For foodie lovers that are in search of epic tacos where your taste buds will explode in delight, San Diego is the place. Known for excellent Mexican food, there are numerous places to choose from in Southern California. I have searched for the best tacos in San Diego and I’m sharing the must-try list with you!
No visit to San Diego would be complete without trying a few tacos with tender meats, homemade tortillas, and tasty salsas.
And don’t be deterred by the hole-in-the-wall appearance of some of these shops as they truly know what they are doing when it comes to tacos.
Tip: If you are looking for detailed info on what to do in San Diego, when to visit, the best beaches, and where to stay, explore my posts 15 Best Things To Do In San Diego and 15 Most Popular Beaches In San Diego.
Flying into San Diego? The airport to book your flights into is the San Diego International Airport (SAN) which is in the heart of downtown.
If flying then you will need a rental car to search out all of these awesome tacos. Find the best car rental deals here and be ready to drive to the next taco shop!
Warning: I wouldn’t recommend reading this on an empty stomach as it might make you incredibly hungry and in search of tacos!
What Makes For A Great Taco?
There are 3 essentials that are a must for a good taco and that includes a hand-sized tortilla, a filling, and garnished with condiments.
In my opinion, an authentic taco must be made with a homemade tortilla. No store-bought tortillas please…
Any traditional-style Mexican taco shouldn’t be hard shell tacos, only soft tacos with the tortillas cooked and warmed to wrap around a mouthful of deliciousness.
A slight quick fry to add a little crispness is ok. If you eat a hard shell taco then that is an Americanized taco.
Others might prefer a flour tortilla but most of the taco shops listed primarily use corn tortillas.
Second, the filling is of your choice and can be carne asada, pork, chicken, seafood, and sometimes veggies as the main filler in your taco.
All tacos except seafood are topped with fresh cilantro, salsa, guacamole, and onion. If it is a seafood taco then it will be garnished with a coleslaw mix paired with a crema sauce.
Some additional toppings that might vary are lime, sliced radishes, and shredded cheese.
Many tacos are seasoned well but you can always add more heat with one of the salsas offered. Most taco shops in San Diego will have different salsa’s ranging in heat, so that you can find the perfect temperature.
History Of The Taco
So, although there is no official documentation of when or how the taco was created, there are some probable theories.
The most common one is during the 1800s Mexican miners working the silver mines needed a quick and easy source of food while working.
The taco solved that problem and became a staple in Mexican cuisine. It is thought that the taco made its way to California around 1905 when Mexican’s migrated for work into the US. Tacos were thought of as “lower class” food or street food of Mexicans.
Little did they know that tacos would become a beloved food by all! Over time tacos have stayed pretty traditional in San Diego but there are places where they are modernizing and changing up the typical taco.
For this list of best tacos in San Diego, I am sticking with the authentic traditional style that California is known for.
Note: Although I am focusing on the more recent history of how the taco came to the U.S., tortilla making and the earliest versions of the taco is centuries old from the regions of Mexico and Central America.
Why Does San Diego Have The Best Tacos?
I might be a little biased, but San Diego has the best tacos of any city in the United States. It isn’t surprising as Mexico is its next-door neighbor with plenty of influence on the cuisine in Southern California.
With a high Mexican population and access to so many fresh ingredients year-round, San Diego is the spot for not only a variety of tacos but epic Mexican food in general.
Taco Eating Tips:
- Most locations have small tacos where to 2 – 3 tacos make a great meal. If they are very small then possibly 4. Before you order ask about the size so you can estimate how many you may want.
- Bring some wet wipes as your hands might get sticky from the salsa, crema, or guacamole. The messier the better, right?
- If it is your first time to a taco shop, try a few different flavors as you might be surprised which one is your favorite!
- To avoid confusion, the Spanish name might be used and/or interchangeably with English. For beef you will see carne asada, pork will be adobado or carnitas, and al pastor for marinated pork. Fish is pescado, chicken is pollo and nopal is cactus plant.
- Most if not all taco shops in San Diego will have discounted prices on Tuesdays for Taco Tuesday!
* In no particular order, I have broken down the best taco shops in San Diego by the city within San Diego County. Starting from North County and making your way to San Diego. Get ready to explore the most savory and delicious tacos around!
Map Of The Best Tacos In San Diego
1. Miramar Fish Tacos & Beer
After reading the name, you have a pretty good idea that they specialize in fish tacos! Miramar Fish Tacos & Beer has pork and carne asada tacos but their main focus is seafood tacos such as fish, shrimp, octopus, salmon, and tuna.
They even have a number of different shrimp seasoned tacos such as garlic, jalapeno, chipotle, and spicy diablo. I had a few different tacos and I would recommend sticking to the fish tacos as they are excellent!
The fish tacos have a light and airy batter in a corn tortilla and topped with a coleslaw mix and crema sauce. You can accompany your tacos with a beer or Michelada (similar to a Bloody Mary but made with beer instead of vodka).
Address: 41 Douglas Dr, Oceanside, CA 92058. Open 11:00 am to 9:00 pm daily.
2. Valerie’s Taco Shop
Located right off of Highway 78 in Vista is Valerie’s Taco and it is a hidden gem! It’s not located in a super touristy area and unless you live in the neighborhood you might never discover it.
I ordered a fish taco (battered) and carne asada taco. Both were excellent! The fish taco had a fried batter in 2 corn tortillas topped with a coleslaw and light sauce.
The carne asada has a lot of flavor and topped with a generous portion of guacamole and pico de gallo in 2 corn tortillas.
I prefer to only eat each taco in one tortilla but I know many love having two. I will definitely come back to Valerie’s Taco Shop again!
Although I haven’t tried them yet, the burritos, quesadillas, and carne asada fries look pretty good too.
Address: 1830 West Drive, Vista CA 92083
3. Harbor Fish Café
I have been coming to the Harbor Fish Café ever since I got back from my trip to Scotland and England where I got hooked on the best fish & chips.
I tried many places in San Diego that are known for their fish & chips and the Harbor Fish Café is the closest to what I had in the UK.
For years I have only eaten the fish & chips but on a whim, I decided to give their fish taco a try and wow! I shouldn’t have been surprised at how good they are.
They use the same battered to perfection piece of fish, place it in a corn tortilla that has the slightest crisp to it and accompanied by a coleslaw mix, cheese, and salsa that is so delicious…
They have two versions of the taco, regular or spicy. Go for the spicy that has the right amount of heat!
Of all the places on this list, you normally want to eat 2 – 4 tacos depending on the place but at Harbor Fish Café each fish taco is big! So, one taco that comes with fries is all it takes.
Oh, and did I mention that it is outdoor dining at the top of Carlsbad State Beach with an ocean view?
Address: 3179 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad, CA 92008. Open every day from 11:00 am to 7:30 pm, except for Tuesday (closed).
Tip: To find out what else there is to do in Carlsbad other than great tacos, explore my post 25 Fun Things To Do In Carlsbad, California!
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4. The Taco Stand
If you love an epic taco, then look no further than the Taco Stand. Although they specialize in tacos, they also have burritos and quesadillas.
All the food is served using fresh homemade tortillas and a variety of mouth-watering salsas.
Every taco I have tried here is awesome but the Baja (battered fish taco) is amazing and might be one of the best fish tacos in San Diego!
Some other taco options are the Carne Asada (beef), Al Pastor (pork), Chicken, Spicy Shrimp, and Grilled Fish.
For those that prefer a veggie option, you can order a Mushroom and/or Nopal (cactus) taco. I have not tried these two as I prefer ones with protein but I’m sure they are yummy too.
The Taco Stand is in the heart of Encinitas right along the Coast Highway 101. If you want to know more about what to do in Encinitas, read my post 19 Fun Things To Do In Encinitas.
For those that are connoisseurs when it comes to tacos, The Taco Stand has some of the best tasting and authentic Mexican style tacos that are a must to try. There may be a wait but it is worth it…
Tip: And they even have delicious breakfast burritos that you can take to go and enjoy eating at nearby Moonlight Beach!
Address: 642 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA 92024. Open from 10:00 am to 10:00pm.
5. TJ Tacos
TJ Tacos might be a further drive if you are sticking close to San Diego but it is worthwhile to stop if you happen to be in North County.
I had heard of TJ’s for quite some time and after arriving in the longest drive-thru line (out into the road) I wondered whether the tacos could be that good?
Well, I can say that the long wait was so worth it! There is a reason TJ Tacos are always busy as their tacos are some of the tastiest tacos in San Diego.
They don’t have any seafood tacos but I stuck to trying the carne asada, spicy pork, and chorizo tacos. All of them are good but the carne asada and spicy pork are divine!
They are true street-style tacos that transport you south of the border to Mexico for that authentic flavor that is pure bliss. I will without question be returning to TJ Tacos again…
For those that like to walk on the wilder side, they also have beef head and beef tongue tacos. Personally, that isn’t my thing but hey maybe it is something you want to try!
Note: For those that don’t eat meat, they have Nopal tacos that is the cactus plant or cheese quesadillas.
Address: 802 E Valley Pkwy, Escondido, CA 92025
Salud! Is located south of downtown San Diego in the Barrio Logan neighborhood near the entrance to the Coronado Bridge.
Barrio Logan is the oldest Mexican-American neighborhood in San Diego which explains why there are many excellent options when it comes to Mexican food.
Two blocks away are over 80 vibrant and colorful painted murals within Chicano Park. The murals cover the pillars and underpass area of the 5 freeway. If you love photography and epic murals then this is the spot!
Ok, getting back to Salud!, their tacos are incredible and are at the top of the taco bucket list when visiting San Diego.
They have received awards and are said to be the king of tacos. I have to agree, they are so tasty that you know you will be coming back for more…
I had both the pork (carnitas) and beef (carne asada) tacos and they are superb! They also have a variety of options such a breakfast taco, chicken, shrimp, pork, and fish tacos to delight your taste buds.
For those that don’t eat meat, you can order the El Veggie Taco, a bowl, chile relleno or a quesadilla.
Note: If you leave room for dessert, try the churros and ice cream!
Address: 2196 Logan Ave, San Diego CA 92113
7. Tacos El Gordo
Known for their street-style tacos, you can expect to chow down on tacos that make you think you are in Mexico!
Located in Chula Vista about 8.0-miles from the U.S. and Mexico border this taco shop is busy with those wanting a taste of Mexico as they line up at the various meat stations.
Depending on what type of protein you want, step up and place your order before heading to the cashier. Tacos El Gordo is known as one of the top taco shops in San Diego and rivals the taco style of TJ Tacos in Escondido.
I ordered the carne asada tacos with fresh tortillas and guacamole and thought they had wonderful flavor. What surprised me is that I found the meat to be a little too salty. And I am someone who pours salt on everything… It might have just been an off day but other than being too salty they were incredible.
And if you are feeling adventurous, there are unusual types of meats to try that you don’t see on the menu every day. If you happen to find yourself in other areas of San Diego and/or Las Vegas, Nevada you are in luck as there are multiple Tacos El Gordo locations!
Address: 556 Broadway, Chula Vista, CA 91910 (main location)
8. Lucha Libre
Of all of the places I mention, Lucha Libre by far has the most playful and fun ambiance. You might even say this taco shop is a bit eccentric with the décor as the theme revolves around Mexican wrestling known as Lucha Libre that translates to “free fighting”.
This style of wrestling is associated with wearing leotards and colorful masks. And if you ever saw the movie Nacho Libre with Jack Black then you get the picture…
Located in the Mission Hills neighborhood (slightly north of downtown), this taco hot spot got its start by the Rojano brothers.
They had a serious love of Lucha Libre fighting and Mexican food. It is evident with the hot pink and gold décor highlighted with Lucha Libre items.
Although they serve traditional Mexican-style tacos, they do have a slightly more modern edge adding a California twist to them.
Besides having awesome tacos, you can order a burrito, bowl, or one of many veggie options (more than the rest of the places listed).
I enjoyed the Birria Taco made with Beef Birria, pinto beans, cilantro, onions, and spicy salsa. And I also had the Steak Queso Taco that is served up with steak, crispy cheese, avocado, and secret chipotle sauce! Both were super tasty but if I had to pick one, I’d go with the Queso Taco which you can get with chicken, steak or cauliflower.
Address: 1810 W Washington Street, San Diego, CA 92103
9. Las Cuatro Milpas
If you are looking for an old-school Mexican taco shop that is like stepping into your grandmother’s kitchen then head to Las Cuatro Milpas.
Las Cuatros Milpas has been serving up tasty tacos with homemade tortillas in San Diego since 1933.
I guess you could say their tacos are that good if they are still drawing lines out the door for over 80 years! Located in the neighborhood of Barrio Logan and just a few blocks from Salud! mentioned above.
Their menu is pretty simple but that’s ok as other than the homemade tortillas you want to try the tacos and rolled tacos. I had a pork and chicken taco and a rolled taco. Each are winners in my book. Tamales, burritos, and chorizo are on the menu too.
The homemade flour tortillas are made to perfection as they are soft with just a quick fry that gives them the right amount of crispness. The Estudillo family has created a local favorite with loyal patrons coming back for years to come!
Tips: Get there early as it makes the perfect lunch spot as they close daily at 3:00 pm. Closed all day on Sundays. And they are CASH ONLY!
Address: 1857 Logan Ave, San Diego, CA 92113. Closed on Sundays.
10. Old Town Mexican Café
If you love a fresh handmade tortilla then get over to the Old Town Mexican Café as that is what they are known for.
The Old Town Mexican Café has been making incredible Mexican food since 1977 and the original spot for getting homemade tortillas in Old Town.
Why am I going on and on about the tortillas? Well because they are so freaking good and a good tortilla is essential for an awesome taco. They have a wide variety of options on the menu worth trying but my focus here is the tacos.
The pork (carnitas), fish tacos, and the carne asada street tacos are phenomenal. You can also order chicken tacos, shrimp, and potato rolled tacos. Afterward, walk off your full belly and wander the quaint streets of Old Town.
Address: 2489 San Diego Ave, San Diego, CA 92110
11. El Cuervo Taco Shop
Save room for a few more tacos as the tacos at El Cuervo are winners! Located in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego (about 10 minutes from downtown) are the most delicious Al Pastor tacos!
They have an assortment of incredibly tasty tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and more but the best pick in my opinion are the Al pastor tacos.
Al pastor is marinated pork using spit-grilled pork. It reminds me of how Middle Eastern cuisines do something similar with lamb.
I may not know all the details involved but the end result is the most tender, juicy, and flavorful meat that you can’t help but inhale…
I ordered an assortment of a carne asada taco, rolled tacos, and a few al pastor tacos to try and with leftovers to take home.
All excellent but next time I’m coming back just for the al pastor tacos as they are that good! Might even be one of my favorites on this list…
Tip: There is only street parking, so get there early before the lunch crowd arrives.
Address: 110 W Washington Street, San Diego CA 92103
Getting To San Diego
There are a few options to reach when visiting San Diego. You can either fly into the San Diego International Airport (SAN) which is in the heart of downtown San Diego or John Wayne Airport (SNA) which is in Orange County.
No matter which one you choose, be aware that their airport codes are very similar! John Wayne Airport is 86-miles north of downtown San Diego but only 49-miles to Oceanside. So, you can’t go wrong with what airport you choose to fly into.
I usually look for the best flight deals and choose based on that. If you plan to spend time in the North County part of San Diego then flying into Orange County could be a better choice.
If flying in then you will need to rent a car if you want to search out all of these taco shops in San Diego! Find the best car rental deals here and be ready to drive to the next taco shop!
* I will be updating this list as I try new taco shops in San Diego, so save this post by pinning it! That way you will always be in the know for the best tacos in San Diego!
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