Galaxy Taco's raw uni and grilled yellowtail taco
You can walk into any taco shop in town and order without looking at a menu. Everybody does carnitas, carne asada, and some kind of fish, and most do at least one of these well. But lots of ingredients will fit inside a palm-sized tortilla, so I went on a search for taco outliers. I found a couple of interesting and delicious alternatives and embraced a few taco fillings that took me well out of my comfort zone.
2196 Logan Avenue, San Diego
Catering business San Diego Taco Company opened this shop a couple of years ago touting elevated tacos and craft beer. It’s delivered on both counts, serving local brews and delicious updates on classic tacos in an artfully decorated atmosphere inspired by Chicano street culture. But it’s a recent menu addition that’s caught my attention. Served until noon, the breakfast taco packs chorizo, bacon, avocado, cheddar and cotija cheese into a homemade flour tortilla — all the better to contain its key ingredient: a fried egg. To get the most savory joy out of this desayuno, order it with a runny yolk.
2259 Avenida de La Playa, San Diego
Heirloom blue corn masa gives a special hue to the handmade tortillas of this Shores-adjacent taco shop. The blue tortillas inspire a parade of chefs from local fine-dining establishments to create fanciful original creations for Galaxy’s Tuesday-night Taco Takeover events. Recent one-night-only taco ingredients have included braised pig’s feet, frog’s legs, as well as easier-to-adore beef rib and pork belly. But even the regular menu keeps it interesting — check the $3 add-on option on the grilled yellowtail taco: uni. Pineapple-jalapeño salsa and raw sea urchin take this colorful fish taco over the top.
1490 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego
This restaurant from famed Baja chef Javier Plascencia has enough high-brow dishes to make a foodie swoon. While its street-taco plate would seem relatively pedestrian, its beef cheek and lamb neck barbacoa tacos reveal an enthusiasm for tender and flavorful off cuts of meat. But I say dig deeper and grab the beef tongue confit — it’s not your abuelita’s lengua. If succulent tongue doesn’t appeal to you, go meatless with cauliflower tortitas. The pale vegetable gets chile relleno treatment, stuffed with mozzarella and batter fried, then folded like the rest into exceptionally fresh corn tortillas.
4246 Bonita Road, Bonita, CA
TJ Oyster Bar
Don’t sweat the lines at this fish-taco specialist — they’re well-deserved and move quickly. The hole-in-the-wall shop has a loyal following, mostly drawn to the Baja fried fish, garlic shrimp, and smoked tuna with cheese. But don’t stop your seafood pilgrimage there — unusual finds include grilled octopus and tender shreds of stingray. But for my money it’s all about the fried-oyster tacos. They’re not much different from the Baja fish except that subtle oyster ocean flavor melts inside the fried batter. Crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle — this is pure taco bliss.
2050 S. Coast Highway 101, Cardiff by the Sea
101 North Coast Highway, Encinitas
An “Inauthentic Mexican” tagline gives this small coastal chain plenty of leeway to veer outside the taco canon, including options for shrimp curry and a California taco featuring tater tots. Even though it comes with a slight upcharge, I’m taken with the duck. Partly because duck tacos should be and aren’t common enough in this town, but also because this one happens to be a pretty impressive substitute for carnitas. If I ever give up pork, it’s great to know I can roll into Bull, order one of these, and not feel like I’m missing out.
950 East Vista Way, Vista
Vamos a Texcoco
Lamb barbacoa has a North County destination, and it’s here I got up the gall to try pancita — better known as lamb stomach. Vamos chops it up with lamb heart, liver and tripe, plus plenty of dried guajillo pepper. This gringo couldn’t stomach its chewy textures and sour earthy taste and had to defer to chopped head meat for tender adventure eating. The good news is they use every part of the lamb here, so you can get regular cuts of smoky and delicious lamb in your hecho a mano corn tortilla, including a house-recommended mix with rib meat.