June 28, 2022

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Best Mexican full-service restaurants in Tacoma-Pierce County

Pierce County’s favorite Mexican restaurant with sit-down service and a full bar comes as no surprise, but the results of our informal poll were far from a landslide.

Before someone gets upset, please note that this particular survey excluded smaller eateries that don’t have a liquor license, and those that are counter-service or a food truck. If you’re in the know, you know that the best Mexican food tends to be found off 72nd Street east of McKinley Avenue, home to the great Los Tamales and Taqueria Mis Tesoros — the latter of which landed on our list of best new restaurants in Tacoma and Pierce County.

Now for the winners of the full-service survey…

Nearly 1,200 votes were cast, and the winner was Moctezuma’s with about 14 percent of the total, or 154 tallies. Studious observers might have recognized the photo of esquites, which was not meant to sway.

Moctezuma’s Tacoma - esquites .jpg
Moctezuma’s, with four locations in the South Sound, serves consistently good Mexican favorites, including these flavorful esquites. Kristine Sherred [email protected]

The family-owned restaurant group — nearing its 45th anniversary — has four locations in the region: Tacoma, Gig Harbor, Tukwila and Silverdale. Festive, vibrant and sizable, each seats at least a couple hundred guests who dig into skillets of esquites and flautas, platters of chile relleno and carnitas, and a finale of housemade flan. The tequila bar has been central to the concept, with 100 percent blue weber agave selections and a cocktail list that exceeds most of its competitors.

In 1978, Arturo Garcia opened his first restaurant in South Tacoma, moving it in the late ‘80s to its current location at 56th and Tyler streets. His son Bernie Garcia took the helm as company president in 2005, refashioning the brand with contemporary flourishes, from kitchen to bar, dining room to patio.

The restaurants have also earned accolades from readers in South Sound Magazine’s and KING 5 Evening Magazine’s best-of lists over several years. In 2017, the Small Business Administration — whose loans helped Garcia grow to four stores and more than 400 staff, with revenue jumping from about $3 million to $18 million — named Moctezuma’s as Seattle’s Family-Owned Small Business of the Year.

The runner-up has served Tacoma for more than 40 years, too: El Toro garnered 10 percent of the vote, or 117 tallies.

Ruben Arias Sr. opened his first restaurant in 1979, growing with his family to four locations — in Tacoma’s West End, Parkland, Puyallup and Lakewood. His son Enrique Arias runs Maria’s Cocina Mexicana, formerly under the El Toro name, in University Place with his wife, Maria.

Close behind, Vuelve a la Vida snuck into third place with 113 votes. The South End restaurant is beloved for its tamales, warming menudo and pozole, and fresh seafood.

About 8 percent of voters said we forgot their favorite.

One reader mentioned San Blas in Puyallup, which is full-service but we missed on this go-around.

Rounding out the Top 5 with 63 tallies, about 6 percent of the vote, was El Borracho Tacoma, which reopened in February after a pandemic hiatus with a fully plant-based menu.

The Matador, which celebrated 15 years in Tacoma last November, was right there with ‘em, snagging 59 votes, followed by Cactus Proctor with 52.

Here’s the full Top 10 Mexican restaurants in Tacoma and Pierce County for your Cinco de Mayo plans or perhaps your next group outing. Margaritas are refreshing.

BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANTS WITH MARGS IN TACOMA & PIERCE COUNTY

Moctezuma’s Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar

4102 S. 56th St., Tacoma, 253-474-5593, moctezumas.com

4628 Point Fosdick Dr., Gig Harbor, 253-851-8464

1150 Southcenter Mall, Tukwila, 206-557-4757

10315 Silverdale Way, Silverdale, 360-698-6080

El Toro Mexican Restaurant & Cantina

5716 N. 26th St., Tacoma, 253-759-7889, eltorofamily.com

12914 Pacific Highway SW, Lakewood, 253-588-5888

13719 Pacific Ave. S., Tacoma, 253-536-9735

12115 Canyon Road E., Puyallup, 253-256-4639

Vuelve a la Vida

5312 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253-473-7068, vuelvealavidawa.com

ElBorracho_vegan-2.jpg
El Borracho reopened its Tacoma restaurant in January 2022 as a fully plant-based concept. Its two sister restaurants in Seattle switched to the same vegan menu in 2021. Kristine Sherred [email protected]

El Borracho

2717 6th Ave., Tacoma, 253-314-5286, elborracho.co

The Matador

721 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253-627-7100, matadorrestaurants.com

Cactus Proctor

2506 N. Proctor St., Tacoma, 253-458-9900, cactusrestaurants.com

Puerto Vallarta

Six Pierce County locations, including Gig Harbor, Puyallup, Graham and Eatonville, puertovallartarestaurantes.com

El Pueblito

3226 Harborview Dr., Gig Harbor, 253-858-9077, elpueblitorestaurant.com

1948 SE Lund Ave., Port Orchard, 360-895-8000

Fiesta Taqueria & Tequila Bar

506 N. Meridian, Puyallup, 253-445-6525, fiestataqueriaandtequilabar.com

10312 120th St. E., Puyallup, 253-446-7016

This story was originally published May 5, 2022 12:28 PM.

Kristine Sherred joined The News Tribune in December 2019, following a decade in Chicago where she worked for restaurants, a liquor wholesaler and a culinary bookstore. She previously covered the food business for Industry Dive and William Reed. Find her on Instagram @kcsherred and Twitter @kriscarasher.