The Best Mexican Restaurants You Need to Try in San Diego Right Now
It’s easy to find great Mexican food in San Diego.
Mexican food is a huge part of San Diego’s culinary culture. After all, less than two centuries ago, California was still part of Mexico. It stands to reason then that exceptional Mexican food is readily available nearly everywhere in the city. Or it was, until the coronavirus hit our shores and we went into defense mode by shutting down to flatten the curve.
And while the restaurant industry scrambled to adjust to new business models, many of San Diego’s Mexican restaurants immediately switched to the takeout/curbside pickup/delivery model. Food trucks, taco stands, and mom and pop joints kept us safe and well-fed with our favorite birrias and barbacoas and, more importantly, gave us a measure of normalcy amidst a global crisis. Now that many of the dining restrictions have been lifted, it’s more important than ever to support our Mexican restaurant community. We’ve gathered some of our favorites here so you can spend less time Googling and more time enjoying the best tacos, burritos, and quesadillas that America’s Finest City has to offer. And remember: wear your mask, wash your hands, keep your distance, tip generously and thank profusely.
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 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 order: Find their weekly schedule online or via Instagram, Facebook and other socials.
For some of the best birria on either side of the border, head south to Nestor and let brothers Migues Angel and Jorge Fernandez serve you a bowl of theirs, Tijuana-style. Slowly cooked overnight, the beef, chiles, and spices meld into a juicy stew that’s ready to tuck into warm corn tortillas and garnish with a trinity of radishes, cilantro and onions. Order it for self-assembly or get tacos already put together, fried up in birria oil, and ready for dunking in a cup of their outstanding consomme. Customer service here is top notch and questions are encouraged if there’s an item you’re not familiar with. They’re still doing takeout only, but plan to get there early anyway—they’re only open 7 am–2 pm Wednesday through Sunday.
How to order: Walk up or call 619.628.8235 for takeout.
Las Cuatro Milpas
Way back in 1933, Petra and Nati Estudillo opened Las Cuatro Milpas, and there’s been a long line outside their door ever since—but don’t worry, they’ve perfected the art of keeping it moving. The menu is simple, with chicken and pork tacos (rolled or regular style), tamales, burritos, chorizo con huevos and, on Saturdays, menudo. When you’re craving Mexican comfort food, this is the place to go. Just don’t wait until the line dies down—they close at 3 pm or whenever the food runs out, whichever comes first. Cash only.
How to order: Get in line.
Priscilla Curiel not only managed to keep her flagship restaurant, Tuetano Taqueria open with a combination of Venmo and sheer grit, she also revamped her popular Naturale Deli in National City into Mujer Divina Burrito and Coffee House late last year. Smaller, thinner Tijuana-style burritos de hielera use the same succulent birria that made Tuetano famous along with combinations like chorizo with potatoes, chicharron in salsa verde, machaca ranchera, and a rotating menu of weekly specialties. Coffee drinks are made with organic beans from Chiapas, Mexico, in drip brews, a variety of lattes, and cafe de olla, alongside an array of breakfast pastries, toasts, and scones.
How to order: In person or online via Toast for pickup.
Aqui es Texcoco
An homage to Texcoco, the region of Mexico considered to be the origin of barbacoa, Aqui es Texcoco specializes in 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, sesos, and pancita (tripe), with a complimentary cup of seasoned lamb broth to dip into for a messy, succulent bite. If lamb isn’t to your taste, the menu also includes moronga, a sausage similar to Spanish morcilla, huitlacoche (corn fungus, but trust us, it’s delicious), chapulines (grasshoppers) and additional familiar fillings like chicken or mushrooms.
How to order: Reserve a table indoors or on the patio online. Walk-ins are accepted if seating is available. Order online for takeout or delivery via UberEats and Grubhub.
El Comal Mexican Restaurant
El Comal serves up homestyle Mexican food at its finest. Thick homemade corn tortillas, Oaxaca-style tamales steamed in banana leaves, tacos dorados, red or green posole, and barbacoa de chivo are cozy, comforting, and filling. Rounding out the menu you’ll find an array of caldos (soups), cazuelas (braised or sauteed casseroles) and vegetarian dishes.
How to order: 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.
Lola 55 scores big with locals for their meaty, juicy filet mignon tacos topped with avocado mousse, smoky pasilla salsa, crispy leeks, and jalapeño toreado. Vegetarian options are equally thoughtful—the squash blossom relleno, with vegan sausage stuffed inside a squash blossom and deep-fried, is especially delectable. Takeout salads aren’t usually inspired, but Lola Caesar is the exception, made in the original style using whole crisp romaine leaves dressed in traditional anchovy dressing and showers of parmesan and pepper, with stout hunks of toasted bread.
How to order: Indoor and patio seating is on a first-come basis. Call 619-542-9155 or order online for takeout, or delivery via DoorDash.
Oscar's Mexican Seafood
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood is a beloved San Diego mainstay—nobody does Ensenada-style fish tacos better. But there’s more to the menu than that, including seasoned seafood piled into warm corn tortillas, crab and shrimp tostadas, or tortas stuffed with meat served on toasted Mexican bread. There’s also tangy ceviches, meal-sized salads, and a trio of breakfast items, plus dinner plates with all the requisite sides.
How to order: A small number of tables are available indoors and outside on a first-come basis. Order takeout in person or online.
Handmade stone-ground blue corn tortillas, sustainable meats and seafood, slow-cooked guisados, scratch salsas and Mexican lagers brewed at their Mission Valley cerveceria make the Puesto experience memorable. Choose a la carte tacos or order them in trios—tamarindo shrimp, Maine lobster, and filet mignon make a great surf-and-turf pairing. There’s plenty of cocktail options as well—margaritas come in nine fun flavors, and there’s a fine selection of high-end tequila and mezcal available in tasting flights or by the bottle.
How to order: Reserve an indoor or patio table online via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if tables are available. Order online for takeout or delivery via Postmates.
The Taco Stand
You can always tell a great restaurant by how they treat their side dishes and condiments. The Taco Stand makes their tortillas, guacamole, and salsas fresh daily, and every dish is made to order. Hand-carved al pastor has the right hit of tangy/sweet pineapple; tender, savory Angus carne asada is meltingly tender; and seafood choices like grilled mahi mahi, spicy shrimp, and batter-fried white fish are fresh and light. If you’re craving hits early, the stand opens at 9 am and has several hearty breakfast burritos in addition to the regular menu.
How to order: Indoor and patio seating is on a first-come basis and varies by location. For takeout, call your location or order online for takeout, and delivery via DoorDash.
Tacos El Gordo
Tijuana is well known throughout Mexico for its street tacos and that’s exactly what inspires Tacos El Gordo. Think spicy pork adobada, mulas on doubled-up tortillas, asadas, cabeza (beef head meat), lengua (tongue), sesos (brains), and other traditional offal fillings. Besides tacos, the spot serves overflowing sopes, quesadillas, vampiros (crispy griddled tacos), and tostadas.
How to order: Indoor and patio seating is on a first-come basis and varies by location. For takeout, call your location or order in person.
Right next to El Campo Santo cemetery sits Tahona, San Diego’s best mezcaleria. The menu is short and tight, consisting of tacos in three styles: chicken tinga, beef barbacoa, and mushroom. They’re scrumptious, but what you really want to check out is the killer lineup of tequila and mezcal cocktails and tastings. Cocktails come in a half dozen innovative versions from a twisty Paloma to a juicy watermelon Whaley House punch. There are thirty artisanal and ancestral bottles of mezcal encompassing a dozen or so different agave varieties, three mezcal tasting kits and live Spanish guitar music every Sunday.
How to order: Reserve an indoor or patio table online via OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted if tables are available. Order in person or call 619-255-2090 for takeout.
TJ Oyster Bar
Seafood, notably raw and marinated in citrus juice, is the specialty of the house at TJ Oyster Bar’s three locations. In the best tradition of Baja, ceviches and aguachiles are piled onto tostadas or served cocktail-style. Fried fish, smoked tuna, garlic shrimp, octopus, and stingray are great choices, and larger entrees like whole fish empapelado (steamed in parchment paper) and burritos are available. Wash it all down with a margarita, mojito, or michelada, or a cold can or bottle from their beer list.
How to order: Indoor seating is on a first-come basis and varies by location. For takeout, call your location or order in person.
Chef/owner Priscilla Curiel had barely opened her tiny taqueria on the main drag in San Ysidro in late 2018 when she started getting loads of attention. Dig into her scrumptious tacos and you’ll understand what the fuss is about. Quesabirria, milky mozzarella melted on a tortilla and topped by warmly spiced, long-braised birria is a homey bit of comfort food. Do get the tuétano, a hefty chunk of beef shank bone that’s roasted until the marrow is lusciously soft, dunked in birria broth and seared on a grill. Spoon it on the birria or scoop bits into a hot tortilla with salsa macha. Pair it with a Yucatan specialty—cochinita pibil “dirty style”—marinated pork shoulder slowly roasted in citrus juice and achiote, then pulled and piled onto a tortilla under pickled onion and cilantro.
How to order: A few indoor tables are available on a first-come basis. Order for takeout In person or online via Toast.