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.
Mahi taco from Sandbar
Picked by: Chef Abe Botello of West Coast Tavern
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.
Voodoo taco from Duck Dive
Picked by: Chef Ryan Tuskan, formerly of Encinitas Fish Shop
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.
Fish taco from Oscar's Mexican Seafood
Pacific Beach and Hillcrest
Picked by: Chef-owner Kurt Metzger, formerly of Kitchen 4140
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.”
Taco de Barrio from Salud
Picked by: Executive Chef Tim Kolanko of Leroy's Kitchen + Lounge
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.
Pork adobada taco from Cantina Mayahuel
Picked by: Chef Kevin Templeton of Barleymash
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.”
Chicken and pork tacos from Las Cuatro Milpas
Picked by: Chef/Owner Ken Irvine of Bleu Bohéme
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.
Ocho taco from Tacos Perla
Picked by: Chef Alberto Morreale of Famer's Bottega and Fig Tree Cafe
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.”
Puerco Agridulce from City Tacos
Picked by: Corporate Chef Alfie Szeprethy of Sammy's Woodfired Pizza & Grill
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!”
Zucchini & cactus taco from Puesto
La Jolla and Downtown (Marina District)
Picked by: Terryl Gavre of Cafe 222 and Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant
“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.”
Birria taco from Talavera Azul
Picked by: Chef Jaime Chavez of Sirena
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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1. Sandbar718 Ventura Pl, San Diego
2. Duck Dive4650 Mission Blvd, San Diego
3. Oscar's Mexican Seafood746 Emerald St, San Diego
4. Salud San Diego2196 Logan Ave, San Diego
5. Cantina Mayahuel2934 Adams Ave, San Diego
6. Las Cuatro Milpas1875 Logan Ave, San Diego
7. Tacos Perla3000 Upas St, San Diego
8. City Tacos3028 University Ave, San Diego
9. Puesto789 W Harbor Dr, San Diego
10. Talavera Azul365 3rd Ave, Chula Vista
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.
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.
What began as just one small storefront on Turquoise St. is now a San Diego marisco fixture and mini chain known for its variety of Latin-flavored dishes. Expect an ample selection of market seafood served in salad, tacos, burritos, or tortas, plus non-surf fare like breakfast burritos, steak tacos, and chorizo tortas. Oscar's is a quick counter-serve, but don't judge the fish by how it's served: the ceviche may come in plastic cups, but it's flavorful and most importantly, fresh.
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?
If you're curious about agave, Cantina Mayahuel has you covered. The staff here will make you a margarita if that's what you really want, but these guys are purists who drink their tequila straight. Behind the bar, there’s an ever-changing collection of over 200 tequilas and 100 mezcals, including the bar's very own brand, Don Lorenzo Reposado Reserva.
Their chicken and pork tacos will change your life.
You need to go out and grab an Ocho taco right now.
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.)
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.
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.