Tacos in Lexington: Southern food celebrates the growth of Hispanic Kentucky

In the heart of Lexington lies a vast network of Mexican and Latin cuisine, bursting with flavor and ready to be celebrated.

Mia T., Fall 2022

When people think of Kentucky food, Kentucky Fried Chicken is usually the first place that comes to mind. Kentucky has historically been characterized by its southern cuisine like fried chicken, grits, and cornbread and, from an outsider’s perspective, this may seem like the only noteworthy option. Nevertheless, Lexington is increasingly known for its excellent Mexican cuisine, in particular tacos, which can be found in a variety of restaurants, stores, and taco trucks throughout the city.

Expectations concerning Mexican food in the South have changed dramatically in the last few decades. From 2000 to 2010, “nine of the ten states with the fastest growing Latino populations…were in the South” (Bluegrass and Birria). This has changed Mexican and Latin food in southern communities, where traditional Mexican dishes supplement and blend with regional foodways. Food trucks and restaurants still offer staples like quesadillas and enchiladas, but have now incorporated dishes like “chicharrones, lengua y cabeza” (Bluegrass and Birria).

In Lexington, critically acclaimed taco shops, known as taquerias, like Tortilleria and Taqueria Ramirez, have paved the way for smaller businesses to put themselves on the map. Taqueria Ramirez is located in the heart of the Mexington community, a neighborhood centered on Alexandria and Village Drive in the Western part of the city, and is well loved by locals throughout all of Lexington. Their tortillas are made fresh daily with corn from Weisenberger Mills in Midway (York). Ingredients like this corn are sourced locally as often as possible, which makes this establishment a true supporter of the community. In 2014, Taqueria Ramirez featured in FiveThirtyEight’s taco bracket as one of the best burritos in the South (Munguia). The Eater “South’s 38 Essentials Restaurants” refers to the local spot as the “Bluegrass barrio” and praises ​​the “intense flavors of the Mexican state of Jalisco” (Addison). The restaurant has also been recognized in articles and best of guides in the Washington Post, Travel and Leisure, FiveThirtyEight, The Splendid Table, Food and Wine, Vinepair, and United Tacos of America, among others.

Since the national recognition of Taqueria Ramirez, food trucks in Lexington have grown in popularity. From a quick bite to a family feast, there are taco trucks all over Lexington ready to satisfy any customer. Trucks like Qué Taco have taken off in the University of Kentucky campus community and have quickly become a local favorite, while hidden gems like La Fiesta Taco are only known to true foodies. The community has taken a strong liking to this. In fact, the University of Kentucky has offered a taco literacy class that uses the unique cuisines of each food truck as a teaching method. Professor Steven Alvarez writes that “this class allows students to explore the issues of immigration, inequality, workers, intercultural communication and literacy through the prism of food” (Lewis 2). By the end of the class, students are “over the fajita stage of Mexican food,” allowing them a better understanding of the culture and cuisine of Hispanic Kentucky.

From food trucks to taquerias, Lexington has a great array of authentic and fusion tacos. Many of these businesses are highlighted during the annual Lexington Taco Week, sponsored by Smiling Pete Publishing and Casa de Cultura de Kentucky (Crave Taco Week). Although southern food hasn’t always been known for Mexican cuisine, as popularity grows and business thrives, it’s clear that taco trucks and taquerias are here to stay in Kentucky. Explore this map to learn more about the many options available to lovers of Mexican food and culture in Lexington:

Bibliography and related sources

  • Addison, Bill. “The South’s 38 Essential Restaurants.” Eater, 23 Mar. 2017, www.eater.com/2017/3/23/14717648/best-restaurants-south-bill-addison.
  • Andrews, Travis M. “Going beyond bourbon and ponies in Lexington, KY.” Bowling Green Daily News, 18 Oct. 2018, https://www.bgdailynews.com/going-beyond-bourbon-and-ponies-in-lexington-ky/article_2a5f40a0-8a3b-5b95-aa0b-ad599d56d9f8.html.
  • Barry-Jester, Anna Maria. “Can A Southern Burrito Overtake One of California’s Finest?” Fivethirtyeight, 27 Aug. 2014, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/can-a-southern-burrito-overtake-one-of-californias-finest/.
  • Barry-Jester, Anna Maria. “Some Restaurants in the South Stretch the Definition of Burrito.” Fivethirtyeight, 13 Jun. 2014, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/some-restaurants-in-the-south-stretch-the-definition-of-burrito/.
  • “Bluegrass & Birria.” Southern Foodways Alliance, 24 June 2020, www.southernfoodways.org/oral-history/bluegrass-and-birria/.
  • “Bluegrass Tacos.” Southern Foodways Alliance, 17 May 2021, www.southernfoodways.org/gravy/bluegrass-tacos/.
  • “Crave Taco Week.” Smiling Pete Publishing, 2021, https://smileypete.com/featured-events/lexington-taco-week.
  • Eater Video and Southern Foodways Alliance. “Watch: Making Tortillas for Kentucky’s Lexington Community: How Tortilleria y Taqueria Ramirez became a local favorite.” Eater, 30 Nov. 2017, https://www.eater.com/2017/11/30/16719972/lexington-kentucky-mexican-food-video.
  • Food & Wine Editors. “The Best Burritos in All 50 States.” Food and Wine, 16 May 2018, https://www.foodandwine.com/news/best-burritos-america-all-50-states.
  • Kaiser, Brian. “In Tacos We Trust: Tortilleria Ramirez for Bon Appetit Magazine. 15 Jun. 2020, https://www.brian-kaiser.com/news/2020/6/15/in-tacos-we-trust-tortilleria-ramirez-for-bon-appetit-magazine
  • “Lexington.” United Tacos of America, Mando Rayo and Jarrod Neece, season 1, episode 2, El Rey Network, 2019. https://www.elreynetwork.com/shows/originals/united-tacos-of-america/1/episodes.
  • “Mexington: Taco Literacy and Food’s Social Connection in the South.” The Splendid Table, www.splendidtable.org/story/2018/01/11/mexington-taco-literacy-and-foods-social-connection-in-the-south.
  • Muguia, Hayley. “ICYMI: We’ve identified the Four Best Burritos in the South.” Fivethirtyeight, 20 Jun. 2014, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/icymi-weve-identified-the-four-best-burritos-in-the-south/.
  • Patton, Janet. “Does this place have Lexington’s best tacos? Here’s what these ‘taco journalists’ say.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 21 Oct. 2019. 
  • Starkey, Jackie. “Who serves the best tacos in Lexington? After more than 8,000 votes, here’s your pick.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 10 Oct. 2022.
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  • “Take a Course on Taco Literacy at the University of Kentucky.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Feb. 2016, www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/take-course-taco-literacy-university-kentucky-180957995/.
  • “Top 10 Best Tacos in Lexington, KY – December 2022.” Yelp, www.yelp.com/search?find_desc=Tacos&find_loc=Lexington%2C%2BKY.
  • VinePair Staff. “Where to Eat, Drink, and Stay in Kentucky’s Most Popular Bourbon Towns.” Vinepair, https://vinepair.com/articles/kentucky-bourbon-travel-tips/.
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  • York, Joe. “Mexington.” Southern Foodways Alliance, 11 Oct. 2017, www.southernfoodways.org/film/mexington/. 

Still hungry? Here are more options for finding great tacos in Lexington:

Where to find tacos in the Cardinal Valley Neighborhood (Katherine Dues, 2022)
Where to find tacos in Downtown Lexington (Katherine Dues, 2022)