Flavor: They pay attention to the details here. For instance, the addictive salsa is black because they roast the tomatoes. And they’re willing to mix it up a little, too, hence the Chipotle Hummus a “Southwest version” of the Middle Eastern dip. And Caribbean Fajitas with jerk BBQ chicken, sweet potatoes and pineapple salsa. The pitchers of frozen margaritas, especially the sangria margarita, cure all ills — so make sure you hand over the keys to your designated driver!
Flair: Strikes a perfect balance — more original than Don Pablo’s, but you won’t think you’re in Tijuana, either. The back patio is a cozy hideaway.
3215 Jefferson Ave., Clifton, 513-961-7400. Open Monday-Saturday; 9500 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash, 513-791-4424. Open 7 days. $8-$19.
Cancun Mexican Restaurant
Flavor: Cancun is great for a large appetite and a small budget, offering inexpensive authentic Mexican dishes. Homemade guacamole, queso dip and Jalapeno Bean Soup provide all you need to warm up with one of the best margaritas in town. Lunch specials are ridiculously cheap, and dinners are well portioned. One of the most popular entrées is the Fajitas Mexicanas, with your choice of chicken or steak, served with grilled peppers onions and tomatoes. Margaritas are large and strong.
Flair: The original location is in Forest Park, with a second restaurant next to Western Bowl that’s spacious and comfy. Soon to open: a new location at Glenway Crossing.
11930 Hamilton Ave., Forest Park, 513-851-6310; 6383 Glenway Ave., Western Hills, 513-574-1639. Open 7 days. $5-$16.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Flavor: This rapidly growing chain, whose motto is “Food With Integrity,” features burritos, fajita bowls and tacos made quickly and a margarita some call “delicious.”
Flair: Fast, friendly service makes up for the space’s kitschy design of fake art and basement-like acoustics. Metal garbage cans are cool. Winner of “Best Burritos/Wraps” and “Best Takeout.”
Multiple Locations. Open 7 days. $5-$7.
Flavor: The area’s pioneer Tex-Mex establishment features great chili rellenos, enchiladas and empanadas as well as steaks and famous garlic mashed potatoes and leaner choices from their Southwest Seafood selections.
Flair: Casual, neighborhood friendly and locally owned. Half-priced margaritas on Mondays are a crowd-pleaser.
7404 State Road, Anderson Twp., 513-232-5757. Open 7 days. $9-$25.
Flavor: Some of the best homemade salsa in town served with fresh, homemade chips. You have to try the Mad Max with fried tilapia, rice, beans, cheese and cabbage. Habañero creates other one-of-a-kind burritos such as the Calypso Chicken with apricot glazed chicken and the Chubra Cabre with cinnamon-roasted squash.
Flair: Excellent Ludlow Avenue people watching at one of the window seats or sit and relax with your date before a movie. Sit on the patio and enjoy happy hour at the Newport on the Levee location.
Newport on the Levee, Newport, 859-291-6222; 358 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, 513-961-6800. Open 7 days. $6-$7.
Jalapeño’s Restaurante Mexicano
Flavor: Excellent quesadillas, enchiladas and burritos as well as tasty Mexican beef, chicken, pork and seafood specialties that are among the area’s best. There are also some tasty vegetarian options.
Flair: Décor is brightly colored with lots of authentic Mexican wall hangings and decorations. The servers, many of whom speak Spanish, are professional and well acquainted with the menu.
7980 Hosbrook Road, Madeira, 513-793-0999. Open 7 days. $7-$25.
Flavor: All the usual stuff as far as tasty authentic Mexican tacos are concerned: barbacoa, carne asada, lengua (tongue) and sesos (brains; they wash down perfectly with a cerveza.). La Mexicana has an inexpensive and authentic menu that has been known to incite cravings after as little as one visit.
Flair: The small dining room, one wall lined with little booths, is rarely empty. Giant utensils threaten you from the walls because, well, why not? There’s a bonus Mexican grocery in the back.
642 Monmouth St., Newport, 859-261-6112. Open 7 days. $3-$12.
Flavor: Nada is modern Mexican, tweaked for the smart set. Outstanding guacamole tops beer-batter fried mahi mahi on crisp, Baja-style tacos. The ceviche zings with notes of orange and chipotle. Tres Leches cake, layered with strawberry gelato and topped with creme anglais, is a sweet way to wrap it up.
Flair: Nada is casual, slightly sophisticated and playful in its approach to Mexican dining. Great location next to the Aronoff Center downtown, and the patio is a big attraction when nice weather beckons. Winner of “Best Appetizers” and “Best Mexican.”
600 Walnut St., Downtown, 513-721-6232. Open Monday-Saturday. $14-$24.
Flavor: As the name implies, the taco (with lots of onion and cilantro) is king at this Mexican eatery that’s so authentic they don’t need to say it. If you’re adventurous, try the carnitas (fried pork), tripas (tripe) or linguas (tongue), though chicken and carne asada (grilled steak) are also available. Bigger appetites might want to consider the temptingly titled Fajita Super Special with grilled steak, chicken, shrimp and chorizo sausage.
Flair: With a bilingual menu and no cheesy gimmicks in site, this is where Mexican ex-pats come to get their fix of homecooking. While it can get crowded at this inexpensive bustling bastion of South of the Border cuisine, if you’re jonesin’ for a great taco, it’s worth the wait.
6507 Dixie Hwy., Fairfield, 513-942-4943. Soon to open second location at 100 E. Eighth St., Downtown (no phone yet). Open 7 days. $3-$13.
Flavor: South of the Border specialties like quesadillas and chimichangas form the base of the menu options at this casual neighborhood tavern. But things go pretty rapidly further afield — from Bier Haus Burgers to Chicken Alfredo to Hugo’s Famous Hawaiian-style Ribs.
Flair: There’s a Seinfeld episode where Jerry goes into the local Dream Café and the owner, Babu Bhat, proudly announces that the house specialties are “tacos, moussaka and franks-and-beans.” Well, Tostado’s Grille is that kind of eclectic place. Besides, where else are you gonna go when you’re in the mood to sing karaoke and eat a hot dog topped with sour cream and pico de gallo?
3500 Eastern Ave., Columbia-Tusculum, 513-871-0212. Open Monday-Saturday. $5-$21.