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.
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
▪ 2717 6th Ave., Tacoma, 253-314-5286, elborracho.co
▪ 721 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253-627-7100, matadorrestaurants.com
▪ 2506 N. Proctor St., Tacoma, 253-458-9900, cactusrestaurants.com
▪ Six Pierce County locations, including Gig Harbor, Puyallup, Graham and Eatonville, puertovallartarestaurantes.com
▪ 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.