Las Cuatros Milpas
1403 Scott Street, San Diego
Whenever I’m at family-owned Mitch’s Seafood I think, This is why I live in San Diego. Beer-battered rock cod ($3.05) or seasonal fresh grilled fish and seafood ($3.60) are almost exclusively from San Diego and Northern Baja waters. Mexican shrimp or scallops have a beautiful sear and juicy insides under shredded cabbage, salsa fresca, and lime cream. Battered cod has a great ratio of flaky fish and golden brown crunchy goodness. Tuesdays feature discounts on tacos and $1.50 Tecate cans. Sit back, enjoy a local draft and watch the resident sea lion blorp by.
621 Pearl Street, San Diego
The Taco Stand
I’ve always felt that you can tell how committed a restaurant is by how they treat their side dishes and condiments. At the Taco Stand, guacamole, tortillas, and salsas are made fresh daily, and every dish is made to order. Angus marinated carne asada ($3.29) is savory and tender, hand-carved al pastor ($2.99) has a just-right tangy sweet hit of pineapple. Seafood choices include grilled mahi mahi ($3.39), batter-fried swai ($2.89), and (not too) spicy shrimp ($3.49). Save room for creamy, delectable paletas ($2) from local Tocumbo Ice Cream or made-right-before-your-eyes churros ($2.50).
Avenida Ermita Norte 30, Tijuana
Tacos Salceados is so esteemed that locals refer to it simply by its street, “La Ermita.” Founding chef Javier Campos Gutierrez is credited with inventing the quesotaco, a handful of Monterey jack cheese grilled toasty and melty, then wrapped around the protein of your choice (lengua is particularly good), and placed in a corn or flour tortilla (or not). Whatever combo you choose, I suggest ordering it sans the house crema, and experiment with the phenomenal homemade salsa bar that includes almond, hibiscus, strawberry, and tamarind, and an assortment of different chile-based sauces. The taco dulce, quesotacos stuffed with shrimp, topped with fruit purée, shouldn’t work, but trust me, it does. Prices range from $1–$5, cash only.
Mariscos El Mazateño
Calle Popotla, #473, Tomas Aquino, Tijuana, 011-52-664-607-1377
These Sinaloan-style tacos prove that the old adage about never serving seafood with cheese needs to be retired. A generous helping of quesilla, a milky Oaxacan cheese, is melted onto tortillas, then topped with a huge pile of plump, spicy Sonoran shrimp. Crispy octopus is outstanding, as is the smoky marlin, and perron, sea bream fried to chicharrón crunchiness, paired with yet more shrimp, is a must-try. Toppings are served on the side so you can customize as you like. Prices range from $3–$6, cash only.
Taqueria Tres Las Salsas
Avenida Guillermo Prieto, #2608, Col. Gavilondo 22044, Las Ahumadoras, Tijuana
Taqueria Tres Las Salsas is my favorite shop in Las Ahumadoras, a strip of six or so taco stands established in 1960 that offer a wide variety of meat-stuffed tacos. Adobada is a big seller — marinated pork is spit-roasted and sliced into warm, waiting corn tortillas, a generous amount of creamy guacamole, onions, cilantro and spicy red salsa are added. Tender, succulent beef cabeza, lengua, smooth textured suadero (a thin cut from between the belly and leg), and tripe are also excellent. Prices are $2–5, cash only. Hit them on Mondays for 2 for 1 adobada tacos.
1857 Logan Avenue, San Diego
Las Cuatro Milpas
Petra and Natividad Estudillo opened Las Cuatro Milpas in 1933. Lipid-phobes should probably stay away; tacos are crisply fried in manteca de cerdo (pork lard). Grab a tray and choose from pork or chicken, regular ($1.75) or rolled ($1). I always sit in the back room so I can watch the ladies mixing massive bowls of masa and cranking out stacks of tortillas while I relish my messy, drippy lunch. Cash only, and don’t wait too long for the line to die down — they close at 3 p.m.
520 Broadway number 5 and 6, Chula Vista
Aqui es Texcoco
Avenida Von Humboldt & Boulevard Industrial, Otay, Tijuana, 664-686-1476
You can get anything from grasshoppers to lamb brains stuffed into your tacos at Aqui es Texcoco, but the specialty of the house is traditional borrego barbacoa, lamb barbecue. Owner Francisco “Paco” Perez learned the craft from his uncle and opened his first restaurant in Tijuana. In 2007, he expanded to Chula Vista and most recently Commerce, southeast of Los Angeles. Cooked slowly with maguey leaves, nothing of the lamb is wasted; even the bones are used to make rich, flavorful consommé. A cup will arrive, gratis, when you order. Whether you stick with the familiar ribs or loin or try pancita (tripe) cabeza, or sesos (brains), every bite is delectable. Plenty of choices are available for non-lamb folks, too — pretty much anything on the menu can be taco-ized. Single tacos are $2.35, assemble-your-own platos are $9.75/⅓ lb. and $11.95/½ lb.