Food & Drink

San Diego Chefs Reveal Their Favorite Tacos

Published On 12/03/2015 Published On 12/03/2015
Courtesy of of Tacos Perla

San Diego’s taco cred is well-established. From under-the-radar taquerias to well-known favorites, the city is bursting at the seams with great spots to score seasoned meat, fish, or veggies wrapped in a warm tortilla. Because life’s too short to eat less-than-extraordinary tacos, we tapped 10 San Diego chefs to name their favorite. Take a look to see which creations made the cut. Your to-eat list is about to get even longer.

Sara Norris/Thrillist

Chef Abe Botello of West Coast Tavern

His pick: Mahi taco from Sandbar

Address and Info

Pacific Beach

Abe appreciates Sandbar’s modern twist on a classic fish taco, featuring grilled or fried mahi and a flour tortilla crusted with melted cotija cheese. “It comes with cabbage, salsa fresca, more cotija cheese, and tangy and spicy aioli to tie the whole taco together,” he says. Considering Sandbar has won DiningOutSD’s Fish Taco TKO Championship at the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival the last two years back-to-back, you can feel confident heading here to satisfy your next fix.

Duck Dive

Sous Chef Ryan Tuskan of Encinitas Fish Shop

His pick: Voodoo taco from Duck Dive

Address and Info

Pacific Beach

Ryan deems the Voodoo Taco from Duck Dive a “unique fish taco experience” thanks to tasty elements like a “crispy, spicy tortilla” and “sweet and tangy papaya salsa with the perfect kick.” “It’s salmon cooked with a Sculpin Sriracha bbq sauce with hints of brown sugar and blood orange zest, topped with Napa cabbage and house-made papaya salsa, all in a crispy blacked flour tortilla,” he says. We’d hit that.


Chef-Owner Kurt Metzger of Kitchen 4140

His pick: Fish taco from Oscar's Mexican Seafood

Address and Info

Pacific Beach and Hillcrest

Chef Kurt appreciates how Oscar's sources high quality, local ingredients for their tacos and makes all of their sauces in-house, daily. His favorite sauce is the habanero, but he adds that “no matter what you choose, they always really elevate the flavor of the taco, which you can also order in either a corn or flour tortilla.”

Courtesy of Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge

Executive Chef Tim Kolanko of Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge

His pick: Taco de Barrio from Salud

Address and Info

Barrio Logan

Tim is a fan of this compact taco shop because it “perfectly captures” everything he loves about Barrio Logan. “There's nothing better than a restaurant that has a true sense of place,” he says. Tim’s go-to is the Taco de Barrio, which features stewed beef, black beans, and cactus wrapped in a handmade flour tortilla.


Chef Kevin Templeton of Barleymash

His pick: Pork adobada from Cantina Mayahuel

Address and Info

North Park

Kevin says he’s a fan of all of the tacos available at Cantina Mayahuel in North Park (particularly the daily specials), but if pressed to choose, he’d pick the pork adobada. The restaurant’s appeal extends beyond the food. For him, it’s a winning combination of  “atmosphere, quality product, and amazing tequilas.”


Chef/Owner Ken Irvine of Bleu Bohème

His pick: Chicken and pork tacos from Las Cuatro Milpas

Address and Info

Barrio Logan

Ken says a lot of different tacos around town have a special place in his heart. “From Tj Oyster Bar, it’s the stingray machaca, smoked tuna, or octopus tacos. From Aqui es Texcoco, I love the quesataco -- grilled cheese with lamb or huitlacoche. If I had to pick one, it would be from Las Cuatro Milpas, because they make their own tortillas.” He describes the braised mixture of chicken and pork served with crema, queso fresco, and house salsa as “simple, good,” and “priceless,” because the tortillas are fried in lard. He likes to visit is at 2:30pm, right before closing, when there’s no line.


Chef Alberto Morreale of Farmer’s Bottega and Fig Tree Café

His pick: Ocho taco from Tacos Perla

Address and Info

North Park

Tacos Perla is one of Alberto’s (and his wife’s) favorite spots to feast on tacos. He dubs the Ocho tacos (braised, then grilled octopus with poblano, pesto, and cheese wrapped in a fresh, hand-made corn tortilla served with salsa verde and fiery carrot habanero) “amazing” and “the perfect blend of flavors.”


Corporate Chef Alfie Szeprethy of Sammy's Woodfired Pizza & Grill

His pick: Puerco Agridulce from City Tacos

Address and Info

North Park

City Tacos (one of the local restaurants we think should be a chain) is home to Alfie’s most prized taco “by far” -- the Puerco Agridulce. “It has this unbelievable spicy and sour demi-glace, avocado pulp, red onions, fresh serrano peppers, cilantro, and crispy rice noodles,” he explains. “Oh, and they make their tortillas in-house. Unreal!” 


Terryl Gavre of Bake Sale Bakery, Cafe 222, and Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant

Her pick: Zucchini and cactus taco from Puesto

Address and Info

La Jolla and Downtown (Marina District)

“I’m a HUGE Puesto fan. I love to sit at the bar on a Sunday and feast on tacos,” Terryl says. Even though she describes herself as “not even close to being a vegetarian”, the Zucchini and cactus taco is her “secret indulgence.” “A house-made corn tortilla is the perfect vessel for their delicious combination of crispy melted cheese, with a mixture of zucchini, sweet corn, and cactus,” she explains. “It may be vegetarian, but it is in no way ‘clean and healthy tasting,’ which is why I love it. If I want that, I eat at home.”


Chef Jaime Chavez of Sirena

His pick: Birria taco from Talavera Azul

Address and Info

Chula Vista

Jaime says Talavera Azul is a “hidden gem with a truly authentic and traditional feel” that also has “fantastic food.” His go-to taco is the birria, with “perfectly seasoned meat on a housemade tortilla.”

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Erin Jackson is San Diego-based food writer and photographer who loves sharing her latest finds. Follow her on Twitter if you enjoy food content, random thoughts, and cat photos.  

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Sandbar 718 Ventura Pl, San Diego, CA 92109

Located right on scenic Ventura Beach, Sandbar offers award-winning tacos, along with a selection of tasty burgers and seafood and 66 high-end tequilas and mezcals -- including its own hand-selected barrel of tequila from Herradura Tequila distillery in Guadalajara, Mexico. Best of all, you can imbibe with a view of the sunset over the Pacific.

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2. Duck Dive 4650 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109 (San Diego)

Duck Dive is an American Gastropub knocking it out of the park in two categories: gourmet food and drinks that include micro-brews and speciality cocktails.

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3. Oscar's Mexican Seafood 746 Emerald St, San Diego, CA 92109

This small San Diego chain boasts fresh, Mexican-inspired seafood dishes and other south-of-the-border fare.

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4. Salud San Diego 2196 Logan Ave, San Diego, CA 92113

The tacos are what's on offer at this compact taco shop in Barrio Logan. They're guaranteed to be delicious because they’re created by The San Diego Taco Company, voted best caterer in San Diego. Plus, it's located in the original Bank of Italy building, built in 1910— how bout a side of history with those cheap tacos?

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5. Cantina Mayahuel 2934 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA 92116 (North Park)

If you've ever been curious about agave, then the staff at Cantina Mayahuel has you covered. They’ll make you a margarita if you really want them to, but these guys are purists who drink their tequila neat. Behind the bar, there’s an ever-changing collection of over 200 tequilas and 100 mezcals on the shelf, including its very own brand, Don Lorenzo Reposado Reserva.

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7. Tacos Perla 3000 Upas St, San Diego, CA 92104

You need to go out and grab an Ocho taco right now.

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8. City Tacos 3028 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104 (North Park)

Imaginative fillings, like shrimp battered in a serrano-tempura batter, adobo-rubbed mahi mahi, and pork tenderloin with a spicy, sweet, and sour demi-glace have been attracting repeat customers since the shop opened. (It also helps that all nine tacos are priced at $3.50 apiece.)

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9. Puesto 789 W Harbor Dr, San Diego, CA 92101

Located inside retail hub, the Headquarters, Puesto's bi-level, graffiti-covered venue delivers all your favorite tacos (chicken al pastor! filet mignon!), plus a special dessert menu featuring collaborations with Donut Bar. And though its tequila program isn't as generous as others in the area, each pick from its list of 30 and 40 agave-based spirits, from tequila, to mezcal, to bacanora, raicilla, and sotol, is expertly curated and delicious even to the amateur liquor drinker.

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10. Talavera Azul 365 3rd Ave, Chula Vista, CA 91910 (Chula Vista)

Hearty, affordable breakfast and lunch dishes are the main order of business at this cozy Mexican restaurant in Downtown Chula Vista. Sopes piled with chorizo, or righteous chilaquiles bathed in green, red, mole, or chipotle cream sauce are a must. If you love your coffee super-sweet, a bottomless cup of café de la olla with cinnamon will get your motor running.