We’re spoiled though. We know that a few trolley stops south down the blue line is taco heaven. Just a few steps out of the border building at San Ysidro, pedestrians come face-to-face with taco carts that instantly make you crave carne asada. Indulge. They’re authentic and they are spectacular.
But north of the border, tacos can be anything wrapped by a corn (or flour) tortilla. Lobster and grilled pineapple? Done. Black beans and pico de gallo? Yep. Soy chorizo with shredded cabbage in a crunchy vegan shell? Sure, why not.
For National Taco Day this year, we decided to head out in Pacific Beach and Mission Beach to taste tacos at some well-known establishments and highlight the amazing flavors and variety of tacos available within walking (or scooter) distance. We also listed some of the places that are local favorites, which we didn’t get to on our tour, but have enjoyed in the past.
877 Hornblend St.
The best tacos in the world are in Tijuana. That’s what Elio Mendoza says, and he should know. Mendoza, who was raised in Tijuana and has a small family restaurant there, previously traveled the world cooking in kitchens from Europe to South America learning authentic French, Italian and Latin cuisine.
Now, as head chef at Pueblo in Pacific Beach, the street tacos in Tijuana – such as the carne asada at Tacos El Franc, the shrimp tacos at Mariscos el Mazateño, and the fish tacos at Tacos Fénix cart down the road in Ensenada – have inspired him to create a gastronomic fusion of flavors with authentic ingredients, for a variety of taco tastes.
The al pastor-style salmon tacos with mango, pineapple, avocado salsa on jicama tortillas are a stroke of genius. Adding the same marinade used for al pastor to grilled salmon, the flavors are fresh and the fish succulent.
“It’s a twist on Baja food flavors,” Mendoza said.
The other standout is the crunchy fish tacos. Using the same batter recipe that make Ensenada fish tacos so special, Mendoza adds tortilla chips to create crunchy texture to perfectly cooked fish that is enhanced by mango pico de gallo.
“This is true fusion,” Mendoza said.
It’s also truly delicious.
4657 Mission Blvd.
This place is all about the PB vibe. Wahines in bikinis fill the tables and surfboards cover the walls and ceiling. You don’t surf? That’s fine. You like huge tacos stuffed with meat and covered in house-made red and green salsa? You’re in the right place.
“We’ve been here almost 30 years and we’re consistently good,” said owner Sam Mclarty. “We’ve had the same recipe for our salsas and tacos and everybody keeps coming back.”
The adobada taco is a meal in itself with the pork cooked perfectly and the right amount of spices. But the standout is the grilled snapper taco. Tender and juicy, topped with tangy salsa, crema and fresh cabbage, this taco will satisfy surfers and everyone else.
PB Shore Club
4343 Ocean Blvd.
Eating tacos while overlooking the beach just seems right. And the PB Shore Club delivers the view and the tacos, with beef brisket, steak, fish, shrimp and lobster options.
To help taste all these tacos, we called in a couple journalism students from Point Loma Nazarene University – Carlsbad natives Natallie Rocha and Andie Naugler.
They dove in, finishing off the steak tacos in minutes before ripping into the fish and shrimp ones. College students (and journalists in training) know how to take advantage of free food.
“The fish taco is the best – it’s so good,” said Rocha, who worked at Rubio’s for two years and knows a thing about fish tacos. “I would come back for those.”
“The shrimp taco is great, it’s my favorite,” said Naugler. “The salsa and guac are really good. I also love the tortillas.”
Taqueria Los Ruiz
5010 Cass St.
Nestled in a small plaza at the intersection of Cass and Loring in North PB, this taco shop looks and smells as authentic as it gets. Also, their carne asada and al pastor tacos, topped with guacamole, chopped onions and fresh cilantro, looked the most like TJ tacos.
Pacific Beach resident Madeleine Jeanette joined the taco tour here and chose to try the nopal, fish and carne asada. She dug into the nopal taco first and liked the flavor of the cactus paired with fried cheese. But the fish taco quickly became her favorite.
“Spicy, great flavors and the crunch from the fresh cabbage makes it a great fish taco – one of my favorites,” she said.
4508 Cass St.
Basically, a taco stand squeezed into a space between Square Pizza Co. and Hawaiian barbecue, Tacos Mimi serves up Baja-style street tacos loaded with big flavor on a small tortilla.
This place has garnered a bit of a cult following among the nearby residents and it’s obvious why. The asada, fish and potato tacos are top notch, but the standout is the adobada.
“The adobada is out of this world,” Jeanette said. “Maybe the best in Pacific Beach. Terrific.”
PB Fish Shop
1775 Garnet Ave.
Ask PB residents where their go-to spot is for fish tacos and Pacific Beach Fish Shop will more than likely be mentioned. Customers can build their own taco or choose one of the menu favorites.
One of the most popular items is the spicy dorado taco, which includes grilled mahi mahi marinated with Fish Shop seasoning, topped with Sriracha aioli slaw and avocado lime drizzle on a corn tortilla.
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
746 Emerald St.
Another spot locals swear by for their authentic Mexican dishes – especially the ceviche and seafood tacos. Be adventurous and try their grilled octopus taco served with cabbage, onion, tomato, cilantro, avocado and cheese.
La Perla Cocina Mexicana
745 Emerald St.
Across the street from Oscar’s, La Perla is another spot locals stop at after a surf session or beach day. The Mexican eatery offers just about any tacos under the sun including pollo asado, lamb, sea bass and veggie.
La Playa Taco Shop
3973 Mission Blvd.
If you’re leaving the beach at Pacific Beach Drive and crave tacos, turn south down Mission Boulevard and stop at the small burnt orange building appropriately labeled “Taco Shop.” The eatery has plenty of options, but give the carnitas a try. They’ve been called the best at the beach.
Sandbar Sports Bar & Grill
718 Ventura Place
In Mission Beach, you can’t go wrong ordering tacos from the restaurant that has won the Pacific BeachFest’s “Best at the Beach Fish Taco Challenge” for five consecutive years. Their TKO-style tacos, which earn all the accolades, include a choice of protein, cotija-crusted flour tortilla, chipotle aioli, beer-brined escabeche slaw, lime crema, spicy guacamole, crispy onion strings, and fried cilantro.
Rubio’s Coastal Grill
4504 East Mission Bay Drive
The last taco shop on our list is actually the first Baja-style fish taco shop on our list. The original Rubio’s, the first and what many consider still the best fish tacos in San Diego, is a must stop for taco lovers.
Voted No. 1 fish tacos in California by USA Today’s Readers' Poll Best of 2018, their beer-battered fish taco is the recipe that started it all in 1983. Made with sustainable, wild Alaska pollock cooked crispy, topped with white sauce, salsa, cabbage, and served on a warm, stone-ground corn tortilla – you cant go wrong with this masterpiece.