Looking for great Mexican food in the coastal Southern California city of San Diego? Check out these eight spots across the city for the best spots as selected by our inspectors.
What Our Inspectors Say: "Snapshots of Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins’ travels across Mexico line the walls of this spot, offering a peek into the people and places that inspire this talented chef’s contemporary cuisine. A dinner in her capable hands might unveil Michoacán carnitas, elegantly paired with avocado mousse and nopales salad; or mahi mahi birria and barbacoa lamb shank. If you're here for their popular brunch, don't miss out on the chilaquiles divorciados. It's a two-flavor combination of delicious chilaquiles with sunny-side up eggs, pickled onions and cotija cheese-and you'll want to add those tender beef cheeks. Regardless of when you go, don't forget to get a side of the house salsa, a creative blend of macadamia nuts with olive oil and chile de árbol."
What Our Inspectors Say: "This legacy restaurant is packed with loyal patrons who drive miles out of their way for a tamale or taco. It’s old-school for sure (the Estudillo family has been running it since 1933), so if you’re the type who likes to substitute this for that, you’ll be laughed out of here. Instead, grab a tray and move along the queue where you’ll barely have time to read the menu—located just above the ladies rolling and frying tacos. But while you're expected to order at lightning speed (grumbles from diners are part of the charm), the food comes out equally fast. Dishes are simple and sumptuous, like chorizo with rice and beans as well as tacos filled with chicken or pork. Don't miss the hot sauce at the end of the line—it's what takes these eats to the next level."
What Our Inspectors Say: "There may be plenty of taquerias around town, but this East Village gem is of a slightly different breed. The airy space, with its high ceilings, concrete floors and a full bar with lounge, reads über-cool. However, it’s more than just about good looks—their tacos are what draw the crowds. The variations on offer here lean more sophisticated with creative combinations such as baby carrot adobada and squash blossom relleno. Ribeye carne asada cooked to order on the mesquite wood-burning grill or achiote-rubbed pork belly with grilled pineapple are just some of the winners. Posole verde is comfort in a bowl, while fried masa disks are plain delectable. Remember to save room for the Mexican mole-chocolate ice cream and addictively crunchy churros."
What Our Inspectors Say: "This is a kitschy shrine to the masked warriors hailing from south of the border. Its walls are covered with evocative artwork, depicting everyone from wrestlers to world leaders graced by those trademark wrestling guises. The entire space just exudes tons of fun but you'll need a wrestler-sized appetite to tackle its seriously good food. Tacos filled with steak and seafood are incredibly heartwarming, with a secret chipotle sauce adding just the right amount of heat. But, their burritos are for true competitors-bursting at the seams, these beasts are big, fat and quite delicious. Don't miss the champion fries though, smothered with melted jack cheese, sour cream, guacamole, beans and queso for a nacho-like, gut-busting experience."
What Our Inspectors Say: "This south-of-the-border spot seems straight out of central casting for a classic surfer snack shack. Laid-back and breezy, it’s set just blocks from the beach so you won’t need to brush the sand off your feet to eat here. That is if you can find a perch inside, as the counter offers very limited seating. Whether in or out, dine at all times on seafood-centric Mexican food, where tacos take center stage with familiar renditions like crispy fish and shrimp, as well as more unusual selections including grilled octopus and adobo-marinated tuna. Feeling hungrier than usual? Upgrade any taco to a burrito for an extra buck, or stop by mid-afternoon for happy hour and 99-cent treats. One of five outposts in the region, most of these guys accept cash only."
What Our Inspectors Say: "Colorful, festive and beachy, this is La Jolla cove’s beloved home for casual Mexican cooking. There may be other Puesto locations, but this one seems to outshine the pack. The cuisine here has a restrained heat that emphasizes the fresh, bright flavors of Mexico, beginning with the pure pleasure from thin, crisp chips and fire-roasted salsa. Come on Taco Tuesdays when prices are slashed to explore their array of tasty fillings, many of which show artisanal flair through market-sourced grilled fish, garlicky mushrooms or zucchini and cactus. The exhibition kitchen also cranks out snacks like mezcal-pickled watermelon alongside heartier plates of seafood and enchiladas. Arrive during happy hour to fully understand their mastery of the margarita."
What Our Inspectors Say: "Look for the telltale sign of this taqueria—that smoky gray exterior with hot pink trim—and you’ll know you’ve arrived at a local hot spot. Another sign? The throngs of people queued up at the Tijuana-style counter service-only joint. It's serious business inside, where there are different lines and windows depending on what you want, but those in the know make a beeline for the sweet and spicy adobado pork tacos. Feel your taste buds tingle as taqueros slice hunks of spicy meat from massive spit-roasted cones of crimson adobada. Then grab a tray and stacks of napkins, as food this good doesn't come without a mess. Unique cuts are on offer here, including tripe, pork cheek, tongue and brain. Mulas, vampiras and quesadillas round out the selection."
What Our Inspectors Say: "One of four locations, this family-run taqueria is inspired by the taco stands located just an hour away in Tijuana, but the name might as well refer to what you’ll be doing here. That’s right, you’ll be doing a lot of standing around, as the lines are long. Pack your patience and a watchful eye to ensure someone doesn’t snag your meal from the counter. The aggression is warranted, as the tacos, burritos and elote with mayo, Parmesan and chili powder are all deliciously messy. The marinated pork in the al pastor taco is pure bliss; grilled mahi mahi is appetizing; and flame-grilled nopales are just right for vegetarians. The California burrito, bursting with fire-grilled Angus beef steak with cheese and French fries, is a thing of beauty."
Photo courtesy of The Taco Stand/Facebook.