Just as I look forward to free bread before a meal at Italian restaurants, I also get excited about free chips and salsa when craving Mexican food. While dunking warm tortilla chips in fire-roasted tomato salsa during a recent trip to Superica, I found myself inspired to list all of the places that grace the table with crunchy chips prior to a meal.
If you choose your restaurants based on whether they offer free chips (we’ve all done it), here’s a list to jump-start your dinner plans:
6401 Morrison Blvd. #8a
Vibe: Offering over 100 tequila selections and a menu designed under the guidance of James Beard award-winning Tex-Mex culinary expert Rob Walsh, Paco’s Tacos & Tequila combines vibrant décor and exciting experiences (think: guacamole prepared tableside) to keep guests coming back.
What to order: Enchiladas de Dennis (chicken, spinach, and cheese topped with chili con queso, avocado, and red pepper crema)
101 W Worthington Ave. #100
Vibe: Designed with elements of the Old West infused with Tex-Mex flavors, Superica is new to Charlotte, but already serves hot plates of their famous Queso Fundido to hungry Queen City locals. Chips are served with fire-roasted tomato salsa and avocado verde salsa. Dig in!
What to order: Skirt Steak (comes with amazing frothy champagne-infused butter – can’t go wrong there!)
3201 N Davidson St.
Vibe: Cabo Fish Taco blends the flavors of coastal Mexican cuisine with the healthy mindset of Southern California. Think: laid-back, hipster-friendly atmosphere.
What to order: Carne Asada Tacos (grilled steak, roasted red tomato sauce, peppers, onions, avocado, mixed greens, tomatoes, cheese)
4426 E Independence Blvd.
Vibe: From the outside, this strip mall gem seems unassuming, but the inside welcomes you into a homey Mexican eatery complete with vibrant décor and friendly staff. The authentic food is incredible, and the portion sizes don’t disappoint.
What to order: Supremo Burrito (chicken or beef, cheese, homemade red sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, guacamole, sour cream; served with a hefty portion of rice and beans)
116 E Woodlawn Road
Vibe: This family-owned business prides itself on serving authentic Mexican and American favorites and providing a “fiesta” to every customer that visits one of its four locations. Colorful plates, a welcoming atmosphere, and eccentric drink menus make it a Mexican destination in Charlotte.
What to order: Chorizo con Huevos (Mexican sausage and eggs).
2917 Central Ave. A
Vibe: This Plaza Midwood gem serves authentic Mexican cuisine in a cozy, cheerful setting. Their enchiladas are a fan favorite, and dishes come complete with a large serving of rice and beans.
What to order: Enchiladas Poblanas (three chicken tortillas covered in signature Mexican mole sauce, cheese, onions, and sour cream).
4271 Park Road
Vibe: Fueled by a margarita bar scene and a dedication to consistent service, Cantina 1511 prepares authentic cuisine in its three Charlotte locations. The imaginative décor matches the lively atmosphere, welcoming both families and post-work crowds alike.
What to order: Texas Red Chili Braised Brisket (Oaxaca cheese, rajas).
7314 Waverly Walk Ave., Suite E8
Vibe: Known for serving “big as yo’ face” burritos in an Elvis-inspired setting, Chuy’s colors the walls with hand-carved wooden fish and colors their plates with authentic Tex-Mex cuisine. Fun fact: I met the owner during my internship with Disney, and he is the nicest, most down-to-earth individual!
What to order: Southwestern Enchilada (homemade blue corn tortilla with hand-pulled chicken, cheese, green chile sauce, and a fried egg).
2433 South Blvd.
Vibe: A beachy, So-Cal atmosphere radiates inside this South Boulevard eatery, complete with a menu inspired by California street food. Its proximity to The Music Yard makes it a summer evening destination.
What to order: Half Chicken Tinga (chicken charbroiled in a spicy achiote marinade with quinoa, black beans, and plantains)
4252 Business Center Dr.
Vibe: Miguel’s serves affordable Mexican and American fare, as well as drinks, in a snug, low-key setting.
What to order: Enchilada Suprema (four enchiladas, one beef, one chicken, one bean, one cheese topped with cheese, ranchero sauce, tomato, and sour cream)
10707-A Park Road
Vibe: Spanish-influenced architecture and Mexican touches make guests feel as though they’re dining in Monterrey, Mexico. This family-owned eatery prides itself on its “must-taste” margarita menu for new visitors – a menu perfected over 28 years.
What to order: Pollo con Queso (grilled chicken breast in cheese sauce, served with rice, beans, and a flour tortilla)
210 E Trade St.
Vibe: Serving specialty Mexican fare and its signature Skinny Margaritas, Vida Cantina draws visitors with its trendy patio and menu of over 100 tequilas. Note: Visitors must dine at the Vida Cantina side, not the Vida Vida side, to receive the free chips with a meal.
What to order: Combo Plate #3 (chicken and spinach enchilada, chicken tinga enchilada, and chicken and corn enchilada served with red chile rice and black beans)
200 E Bland St. A
Vibe: Brick walls and colorful cocktails populate this venue just off the Bland Street light rail stop, a favorite post-work haven for South End residents.
What to order: Fajita-rrito (shrimp, bell peppers, onions, lettuce, rice, black beans, queso, ranchero, pico de gallo)