Ave., Beechview
Sandwiches are popular in Mexico too, and tortas are probably Mexico’s most popular sandwiches. Similar to an Italian panini, tortas typically use grilled bread, and are stuffed with slow-cooked meat, avocado, shredded lettuce, onion, cheese, and tomato.
The ones at El Paisano remind me of my childhood in California, and my friend’s mother who made tortas whenever I slept over. If new to tortas, try the carnitas for a familiar flavor. If feeling adventurous, and if you love powerful beef flavors, get the lengua (tongue). It’s worth it, I promise.