USA TODAY -- Frequent flier Margaret Bowles says her favorite Mexican restaurants are suitable for a business meal "if you don't mind smelling like fajitas the rest of the day."
Bowles, a lawyer who lives in Winter Park, Colo., is a fan of Houston's Pappasito's Cantina and El Tiempo Cantina, which have multiple restaurants.
"They make great margaritas, and their food is wonderful," Bowles says. "The wait staffs are fast and attentive, and the prices are excellent."
Mexican restaurants are popular among business travelers seeking good food, drinks and often a fun, down-home dining experience. Top-quality Mexican fare was once the domain of the Southwest and the West but can now be found throughout the U.S.
At USA TODAY's request, restaurant guidebook and online publisher Zagat chose the restaurants with the best Mexican food in 20 cities. Most have inexpensive or moderately priced menus - perfect for tight expense budgets - but some offer fine dining for travelers with deep pockets. A few of Zagat's choices are not open for dinner or open for dinner only on certain days.
"You can find first-rate Mexican restaurants in almost all major cities, and, better yet, Mexican food is usually a bargain," Zagat co-chair Tim Zagat says.
In Atlanta, the guidebook publishing company selects Nuevo Laredo Cantina as the top Mexican restaurant. Diners can expect to pay about $21 each for a meal with a drink and a tip.
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"Despite an odd location in the drab fringes of the Westside, there's always a line at this extremely popular Mexican joint where the excellently prepared fare arrives in uniformly too-big portions," Zagat and its reviewers say. "Cheap tabs, killer margaritas and fun people-watching offset the crowded conditions and run-down, trailer-park looks."
The Baltimore area's R & R Taqueria, which has restaurants in White Marsh, Md., and Elkridge, Md., costs an average of just $10 per person and ranks No. 1 with Zagat.
"Possibly the best food you'll ever eat in a gas station is pumped out at this awesome, authentic Mexican fast-fooder" in an Elkridge Shell station and a counter at White Marsh Mall, Zagat and its reviewers rave.
In Portland, Ore., Autentica, which costs about $27 per person, has "exceptional cuisine with bright, bold flavors that's everything that Mexican food should be."
The "mole is a must," and the "cozy, stylish" restaurant has a lush garden in the back, Zagat and its reviewers say.
New Orleans is known for Cajun cuisine, but good eats can also be found at the two Mexican restaurants of Felipe's Taqueria.
"It's a true show watching the quick staff prepare made-to-order Mexican at this casual uptown and French Quarter duo where tasty, fresh fare goes down even better with strong hand-squeezed Key lime margaritas," Zagat and its reviewers say.
Of all Zagat's top picks, Topolobampo in Chicago is the most expensive, averaging about $70 per person.
The celebrity chef there, Rick Bayless, "wrote the book on fine Mexican cuisine and he keeps rewriting it by setting new standards," Zagat and its reviewers say.
The restaurant's "inventive, refined interpretations result in sublime, mind-melting moles and other subtle, yet "complex, dishes served alongside gold-standard margaritas."
For a less expensive meal, Zagat recommends the adjoining Frontera Grill.
Another expensive Mexican restaurant at the top of Zagat's list is Fort Lauderdale's Eduardo de San Angel, which averages about $59 per person.
"Under the artful eye of chef-owner Eduardo Pria, it's a scintillating tribute to refined haute Mexicano that some find even better than high-end Mexico City restaurants," Zagat and its reviewers say.
Eduardo de San Angle has "a quiet ambiance, and staffers who provide the fascinating history of each dish."
Frequent business traveler Roger Phelps of Norfolk, Va., says "most Mexican restaurants have a casual setting that is good for a relaxed business meal."
He likes Poblanos on Main Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio, which is open only for breakfast and lunch, and Adobo Grill in Indianapolis. He enjoys their "ambiance, authentic food" and soccer on the TV at the Adobo Grill.
Frequent business traveler Paul Tamburelli of Peoria, Ariz., lives in an area renowned for Mexican food and brings clients to Mexican restaurants in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
Some of his favorites are Caminero, Los Dos Molinos, Carolina's and Tex-Mex chain Abuelo's, which has restaurants in 15 states.
At small, family owned Caminero in Peoria, "Mom runs the kitchen, while dad and two sons run the counter," says Tamburelli, a government employee. "At Christmas, Mama makes made-to-order Christmas tamales that are wonderful."
Los Dos Molinos has three restaurants in Phoenix, including one on South Central Avenue that formerly was the home of Western silent movie star Tom Mix.
"It is a great place with a Mexican-New Mexican flare for hot and spicy," Tamburelli says.
Tamburelli praises the "wonderful, fresh food" at Carolina's, which has two Phoenix restaurants.
"If you are looking for a place to sit or an alcoholic beverage, forget about it," he says. "I have actually taken two people here for a business lunch and ate at a counter standing up. By the way, they both asked to go back when we meet again."
The top restaurants for Mexican food in or near 20 U.S. cities, according to restaurant guidebook and online publisher Zagat. The cost is the average price of a meal for one person with a drink and a tip.
Atlanta Nuevo Laredo Cantina . . . $21
Austin Tacodeli . . . $11
Baltimore R & R Taqueria . . . $10
Boston El Sarape . . . $28
Chicago Topolobampo . . . $70
Dallas-Fort Worth Esperanza's Mexican Bakery & Cafe $16
Fort Lauderdale Eduardo de San Angel . . . $59
Honolulu Maui Tacos . . . $14
Houston Irma's Southwest Grill . . . $23
Las Vegas Cafe Rio Mexican Grill . . . $13
Los Angeles Babita Mexicuisine . . . $44
Miami Chéen Huaye . . . $29
New Orleans Felipe's Taqueria . . . $14
New York Mercadito-Mercadito Grove . . . $33
Orlando Agave Azul . . . $22
Philadelphia Paloma Mexican Haute Cuisine . . . $54
Portland, Ore. Autentica . . . $27
San Diego Las Cuatro Milpas . . . $9
San Francisco El Castillito . . . $9
Washington Oyamel . . . $42