I spent February and March in Loreto, Baja California Sur, a charming town on the Sea of Cortez that dates from 1697. Small and friendly, the place made it easy to settle into a routine no more strenuous than deciding which taco shop to visit that day.
Most were pop-up stands, some had a small room with plastic tables and chairs, and the owners were as friendly and unpretentious as the food. The best tacos I ate were the simplest — grilled meats or fish, slow-cooked stews, garnished with fresh herbs and a squeeze of citrus. It was hard to leave.
Fortunately, I live in San Diego, so I can (almost) relive my taco adventures much closer to home.
2820 Historic Decatur Road, Liberty Station
Brand new and inside Liberty Station’s trendy Public Market, Cecilia’s Taqueria offers upscale twists on traditional flavors. If I’m feeling undecided, I’ll go for the chile relleno taco, a long, mild, queso-stuffed jalapeño, gently battered, tucked into a house-made tortilla under a bit of tomato broth and crema drizzle. Tangy-sweet pineapple habanero chutney and smooth pasilla crema brighten comal-seared “Cecilia’s style” shrimp tacos, while wild-caught fish tacos, spice-encrusted and also comal-grilled, have a decidedly modern lemon-essence oil and caper remoulade garnish.
885 East H Street, Suite C, Chula Vista
Tacos El Poblano
The owner of Tacos El Poblano opened his first restaurant in Tijuana in 1974, and the menu here in Chula Vista is as spare as its namesake’s — mesquite-grilled carne asada, adobada, or birria, no fancy sides, no garnishes. Adobada, spit-grilled pork marinated in pineapple, chilies, achiote, and spices cooks slowly on its trompo, tangy sweet and piquant, ready to be thinly sliced into warm tortillas. Carne asada is well caramelized and nicely smoky under chopped onions, cilantro, tomato salsa, and creamy guacamole. Birria is mildly spiced but no less delicious, and the pickled onions and carrots (escabeche) are refreshingly zesty.
5504 La Jolla Boulevard, La Jolla
I can’t discuss tacos in San Diego without paying homage to our beloved surf-shack shops and our citywide obsession with Baja fish tacos. Bird Rock favorite Don Bravo never fails to satisfy my craving for shatteringly crisp beer batter cradling tender, moist fish, heaped with cabbage, tomatoes, cilantro and just the right amount of crema. Smoked tuna is a nice change of pace but then there’s also the grilled mahi, the octopus, or the shrimp. Fortunately, Don Bravo’s tacos come in both street and regular size, so you can order lots of different stuffings without breaking the bank.
362 E. San Ysidro Boulevard, San Ysidro
3001 Bonita Road #100, Chula Vista
Despite eating tacos almost daily in Loreto, and the two-hour border wait, all I could think of was stopping at Taqueria Revolucion for carne asada street tacos, grilled crunchy, swathed in onion/cilantro relish and guacamole. The beef is well seasoned, chopped chunky, and has a pleasant chew, as does the sturdy house-made tortilla. The Birria Quesatacos pair mildly spiced stew with soft, milky melted cheese — it’s worth it to get a cup of flavorful consommé on the side for drizzling or dipping. A squeeze of lime rounds out all the flavors.
6513 University Avenue, Rolando
1333 3rd Avenue, Chula Vista
Carnitas Las Michoacanas
The name says carnitas, but don’t let that stop you from ordering one of everything. Carnitas Las Michoacanas seems to do all their meats really well. The al pastor has a lovely sweetness, the juicy carnitas puts its double tortilla wrapping to the test, and both the carne and pollo asados have plenty of spicy and savory grilled flavor. My favorite is the Taco de Chicharron, belly meat seared and glistening with luscious porky goodness. Generous portions of meat come simply adorned, fresh garnishes and salsas are served family style — the escabeche is house-made and particularly tasty. Cash only, ATM inside.
2265 Flower Avenue, Nestor
Birria is the big thing here, with good reason — it’s probably the best I’ve ever eaten north or south of the border. Slow-cooked to melting tenderness, liberally piled on a house-made tortilla, it’s wonderfully aromatic and comforting, especially when given a good dip in the excellent consommé. Go over the top just a bit by adding succulent nervio (tendon) or lengua (tongue), or heat it up with a chupacabra: lightly fried tortillas, onions, serrano chiles, and melted queso under a bed of birria. Extra points for outstanding service. Go early. They are open Wednesday through Sunday, 8:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.