Mexican restaurant foods are more popular than ever, says foodservice industry researcherTechnomic Inc ., Chicago.

Technomic says limited-service Mexican restaurant chains increased sales by 2.7 percent and unit counts by 1.8 percent in 2009, despite an overall industry-wide contraction of 3.2 percent during the same time period. Several Mexican chains within the Top 500 also were able to achieve double-digit sales increases, and the number of Mexican menu items on restaurant menus is up from 2009 to 2010.

“The rise in popularity of Mexican food is the culmination of a number of factors all converging in foodservice at this moment,” says Mary Chapman, Technomic's director of product innovation. “The fast casual boom is certainly part of the equation – Mexican concepts fit well into the fast casual model. Consumers are also calling for authentic ethnic dining experiences and spicier, more flavorful foods, so Mexican concepts and menu items are on trend in a number of ways right now.”

Technomic says its latest "market intelligence report" offers foodservice industry insights, growth opportunities and consumer preferences with regard to Mexican food.

Report findings include:

-- The number of Mexican entrees on U.S. restaurant menus was up 3.3 percent from the first half of 2009 to the first half of 2010, with 5.4 percent more restaurant chains offering Mexican menu items over that time period.

-- Although chicken and beef are still the most prevalent ingredients in tacos, the number of fish tacos on restaurant menus was up an impressive 22.5 percent from the first half of 2009 to the first half of 2010.

-- Consumers have begun to respond to regional preparations of Mexican items, much like Tuscan or Sicilian within the Italian category or Cantonese and Sichuan varieties of Chinese food.

Technomic said its findings incorporate data from its MenuMonitor online trend-tracking resource, which analyzes the menus of more than 1,200 top chains, emerging concepts and leading independent restaurants. It also features data culled from Technomic’s Consumer Trend Reports. The report also profiles 92 leading and emerging Mexican restaurant concepts, chosen for their size, growth, potential and/or interesting position.