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S an 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 nine 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.
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Mahi taco from Sandbar

Pacific Beach
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.

Duck Dive

Voodoo taco from Duck Dive

Pacific Beach
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.

Flickr/T.Tseng

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.”

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Taco de Barrio from Salud

Barrio Logan
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.

Bradford Tennyson/Thrillist

Pork adobada taco from Cantina Mayahuel

North Park
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.”

Flickr/y6y6y6

Chicken and pork tacos from Las Cuatro Milpas

Barrio Logan
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.

COURTESY OF TACOS PERLA

Ocho taco from Tacos Perla

North Park
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.”

COURTESY OF CITY TACOS

Puerco Agridulce from City Tacos

North Park
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!” 

COURTESY OF PUESTO

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.”

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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.

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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 (Pacific Beach)

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.

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

This compact taco shop in Barrio Logan serves a small but diverse selection of tacos topped with tangy dips from the lauded salsa bar and paired with craft beer. The move here is to order at least three tacos, ensuring that one is the Taco de Barrio, which features stewed beef, black beans, and cactus in a handmade flour tortilla. Sides like fire-roasted corn with lime, queso fresca, crema, and chile complete Salud's Mexican street food-inspired menu.

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

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.

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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

The vibrantly decorated Puesto pays homage to all kinds of Mexican street food, with a heavy emphasis on tacos. You'll find a mix of familiar fillings (chicken al pastor and filet mignon) alongside refreshing combinations like lobster with black beans and crispy onions, and zucchini with sweet corn and cactus. The house-made corn tortillas here prove to be so much more than a vessel for the meat and cheese fillings, and you'll find yourself savoring their earthy taste -- or spreading them with guacamole when the chips run low. Speaking of guac, you can stick with cilantro and onion classic or have yours loaded with Brussels sprouts and crispy bacon.

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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.

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