You’ve come all these miles.
You’ve come from the North, the South, East and West. You’ve come from Canada, Europe and lands in the Far East, Africa or South America.
You come to the Smoky Mountains for the natural beauty, to enjoy a peaceful getaway in the quiet of the misty mountains.
You’ve come to enjoy the local culture – albeit sometimes ironically.
You’ve come to Gatlinburg for all these things and now you’re hungry.
What’s your first thought?
Right. Let’s get some Mexican.
Look, I’m not judging. The allure of great Tex-Mex can strike anywhere. Sometimes you just want a taco.
Once on vacation in Salisbury, England, in the shadow of the mighty cathedral, I tried to convince my wife to try one of the many Indian restaurants lining the streets.
She, however, opted for the lone Mexican place where we were served the strangest and the worst nachos ever conceived in the heart of man.
Another time, she convinced me to try the Chi-Chi’s in Paris, France.
It was every bit as good as you’d expect a Mexican restaurant chain in Paris founded by former Green Bay Packer tight end and noted drunken Super Bowl hero Max McGee in a suburb of Minneapolis to be.
By the way, apropos of nothing, the Chi-Chi’s Wikipedia entry has the following subhead: Bankruptcy, hepatitis A, and closure in the United States and Canada. Good call, Leslie!
Anyway, people don’t come to the Great Smoky Mountains for the Mexican food but nonetheless, the people in Gatlinburg – tourists and locals – sometimes demand it.
So, if you’re looking for some Mexican food in Gatlinburg, here are your best options.
4. No Way Jose’s
Let’s start by creating some parameters. No Way Jose’s – aside from the name – is perfectly fine in an Applebee’s kind of way
It’s unassuming. Nothing outlandish.
The food is fine if a little bland. The décor is from the Speedy Gonzalez school of Mexican restaurant decorating.
But they have pretty good margaritas and if you’re not uptight and looking for anything super authentic you can go and have a good time.
My daughter used to love No Way Jose’s and we had to eat there every time we went to the aquarium but my daughter was little and did not require that her food came with things like taste.
Then a couple of years ago, No Way Jose’s came to our hometown (Morristown). We went once. That was enough.
You can do worse than No Way Jose’s if you’re looking to eat in Gatlinburg, but if you want real Mexican food and not a Mexico-like experience, you could do better.
3. Loco Burro Fresh Mex Cantina
My soul died a little when I typed the words Fresh Mex but let’s soldier on, shall we?
The crazy donkey suffers from the same issues as No Way Jose’s. The food is fine.
But we’re here for the experience. Do you want tacos and rooftop margs overlooking the strip? This is your place.
It is also your place if you like soul-crushing abbreviations. If you are ever out with me and I, unironically, refer to margaritas as margs, just go ahead give me a double-tap to the brain stem.
I’m out. I had a good run. Don’t let me linger in hellish abbreviation land.
What else can I tell you about the crazy donkey?
Hey, the street corn is good. Or maybe I mean the St. Co. is Go. And they have a choco taco. Seriously, just call it what it is – a Chocolate Taco.
2. El Sonador Mexican Restaurant
Just a couple of blocks down from No Way Jose’s, El Sonador represents the best in hometown Mexican cooking provided your hometown is not someplace like San Antonio, Phoenix, San Diego or, you know, in Mexico.
El Sonador takes a significant step towards a better experience in that they cook with actual spices and do things to try and make the meal flavorful even if that risks alienating certain palates.
The food is good and inexpensive. Basically, El Sonador represents what most non-Mexicans in your town would identify as the best Mexican restaurant in town.
It’s more Tex than Mex but you’re going home happy.
1. Estrella Hondumex
I realize the ramifications of a white guy listing a Honduran restaurant as the best place to get Mexican.
But as the name indicates Estrella Hondumex serves Honduran and Mexican dishes and serves them quite well.
If you want authentic flavors, real honest-to-dios Latin flavors, Estrella Hondumex is the place.
There are “safe” choices if your palate doesn’t embrace delicacies like tripe soup. But there is also adventure and new experiences – at least for most of us – on the menu as well.
Look, I understand if you came to Gatlinburg to chill out and drink a few margs on some rooftops and eat Mexican food from a restaurant group that owns several different “concepts” and decided they wanted to have something with a touch of Latin flair.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, except, you know, “margs.”
Go in peace. But if you want real Latin flavors and a meal you’re going to remember, follow the star.