Gustavo Arellano, author of Ask a Mexican, is working on a book on the history of Mexican food in the United States, and this past summer he invited readers to "tell me your favorite local Mexican restaurant and what makes it so bueno" -- in 25 words or less.
Now he's picked the winners of that contest -- in Denver, it's the Original Chubby's -- and they map out some great eating across the country:
Albuquerque: Lo mejor de los restaurantes mexicanos de Albuquerque tiene que ser Padilla's Mexican Kitchen. They're so good they don't even open on Saturday or Sunday! 1510 Girard Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, (505) 262-0115.
Chatanooga: La Altena: Coming from Los Angeles, their chile rellenos at least make us miss California less. Very nice owners, too. 314 W. Main St, Chattanooga, (423) 266-7595.
Dallas: Cuquita's. The Holy Trinity is present, mi hermano: frijoles refried in lard, abuelita's arroz, tortillas de maiz upon arrival. Start guacamole, order milaneza, finish horchata. Multiple locations.
El Paso: Chico's Tacos -- need I write more?
Eugene: Burrito Track in Monmouth. The al pastor tacos are the best! That's how their best cook won me over! Now that's Amor! 189 Pacific Ave S, Monmouth, (503) 838-4997.
Flagstaff: La Fonda efficiently serves big hot fresh plates of what seems real Mexican food. They're not corporate and they employ people from same neighborhood. 1900 N. 2nd St., Flagstaff, (928) 779-0296.
Houston: El Buey y la Vaca: There is a huge community pot of charro beans in the corner free for everyone, and the salsa bar is never clean but you can tell the salsa is always super fresh.
Inland Empire: Tacos Tamazula's has chile verde to die for, mouth-watering salsa and shrimp ceviche that'll make your tongue hard for a week!!!! 3484 2nd St., Norco, (909) 371-3103.
Las Vegas: You need to stop at Lindo Michoacan in Las Vegas because they have the best shrimp quesadillas ANYWHERE. 2655 E. Desert Inn Rd., Las Vegas, (702) 735-6828; www.lindomichoacan.com.
Los Angeles: Enrique's is so accustomed to great reviews in print that they no longer care. Their walls are full. Delicious, big portions approved by Mexican natives. 6210 Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 498-3622.
New York: Tacos El Rey has the best chilaquiles my wife has every tasted, and their sopa de pollo is a meal in itself. Perhaps to accommodate the surrounding Russian/Jewish community the flavors are mild and the decor your basic serapes and sombreros, but the clientele is 90% raza. 3168 Coney Island Ave., Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, (718) 769-0116.
Phoenix: You must visit the Barrio Cafe. Just don't go on Mondays. That puerta will be cerrada. Why's it so bueno? Two words for your sister: comida chingona. Three words for your madre: comida orgullosamente Méxicana. 2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix, (602) 636-0240.
Sacramento: Lalo's is notable because they serve fresh huitlacoche quesadillas and the birria on weekends is off the chain! 5063 24th St, Sacramento, (916) 736-2389.
Salt Lake City: Oh, hell yeah. A Mexican-Mormon started this great local chain in Salt Lake City called Cafe Rio that is sure to please. It is not really Mexican food, of course, but it sure as hell tastes good. It is given in typical Mormon quantities, of course.
San Antonio: The Original Donut. Best tacos: carne guisada, chorizo con huevo, machacado con huevo. Best plates: chile relleno (viernes), enchiladas verdes (miercoles). Weekend specials: barbacoa, menudo. Donas son fabulosas. 3307 Fredericksburg Rd., San Antonio, (210) 734-5661.
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San Diego: Los Panchos: Tienen tacos, tortas, burritos, y el pinche speedy Gonzales. Para los gabachos y uno que otro pendejo that orders it. 2441 National City Blvd., National City, (619) 474-7194.
San Francisco: Mission, 3 a.m., battle-staggers and hunger-pangs. Oh, for tender carnitas perfectas, salsa picante solamente. Mira! That beloved Golden Beacon doth Shine; El Farolito. Salvation! 2779 Mission St., San Francisco, (415) 824-7877; www.elfarolitoinc.com.
Tucson: El Indio es lo mejor! Soy un gabacho pero it's wonderful food. Most local Mexicans eat there. Come try it! 3355 South 6th Ave., Tucson, (520) 620-0504.
Tulsa: I live in Tulsa but I still go back to Wichita for El Mexico Cafe. Bill's Deluxe Burrito and Tacos, ever since 1962. Excellent beyond description, seasoned to perfection. 2544 S. Seneca St., Wichita, Kansas, (316) 558-8220.