Mexican chains have a strong standing in American dining culture—a fact that won’t change anytime soon. Here are eight standout brands, from both the quick- and full-service sectors, scoring serious points with consumers.
Diners at the original LA location of El Pollo Loco in 1980 knew that they had found something special. The flame-grilled, citrus-marinated chicken was unlike anything else in the area, and it quickly became a local favorite. In just under 40 years, the chain has grown to more than 475 stores, both company-owned and franchised, across six states.
In order to keep up with demand and to provide the best customer service possible, El Pollo Loco follows a quick-service-plus model offering the high-quality fast-casual quality food with the speed, convenience, and value of quick-serves. They’ve also been able to expand their reach through focusing on delivery, as well as developing a rewards app to encourage customer loyalty.
Mexican food may seem like a Southwestern specialty, but that hasn’t stopped this Pennsylvania chain from becoming a local institution. Brought to life by husband-wife team of Juan and Melanie Martinez, the first Don Juan Mexican Grill opened in 2011, and the made-to-order burritos, bowls, and fresh-fruit smoothies were an instant hit on the East Coast.
In the last seven years, the family-run company has gone on to open three other locations across the state, with a fourth in the works. They’ve been cautious about their growth plan, only making the decision to expand when they were certain they could provide a consistent experience with product quality and customer service.
“This newest location, opening in June, will be a hybrid of fast casual and casual dining. We are going to continue to emphasize online ordering for fast pickup, but also have the ability for our guest to enjoy a meal in the restaurant along with our margaritas,” Juan Martinez says.
Inspired by San Francisco’s many Mission-style Mexican restaurants, the burritos at Boston's Anna's Taqueria are legendary, and locals have been have been chowing down on those, along with other specialities like quesadillas, breakfast burritos, and fresh watermelon agua fresca, since 1995. While their footprint has remained relatively small, with eight locations around the Boston area, the flavors have always been huge.
In addition to their physical locations, Anna’s has a booming catering business, bringing their fresh, homemade grilled meats, sauces, and drinks to various events around town. Options range from build-it-yourself tacos bars to mix-and-match burrito trays, and sides like rice and beans and guacamole are always an option. In addition, the company is always looking for ways to give back to the community, and donates food, gift cards, and more to a number of grassroots organizations every year.
There’s no shortage of great Mexican food in Austin, but Tacodeli has been a standout since it first opened its doors in 1999. The chain’s focus has always been on using top-quality ingredients for the more than 40 different taco options on its menu, many of which are organic and locally sourced. This emphasis on sustainability and creating relationships with local purveyors has served Tacodeli well—they’re scheduled to open their 10th location this summer.
Somewhat unusually, the restaurants are only open for lunch and dinner. This is because the owners Roberto Espinoza and Eric Wilkerson strongly believe that their employees should also cultivate outside interests and be able to spend plenty of time with their families. Tacodeli’s model goes to show that a successful chain can also take great care of all the members of its community!
When this chain was crowned number on in a Harris Poll of top Mexican restaurants, plenty of people were surprised. They shouldn’t have been. Since opening its doors in Atlanta in 2000, Moe’s Southwest Grill has gone on to include more than 700 locations on multiple continents. What’s the secret of their success? Could be the wide-ranging menu, which includes multiple vegetarian, gluten-free, and sustainable options. Or it might be the laid-back hippie vibe that many of the franchise owners give off—Moe’s seems to attract its fair share of Deadheads. They’ve also seen plenty of success with their Rockin’ Rewards app, which not only gives points for every dollar spent, but promises a free burrito on your birthday. Can’t complain about that.
It only makes sense that one of the country’s favorite Tex-Mex chains has its roots in Abilene, Texas, where it began as a lone store in 1967. Over the next 50 years, though, Taco Bueno has grown to include almost 200 stores across six states, concentrated in the South and Midwest. While most restaurants are company-owned, the group has been ramping up their franchise network and hopes to keep expanding at a rapid pace.
Over the last year, the company has been leaning hard into its Texas roots, perfecting its recipes for queso, tortilla chips, and more. “We’ve been working on our food innovation, and now we’re going to focus on the technology side,” explains a representative for Taco Bueno. That means growing their business through working with delivery partners, as well as building an app, set to launch in September, that will include rewards, online ordering, digital payment, and delivery options.
Freebirds World Burrito says they were born in California and raised in Texas, and it shows. Though the original location was in California, it was when they opened an outpost in College Station, Texas, that the brand really took off. Of course college students love burritos, but the chain quickly discovered that there was a huge market for their made-to-order tacos, quesadillas, bowls, and more all across the country. With more than 70 locations in five states and no sign of slowing down, you can count on seeing one of these high-energy, free-spirited restaurants near you soon.