Downtown San Diego is less than 20 miles north of the Mexican border, so it makes sense that the best tacos in San Diego could very well be the best tacos in the whole United States. Get ready for hand-pressed tortillas, fresh and spicy salsas, and fillings that run the gamut from authentic to off-the-wall.
Finding the Best Tacos in San Diego
You’ll have to try them yourself to decide on your favorite. Here’s where to go in pursuit of the best tacos in San Diego.
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Las Cuatro Milpas
Las Cuatro Milpas makes some of the very best tacos in San Diego. Its simple and authentic specialties include rolled tacos, tamales, and carne asada. The meat is flavorful and the tortillas are fresh. Don’t be daunted by the long line here—it’s worth the wait.
This former taco truck earned a reputation for serving some of the best tacos in San Diego, and then business got so good that its owners were able to open this casual, small grill. Salud! has a great vibe, fantastic poster art, and pretty food. Its fat, tasty taco options include a big al pastor taco with shredded pork, steak, or vegetables. Also worth trying: the flavorful chile relleno, as well as the breakfast taco—a hand-pressed flour tortilla stuffed with chorizo, bacon, egg, cheese, and avocado.
TJ Oyster Bar
TJ Oyster Bar serves some of the best fish tacos in San Diego. With three locations, two on Bonita Road and a newer one in Chula Vista, these stylish spots serve Mexican seafood specialties, including a fantastic octopus taco. All the tacos here are street-style with a creative twist, served alongside craft beer and cocktails, ceviche, tostadas, stingray, shrimp—and yes, those eponymous oysters.
Puesto is an upscale restaurant whose award-winning tacos are served in creative spaces filled with wildly colorful art. These are some of the best tacos in San Diego, and they’re served from two locations—one in La Jolla and the other on West Harbor Drive. Specialties include the pulpo (octopus) tacos, Baja fish tacos, confit pork carnitas, kids’ tacos, and gluten-free tacos. There’s a festive vibe here, so partake in the generously poured margaritas and just enjoy.
Galaxy Taco creates a cheerful and fun taco experience on La Jolla Shore. Its inventive menu includes tacos stuffed with fried shrimp, lengua (tongue), Azteca steak, and barbacoa short rib, all brought out in tortillas whose heirloom masienda corn was ground right here in the kitchen. For dessert, do the tres leches cake—or another tangy margarita—and have your camera at the ready: This is an Instagram-ready space, with food that’s as colorful and attractive as the walls.
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
For authentic, affordable tacos made to order, head to busy Oscar’s and order at the counter for battered fish or shrimp tacos, surf and turf tacos, grilled or spicy shrimp tacos, a grilled octopus taco, or the taco especial, stuffed with the works—smoked fish, shrimp, and scallops. Oscar’s runs five locations around San Diego, including in Pacific Beach, Hillcrest, and Encinitas.
Cantina Mayahuel offers authentic street tacos in a lively cantina setting tucked on Adams Avenue in University Heights. Come early to grab a seat at the bar and get ready to enjoy your tacos and tequila. Some of the more popular taco options include grilled chicken cooked with pineapple juice and chipotle sauce; a sirloin-filled variety with with cheese and crema; and crispy shredded pork carnitas tacos. This is a fun place with great drinks, so bring friends.
City Taco serves stylish and inventive food at its casual North Park taqueria. These tacos are as pretty as tacos can be, and they’re fresh, house made, and topped with great salsa. The extensive taco menu includes chorizo asado; seared mahi with mango habanero jelly; fried wild Alaskan rockfish in tempura batter with habanero chiles and strawberries; and pollo asado with golden raisins and almonds in a tamarind aioli. Finish things off with a bunuelo dessert taco, whose crispy flour tortilla is covered in cinnamon and sugar—it’s made with flambeed apples and raisins, yogurt, caramel, and marzipan. This being San Diego, there’s craft beer too.
The Taco Stand
With several spots around town, every location of The Taco Stand has long lines for its authentic fast-food-style tacos. These are cute diner-style shops that stay open late; grab a seat at the counter and watch the line cooks work their magic. The taco options here are simple and straightforward but also tasty and juicy—you can’t go wrong with the carne asada steak, the al pastor with rotisserie-marinated pork, the pollo asado with guacamole, or the spicy shrimp. You can also order burritos, quesadillas, or breakfast. These guys make their own tortillas.
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—Original reporting by Avital Andrews. Follow her on Twitter @avitalb.