Before the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, San Diego belonged to Mexico, as did all of California. Despite the changing political landscape cultural remnants of Mexican rule are evident throughout the city, especially in the authentic Mexican eateries adorning nearly every block of the city. From cheap taco stands to homey Oaxacan eateries informed by the area’s own laid-back Californian culture, San Diego almost undoubtedly boasts the nation’s best Mexican food.
Mike’s Taco Club
Few can agree on which restaurant boasts the best variation of the local favorite California burrito – consisting of carne asada, avocado, pico de gallo and some form of fried potato – but Mike’s Taco Club in Ocean Beach makes a strong case for itself. Located steps from a sandy beach along the popular Newport Avenue, Mike’s doesn’t have much in the way of space, but it has flavor to spare. Beyond their hulk-sized California burrito, the menu also includes simple classics like bean and cheese burritos and striking novelties like the octopus taco and the shrimp and steak surfing Cali burrito.
5060 Newport Ave, San Diego
La Playa Taco Shop
Another hotspot for Cali burritos lies not far off, in the suburban rolling hills of Point Loma. La Playa Taco Shop is little more than a modest neighborhood eatery, but it’s a great one. The bright orange façade beckons passersby inside to discover an extensive menu. La Playa also offers tasty chorizo burritos, plus another distinctly California Mexican specialty—carne asada fries.
3973 Mission Blvd, San Diego
Las Cuatro Milpas
Las Cuatros Milpas isn’t open for dinner. The workers speak limited English, so ordering can be difficult. But none of that matters when you wait out the long lines and sit down at one of their communal lunch tables to dig into their unquestionably authentic offerings. The handmade and pan-fried tortillas satisfy on their own, but when they’re filled with quality shredded meats and crumbled cotija and served alongside Mexican brown rice and refried beans, the effect is nothing short of miraculous. It’s difficult to single out any dishes as highlights when all of them boast the same richness of flavor.
1857 Logan Ave, San Diego
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
Fish tacos are a way of life in San Diego. Most Mexican spots here have at least one dish pulled fresh from the nearby Pacific. Oscar’s Mexican Seafood has an impressively diverse selection of seafood entrees, sold in three separate locations across the city. Despite the delicious ceviche and fisherman’s torta options, the main draw here are the fish tacos, which allow guests to sample several of their seasonal seafood specialties. After ordering a few tacos, including fresh-caught specials like octopus and mahi mahi, experiment with their many homemade varieties of white sauce and salsa to achieve the perfect flavor.
746 Emerald St, San Diego
Although a little pricier than other joints selling Mexican cuisine, many people enjoy this waiter-service restaurant experience instead of the usual roadside burrito joint. The regional chain Miguel’s Cocina is a wonderful spot for a moderately classy dinner, especially at their beachside flagship location on Coronado. Any meal at Miguel’s begins with a bowl of warm tortilla chips served with salsa and their unparalleled sour cream. The friendly wait-staff are happy to recommend a few things from their extensive menu, including the soaked shrimp enchiladas and the brisket-stuffed, battered and fried chile relleno.
1351 Orange Ave, Coronado
El Trebol Mariscos
Pacific Beach boasts at least one other of the city’s standout seafood joints—El Trebol Mariscos, where the fish tacos come heavy on the fish and slathered with delicious helpings of creamy sauce and fresh-cut pico de gallo. Favorite fillers include both classics like shrimp and fried white bait, as well as novelties like marlin and pan-fried snapper. The menu goes beyond fish tacos, encompassing varieties of ceviche soaking in various, equally delicious sauces and a few Mexican sopas, also loaded with generous helpings of seafood. Visit on Tuesdays or Thursdays, when tacos and ceviche, respectively, are half-price.
2015 Garnet Ave, San Diego
For a more centrally located, nightlife-centric eatery, you might try the University Heights Mexican bar dubbed Cantina Mayahuel. It’s worth coming early to enjoy the cheap margaritas and handheld street tacos during happy hour. There is a great range of fantastic drinks and Mexican staples with a gourmet twist. The ono and sirloin tortas present the Mexican sandwich at its best, but the main attraction must be their pollo con mole – chicken served soaking in a brown sauce made from so many ingredients that it is impossible to list them all (chocolate is usually one of them).
2934 Adams Ave, San Diego