Las Cuatro Milpas
The Order: Shredded Pork Tacos
Or any tacos, really. The key are those tortillas, made in-house and then fried right in front of you, topped with basic shredded lettuce and Cotija cheese. If red, chile-stained grease runs down your arm, you have done it right.
1857 Logan Avenue, Barrio Logan; 619-234-4460
The Order: Filet Mignon Taco
Puesto’s signature magic is a layer of crispy, melted, griddled cheese that covers the whole tortilla. This taco adds slices of mid-rare fillet, avocado, and a spicy pistachio-serrano salsa.
1026 Wall Street, La Jolla; 5010 Mission Center Road, Mission Valley
The Order: Adobada Taco
Originated in Tijuana in 1972 and imported to Chula Vista in 1998, their adobada is legend and should be obeyed. Chile-marinated pork is shaved from huge trompos—vertical spits that slowly turn the meat, roasting and basting it so it cooks evenly and never dries out.
556 Broadway, Chula Vista; 689 H Street, Chula Vista; 3265 Palm Avenue, Imperial Beach
Why Francisco Perez gave up engineering to create his famous little taco shop, Aquí Es Texcoco
The Order: Lamb Barbacoa Taco
Pilots flying into Otay Mesa’s airport will radio to order pounds of this barbacoa, cooked in the style of Texcoco—a famed barbecue town outside of Mexico City. The meat is rubbed with chiles, covered with maguey and avocado leaves, and slow-cooked for eight hours.
520 Broadway, Chula Vista
The Order: Quesataco Extremo
On weekends, their parking lot in Nestor becomes a congregation of locals waiting for the famed birria (long, slow-simmered beef). The Quesataco Extremo is a tortilla griddled with birria consommé and topped with melted cheese and the meat that’s been crisped and browned on the griddle.
2265 Flower Avenue, Nestor
The Order: Bone Marrow Taco
This taco now has many imitators across Southern California and the US—a street taco with a slow-roasted bone lording atop. Use the stick to spoon the marrow, and sip a side cup of chef-owner Priscilla Curiel’s birria consommé.
143 West San Ysidro Boulevard, San Ysidro
Mariscos & Birria el Prieto
The Order: Birria Taco
My favorite birria from a citywide search last year. Put that tender, slow-stewed meat in a hot tortilla with the holy taco trinity (onion, cilantro, lime), plus some salsa and guacamole? A great reason to eat in the parking lot outside an auto mechanic.
3031 Main Street, Chula Vista; 619-495-524
The Order: Garlic Shrimp Taco
TJ Oyster Bar started in a cubbyhole in a Bonita strip mall and now there are two (the other’s in a bigger strip mall next door). Their garlic shrimp is the little black dress of tacos—a classic, with sautéed shrimp, crema, onions, cilantro, and lime. Also order those smoked tuna fries.
4246 Bonita Road, Bonita; 4410 Bonita Road, Bonita; 601 East Palomar Street, Chula Vista
The Order: Baja-Style Fish Taco
Chef Drew Bent gets calls from local fishermen as they pull into the harbor, and whatever they’ve caught goes into this taco. “It’s sushi-grade fish in a fried fish taco,” he says—beer battered, Sinaloa style, and then topped with a chorizo-tomato vinaigrette, pickled jalapeño rémoulade, pickled serranos, and opal basil.
1290 F Street, East Village
The Order: Mushroom Taco
“I’m allergic to mushrooms and it’s still my favorite,” says chef Christine Rivera. The meatless special has sautéed mushrooms with spicy tomato sauce, crispy Jack cheese, salsa verde, queso fresco, and hoja santa—all on their obsessively fresh, from-scratch blue corn tortilla.
2259 Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla
The Order: Veracruz Mahi Taco
One of the tacos that launched it all, with grilled mahi mahi under sautéed tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic, and chives in a white wine sauce, asadero cheese, and a lime aioli. Also try the chile relleno taco.
The Order: Barrio Taco
“It’s something traditional you’d get from your grandmother on a Sunday,” says owner Ernie Becerra. It starts with tender, slow-stewed beef guisado, tossed with sautéed bell peppers and potatoes, grilled nopales, and a touch of sour cream.
2196 Logan Avenue, Barrio Logan
The Order: Al Pastor
“This is the one that made us take off,” says owner Julian Hakim—marinated pork cooked on a rotisserie, topped with onions, pineapple, and a cilantro sauce.
621 Pearl Street, La Jolla; 3000 Upas Street, North Park; 645 B Street, Downtown