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When you’re halfway into a saucy, spicy, homemade carne asada taco overflowing with colorfully fresh ingredients, not much else matters. You suddenly don’t care who the president is, how stressful your job is, how bad the WiFi is, how you were bullied as a child — no, because this taco, here and now, is everything.
San Diego has turned the unassuming taco into an experience, and arguably a lifestyle. All over the city are tons of south-of-the-border-inspired spots that have either perfected the traditional taco or whipped up creative new spin-offs. Here’s our list of the 10 best tacos in San Diego.
City Tacos was one of the first San Diego taquerias to put an inventive twist on their tacos and garner a cult-like following. The presentation is one thing (they’re the prettiest you’ll find anywhere in California), but the flavors are on a whole new level.
The ‘puerco agridulce’ has an incredibly spicy and sour demi-glace, the ‘borrego’ taco has pulled lamb with wild mushrooms and cotija cheese, and the ‘especial’ has sauteéd shrimp, octopus, and squid. Hungry yet? City Tacos has locations in North Park and La Mesa, with new branches opening in Encinitas and Imperial Beach.
Puesto is more of a night-out-on-the-town spot for tacos. It’s lively with a colorful setting and a great place for taco Tuesdays — or taco… any day. Even if you’re not remotely close to being a vegetarian, order the zucchini and cactus taco. There are also deluxe surf and turf options with lobster and filet mignon if you’re feeling fancy. Actually, before your tacos arrive, squeeze in an order of ceviche or chicharrones to start the night off right. Puesto has two San Diego locations, one in La Jolla and one downtown on West Harbor Drive.
Galaxy Taco is, like Puesto, another spot that has done an excellent job transforming the simple man’s taco into a night-out experience. Located in the lesser-known part of La Jolla, Galaxy Taco is famous for its upmarket menu, its modern tacos, and the impressive drinks selection. Choose from an array of mezcals, tequilas, and tangy margaritas to compliment your dinner. For dessert, try the tres leches cake, which is surprisingly made from sweet potato.
TJ Oyster Bar
TJ Oyster Bar is well-known for its oysters, but also for its eyebrow-raising take on traditional tacos. Check out the stingray machaca taco, the smoked tuna or the taqueso shrimp. They also have a lineup of cold tacos based on raw fish — the diabla ceviche, the shrimp ceviche, and the fish ceviche are all worthy of the extra dollar. While you’re downtown, we highly recommend getting on Brothels, Bites, and Booze: a Culinary Tour of San Diego’s Questionable Past.
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
Oscar’s is one of the shining stars of the grab-and-go taco scene in San Diego. They’re authentic, they’re affordable, and they’re made to order. The spot is best known for the shrimp tacos, served in no-frills cardboard disposable plates. Again, the focus is on the food here, not the fluff. Diehard Oscar’s fans rave about the daily-made sauces, which can spice up any taco (ordered in flour tortillas or corn tortillas). When you’re full, head to one of the Best Beaches in San Diego for Families, Dogs, & Surfing.
Salud is one of the rare success stories of a taco truck that turned into a restaurant. After the truck became massively popular, Salud opened a modest brick and mortar building in Barrio Logan, and hasn’t looked back. At Salud you can get the full spectrum of tacos: breakfast tacos, chile relleno, al pastor, rolled tacos, and carne asada. One of their signature ingredients is the veggie fried shell tortilla with an array of craft beers on tap to wash it down.
Las Cuatro Milpas
Las Cuatro Milpas is synonymous with rolled tacos. Plain and simple. If you grew up ordering the ‘three rolled tacos’ kid’s menu item, this is the adult version of that. They also serve tamales and carne asada, but we recommend the tacos. Las Cuatro Milpas is one of those places with a line that loops around the block, so be prepared to wait. Pro tip: wake up early from one of these 6 Affordable Hostels in San Diego and get to Las Cuatro Milpas before the line starts.
Marisco’s Nine Seas
Of the roughly one billion taco trucks in the greater San Diego area, Marisco’s Nine Seas is a level above the rest. Yes, it may look like the rest, and yes, it may be permanently parked in a Target parking lot — but hey, it’s not the outside that matters. Marisco’s Nine Seas serves up a delicious, fish-heavy menu with items like garlic shrimp, marlin, and a few great tostada options. With the low price (tacos hover around $2) and the lack of seating, this is as authentic as it gets. Grab a spot on the curb and get lost in your plate for a while.
Lucha Libre Taco Shop
Lucha Libre started out as a wrestling-themed taco bar and has become one of the go-to spots for comfort food that does an excellent job curing hangovers. The food is rich, heavy, and loaded with cheese. There’s lots of vintage Mexican wrestling gear donned on the walls, and they’re always playing a sports match on the television. Some menu items like the “TJ” which consists of a hot dog wrapped in bacon err on the side of Tex Mex, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give this spot a chance.
The Taco Stand
Inspired by the taco stands just 30 minutes south in Tijuana, this spot in La Jolla and Encinitas prides itself on having the homemade vibe. Undoubtedly, the specialty here is the taco al pastor. The starkly red pillar of meat on slow rotation as pineapple drips down from above queues mouth-watering from just about everyone. Get everything from imported Mexican beer to Mexican flavored popsicles and Rosito-style churros. The Taco Stand is the full Mexico experience, right here in San Diego.