A Spicy Taste of Lincoln – Outstanding Mexican & Tex-Mex Restaurants
by Molly Nance
Lincoln is home to a wonderful variety of restaurants, serving everything from world-famous Nebraska steaks and farm-to-table fresh veggies to seafood, pasta and an assortment of delicious dishes people have brought from countries around the world.
Locally owned Mexican restaurants are wildly popular, and plentiful, in Lincoln. While national chains like Chipotle and Taco Bell have their fans, there are many more choices for authentic and delicious Mexican and Mexican-inspired menus throughout the Star City at restaurants owned and operated by our own community members.
For an evening out, I’d recommend a few personal favorites: La Paz, El Potrero and El Toro. La Paz is nestled in a pink stucco building near 56th and Cotner Boulevard. Shortly after you’re seated, you’ll receive a basket of fresh, warm tortilla chips and salsa to enjoy while you peruse their Tex-Mex menu of signature dishes and combination plates.
La Paz has a charming atmosphere with colorful Mexican artwork and soft lighting throughout the restaurant. Booth seating lines the walls and there are tables for larger groups, as well. For more than 30-years, this Lincoln staple has served up some of the best burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas, tamales and fajitas in town, delivered with friendly, attentive service.
In addition to its line-up of familiar Mexican and Tex-Mex entrees, La Paz also has dedicated a good portion of its menu to vegetarian dishes, such as veggie fajitas, bean burritos and their signature cream cheese, spinach and mushroom enchiladas.
Of course, you’ll want something to cool down those bites of spicy goodness and La Paz has a full bar of drink options to accompany your meal. Enjoy a frosty, salt rimmed margarita or eye-opening shot of fine tequila. My husband prefers a cold Dos Equis with his smothered burrito combination plate.
La Paz is a great place for a lunch date, family celebration or a cozy dinner for two. They also cater for business meetings, holidays and special events.
If you’re in the Haymarket area and hankering for some authentic Mexican cuisine, El Potrero is conveniently located at the corner of 8th and P Streets. It’s one of five family-owned restaurants in Nebraska with another restaurant in south Lincoln, one in Kearney and two others under the “El Toro” brand in Grand Island and Hastings.
El Potrero has an extensive menu of delicious appetizers, entrées and desserts inspired from generations of family recipes. Their motto is, “If you leave the restaurant hungry that’s not good,” and I can confirm they live up to their motto!
The atmosphere is warm and inviting with deep booths, and segmented rooms offering a bit of privacy in the large space. Paintings of Mexican bull fighters, folklorico dancers and gorgeous landscapes (“el potrero” is a mesa leading up to the mountains) adorn the walls, along with colorful flags draped across the rooms. You definitely feel the festive vibe when you walk into the restaurant.
Deciding what to eat is the only difficult part of dining at El Potrero. The appetizer menu alone will keep you occupied for a while, so you may as well order a tall, cool coconut lime margarita or a frosty beer as you review the delicious options.
One of my favorite appetizers is the seafood rolls: deep fried tortillas stuffed with a mixture of crab meat, shrimp and a rich seafood base, served with a side of creamy lobster chipotle dipping sauce. Yes, it’s even better than it sounds. But, if seafood isn’t your thing, tuck into some nacho fries or dip fresh corn chips into their chunky guacamole goodness.
As you enjoy your appetizer, keep El Potrero’s motto in mind—you want to save enough room for their spectacular entrees. All dishes are made from the freshest ingredients, and many are lovingly dusted with queso fresco. From savory, sizzling beef fajitas to stuffed burrito al pastor; colorful enchiladas Jalisco to simple, fresh flautas, El Potrero has something for every appetite and preference. I requested a to-go box and was the envy of my co-workers the next day as I warmed up a still-huge portion of shredded beef burrito for lunch.
The Morales family runs a different Mexican restaurant dynasty in Lincoln with Las Margaritas, Mazatlan, Mazatlan II, El Toro and Agave. All of their restaurants are full service, except for Agave, which offers burritos, burrito bowls, tacos and salads in a fast-casual setting.
The salsa at El Toro is amazing. Sometimes, I’ll stop in just to buy a couple of containers of salsa to go with tortilla chips at home! When I worked at the nearby Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, we hatched many marketing and event plans over enchiladas, tacos and their oversized chimichangas.
Having family members running the restaurants means they get to know you and welcome you when you come in, which is one of the best reasons for supporting locally owned establishments. You are treated as a friend and neighbor, not just a number.
The menus at each Morales restaurant are unique, but consistent in using in fresh, expertly prepared ingredients. From simple tostadas to layers of delicious complexity in their Fiesta en Jalisco (featuring prawns, sautéed mushroom and onions in butter, garlic and spices, plus char-broiled top sirloin served with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo), every dish is a culinary treat for the senses.
These are just a few of Lincoln’s legendary Mexican restaurants. In addition to full service restaurants, the Capitol City boasts many locally owned quick-service Mexican and Mexican-inspired restaurants and food trucks throughout town. Sure, we have our share of Taco Bells and Chipotle chains for those who want familiar staples, but I strongly encourage you to try something unique and delicious from a local shop, like Super Taco, D’Leons or Amigos. A night at the bars isn’t over until you’ve had an Amigo’s crisp meat burrito at 2 am!
These lists are not comprehensive of all Lincoln Mexican restaurants (and not all are locally owned), but they are restaurants I’ve enjoyed and recommend:
El Potrero (2 locations)
El Toro (5 Morales family locations)
Taqueria El Rey