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Mexican Food’s Rise and Lasting Popularity in the U.S.

Food Trends, Global Flavors, Ingredient Trends, Menu Trends
Enjoying Mexican Food Trends

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Americans love Taco Tuesday, and really, Mexican food on any other day of the week, too. Mexican cuisine is the third most popular cuisine in the United States, and growing in popularity, particularly among younger adults. 

The West has the biggest percentage of Mexican restaurants, and the South has the most overall, but region where the cuisine is fastest-growing may surprise you (hint, all roads lead to the Capitol) 

Mexican is only behind American and Pizza/Italian when it comes to the number of restaurants. While younger generations have flocked to Mexican food, and Latin cuisine in general, still more of them say they’d choose these flavors over stalwarts like Italian if they could only eat one cuisine for the rest of their lives.

More than one in ten (10.6%) Mexican restaurants are fast casual concepts, and nearly as many fall into the casual dining and midscale dining categories, with 9.9% each. Quick-service restaurants account for 8.2% of all Mexican restaurants, while fine dining accounts for just 1.3% of all restaurants in the category. 

Taco Bell has the largest share of the U.S. Mexican food market, with more than 7,700 locations. Taco Bell accounts for 9.6% of all Mexican restaurants in the U.S. and more than one in four (26.4%) of all Mexican chain restaurants. Chipotle, Qdoba, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Del Taco round out the top five in terms of most popular U.S. chains. 

In all, there are more than 80,000 Mexican restaurants in the U.S., accounting for almost 10 percent (9.4%) of total U.S. restaurants. New Mexico has the biggest percentage of  Mexican restaurants, followed by Texas, Arizona and California. Vermont has the lowest share, followed by Maine, Pennsylvania and Hawaii. 

The South has the highest number of Mexican restaurants at over 32,000 across the East South Central, West South Central and South Atlantic, where the West South Central region has the biggest share at 15.2%, and New England has the smallest. 

About 37% of all U.S.-based Mexican restaurants are quick service, making the sector the largest segment of the market. While a bulk of all U.S.-based Mexican restaurants are quick service or fast-food, one-quarter (26%) are casual dining. Only 7% of Mexican restaurants in the U.S. are food trucks, 3% are ghost kitchens and only 98 total U.S. Mexican restaurants are considered fine-dining. 

Aside from the rich and exciting flavors, Mexican food also encourages consumer trial because of its cost: Almost 10% of all transactions are under $10, with only slightly fewer meals (9.2%) coming in between $10 and $19. 

And while Mexican cuisine continues to be a growing category that U.S. consumers love, Washington D.C. has the fastest-growing Mexican restaurant scene in the country. The next fastest-growing are followed by Maine, Delaware, Wisconsin and Montana – suggesting the cuisine is ripe for expansion in new areas where consumers may still be relatively unfamiliar with the breadth and versatility of this much-loved cuisine. 


Samantha Des Jardins is the Content Marketing Manager at Datassential. To learn more about how Datassential helps restaurants see and implement food trends, click here.

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