15 Essential Latino-Owned Restaurants You Should Know in San Diego
From Mexican taco shops to Peruvian, Colombian, Cuban, and Guatemalan fare.
Hispanic Heritage Month, observed from September 15 through October 15, celebrates the histories, cultures, and contributions of those who trace their ancestry from Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, celebrate their independence on September 15, and the anniversaries of the independence of Mexico and Chile fall on September 16 and 18, respectively.
Here in San Diego, Latinos represent about 30% of our population, spread over the entire county, and more concentrated in the southwest part of the region, including Southeastern San Diego, National City, Chula Vista, and the San Ysidro border area. Currently, Latinos lead all other groups in new home ownership in San Diego as well as nationally, and are on track to become the fastest growing ethnic group in the area, as well as the United States over the next few decades.
In south central San Diego, the Barrio Logan neighborhood is the buzziest cultural stop in the city, beginning at Chicano Park, a National Historic Landmark that boasts more than 75 stunning murals and hosts local community events, like lowrider car shows, dance and drumming classes, and swap meets. The neighborhood itself features dozens of Latino-owned shops, restaurants, galleries and breweries, including Border X Brewing and its sister brewery, Mujeres Brew House, San Diego’s first Latina-owned and operated brewery, and Las Cuatro Milpas, a family-owned restaurant established in 1933 that’s still going strong. The Barrio Art Crawl, a free event on the second Saturday of each month, celebrates the neighborhood with merchants spilling their wares onto the streets in pop-ups, special cultural events, live music, DJs, and plenty of lowriders to ogle.
So as we recognize the vast economic, cultural, and historical impact that the Latino community has had on our city, we have gathered just a few of the many, many Latino-owned restaurants that are the heart and soul of America’s Finest City.
¡Salud! tweaks traditional taco fillings just enough to make you sit up and take notice. Standouts include crunchy beer battered catfish, nestled under mixed cabbage, cotija, pico de gallo, and creamy chipotle sauce; Califas, a steak and french fry-stuffed riff on the beloved California burrito; and al pastor, grilled for maximum crispy char to contrast the soft, thick handmade tortilla and cool avocrema. Wash it all down with a daily agua fresca, local beer, or one of their signature cocktails.
How to support: Indoor and patio dining is on a first-come basis. Order online for pickup via Toast.
Aqui es Texcoco means “Here is Texcoco”, the region widely recognized as the birthplace of barbacoa. The specialty here is borrego barbacoa, or lamb barbecue—whole lamb covered in maguey leaves and slow roasted for hours. Assemble-yourself platos are served family-style and feature loin or rib meat as well as cabeza (head), sesos (brain), and pancita (tripe), with a complimentary cup of seasoned lamb broth to dip into with each messy, succulent bite. If lamb isn’t to your taste, the menu also includes moronga, a sausage similar to Spanish morcilla, huitlacoche (corn fungus, which is delicious), chapulines (grasshoppers), and more familiar fillings like chicken, pressed pork belly, squash blossoms, nopales (cactus), poblanos, and mushrooms.
How to support: Reserve a table online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available. Order online for pickup or third-party delivery.
El Comal serves up homestyle Mexican food—they’re known for their smoked marlin, shredded and cooked on a comal griddle alongside garlic, onion, bell pepper, and tomato, then served atop a freshly made corn tortilla with a handful of gooey melted cheese. Oaxacan-style tamales steamed in banana leaves, tacos dorados, red or green pozole, and barbacoa de chivo are comforting and filling, and an array of caldos (soups), cazuelas (braised or sauteed casseroles), and vegetarian dishes rounds out the menu.
How to support: Call 619-294-8292 to reserve an indoor or patio table. Walk-ins are accepted if tables are available. Order online for takeout, curbside pickup via Seamless, and delivery via Grubhub or Postmates.
Experience the flavors of Guatemala at El Chapin Restaurant in Oceanside, where everything is scratch-made. The extensive menu features plenty of pupusas, thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese and other savory fillings, Guatemalan tamales wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, nearly twenty different platillos, and made-to-order tortillas. There’s a half-dozen warming caldos and desayuno is served all day.
How to support: Stop by for dine-in or takeout. Order online for pickup or delivery (you’ll need to create an account with them).
Don’t expect any fancy “fusion” cuisine at Eli’s Peruvian Kitchen, just wonderful, traditional Peruvian comfort food, like you’d find tucked away in the local neighborhoods of Lima. Potatoes are an essential part of Peruvian cuisine—there are over 4000 different varieties grown there today—so dishes like papa a la huancaina, salchipapa, and causa rellena are a great place to start. Stop by on Sunday morning (the only day breakfast is served) for pan de chicharron, a fried pork sandwich with sweet potatoes, and wash it down with chicha morada, a traditional blue corn beverage, or house-made passionfruit juice. Don’t wait till the last minute to decide though, if the food runs out early, they close early.
How to support: Stop by for dine-in or pick up or delivery via UberEats.
If you've never tried Colombian cuisine, come to this casual, family-owned spot and let the always-friendly staff introduce you to it. Break out the stretchy pants for bandeja paisa, the beloved national dish of Colombia that’s typically eaten at lunch; it’s a big platter full of rice and beans, grilled sirloin steak, chicharron, Colombian sausage, fried plantain, an arepa, and avocado, topped with a fried egg. If you’re not quite up for a full farmer’s lunch, a couple of empanadas and a warming bowl of ajiaco or sancocho are a perfect pairing, especially with something cold and refreshing from the eclectic array of maltas.
How to support: Stop by for dine-in or takeout.
Mujeres Brew Club co-founders Estela Davila and Carmen Favela opened San Diego’s first Latina-owned brewery last November with a handful of collaborative brews and guest taps. Since then they’ve been pouring every Tuesday through Sunday, having added Mujeres y Musica with live music, loteria nights, DJs and salsa events, and pop ups like Sunday Low and Slow Day Market featuring local vendors, food items, and lowriders. Check their Facebook and Instagram pages for info on what’s pouring, who’s playing, and when it’s happening.
How to support: In person for patio drinking or takeout.
We admit it, we’re cheating just a little bit here, because Mujer Divina is also owned by Tuetano Taqueria’s Priscilla Curiel, who revamped her popular Naturale Deli in National City into a coffee and burrito shop during the pandemic. Using the same excellent birria that goes into Tuetano’s tacos, these Tijuana-style burritos de hielera are available in machaca ranchera, chorizo with potatoes, and chicharron in salsa verde varieties, plus weekly specialty burritos. Coffee drinks using organic beans from Chiapas, Mexico, include café de olla, drip brews, and an array of flavored lattes, with a tempting selection of pastries, toasts, and scones.
How to order: In person or online via Toast.
Vivian Hernandez-Jackson combined her Le Cordon Bleu credentials and Cuban heritage to create Azucar, a pretty, cozy little place to satisfy your sweet, savory, or caffeinated cravings. If it’s lunchtime, go for pastelitos de carne—all-butter puff pastries stuffed with picadillo, a soft, fragrant stew of ground beef, tomatoes, and olives, or, of course, a Cubano. But really, the desserts and pastries are the stars here, and none satisfies a sweet tooth like Divina, a spectacular combination of white chocolate cake, passion fruit curd, and raspberries under a blanket of toasted marshmallow.
How to support: In person or order online for pickup.
Although Antonio “Tony Tee'' Ley bases his food truck, Corazón de Torta, in Logan Heights, you can find him outside of tasting rooms and breweries throughout San Diego County. Short rib guajillo tacos have a rich chile flavor from being slow cooked, with crispy end bits here and there for a crunchy surprise. Carne asada bathed in chipotle meat sauce and gooey melted cheese give “The Dirty” all the juicy flavors you crave, and vegetarian and vegan options like the popular vegan cauliflower mole ensures everyone leaves satisfied.
How to support: Find their weekly schedule online or via Instagram, Facebook and other socials.
Owner/chef Priscilla Curiel’s tiny yellow taco shop just this side of the border in San Ysidro, Tuétano Taqueria, had barely opened its doors when she started getting rave reviews both locally and nationally. One bite of her slow-braised, succulent birria with tuétano, a thick hunk of roasted marrow bone, and you’ll know why. Besides tacos, tortas and quesadillas, the shop offers frequent specialty items like flautas or chile en nogada, as well as collaborations and pop up events with other local restaurants. Find them on their Facebook and Instagram pages. And yes, you’ll want to pick up a jar or two of that addictive salsa macha to take home and put on everything you eat. If a trip to San Ysidro isn’t in the cards, later this fall Tuetano Taqueria will take its place as the anchor of the brand new Old Town Urban Market in the heart of the historic Old Town district.
How to support: Order for pickup via Toast.
Ismael Alvarenga, owner of Cuscatlan Comida Salvadoreña, fled the civil war in his native El Salvador during the ‘70s, but it wasn’t until the early ‘00s that he was able to realize his dream of opening his own restaurant. Appetizers like tamalitos de elote con crema (corn tamales) and pasteles de pollo (fried pies stuffed with chicken) shine, and pupusas, in a baker’s dozen varieties, are a must-try, as are the guisados, mojarra frita (whole fried fish) and camarones picoso (shrimp in spicy sauce). Check out their Facebook or Instagram pages for updates.
How to support: Stop by for in-house dining, or call 760-291-1225 for takeout or delivery.
Las Cuatro Milpas may be most famous for the long line that stretches out the door every day, and it’s been that way ever since Petra and Nati Estudillo opened in 1933. The menu is short and you’ll want one of everything, but definitely get tacos—they come in chicken or pork on freshly made tortillas, regular style and rolled -- along with sides of rice and beans. Other standouts are tamales, burritos, chorizo con huevo and menudo, which is served on Saturdays only. This is Mexican comfort food at its finest, simple, savory and satisfying. Cash only, and don’t wait too long for the line to die down—they close at 3pm.
How to support: Get in line.
San Diego's first Latinx owned and operated brewery, Border X, is truly a family endeavor, founded by brothers David and Marcelino Favela and Marcelino’s two sons, Marcel and Martin. Rather than trying to duplicate the flavor profiles of European beers, they instead drew inspiration from traditional Latin flavors, first coming up with their flagship Blood Saison, a ruby red beauty rich with tart hibiscus flowers. They soon expanded to Horchata Golden Stout, Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout, and a half dozen others, earning them a 2020 James Beard Semifinalist nomination for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Producer along the way.
How to support: Stop by for a beer and some tacos.
Brothers Miguel Angel and Jorge Fernandez serve some of the most delicious Tijuana-style birria on either side of the border, slowly stewing it overnight into a soul-satisfying mélange of beef, chiles and spices. Order it by the bowl for self-assembly with the accompanying fresh corn tortillas, radishes, cilantro, onions and chile de árbol salsa, or get it already tacoized in a birria oil-fried tortilla, and do give it a dunk a cup of their heavenly consomme. Top it with succulent nervio (tendon) or choose chupacabra, gently fried tortillas, onions, serrano chiles, and melted queso under a bed of birria. And if tres leches cake is on the menu, you want that too. They’re still operating on a to-go basis only, so your best bet is to call ahead for pickup. Whatever you do, P plan to go early - they’re open 7am-2pm, Wednesday through Sunday.
How to support: Call 619-628-8235 for takeout.