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Best Mexican/Central American Restaurant: You'll want to move in with the chef 

El Centenario

There's life beyond the taqueria, believe us. In recent years, Bay Area diners have been discovering that regional Mexican fare can be as exciting and varied as Chinese, Italian, and Indian. But it's still rare to visit a restaurant where the cooks make the dishes they grew up with, not the food they'll think you like. Ana Rosa Leon, who comes from Autlán in the central-west state of Jalisco, makes you feel like you're eating in her family kitchen. Her unique, phenomenally tasty recipes for birria (spicy beef and goat stew), seafood ceviche, posole, and menudo come from her mother, not some pan-Mexican recipe book. From the moment you dip your chips into her toasty, thrumming salsa roja to the last bite of your pastel de tres leches, you'll realize you're in the presence of the Real Thing. And a meal won't cost you more than $15 a person.

Readers' Pick:
La Cascada Taqueria
Two Berkeley locations: 2164 Center St., 510-704-8688;
2975 College Ave., 510-704-1789

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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